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Bending stresses in beams

When a bar is loaded in bending, longitudinal stresses are produced within the materials.
These stresses vary across each of the cross-sections and usually along the length of the

Pure bending

Consider a section AB of a beam loaded as shown below, this section is subjected to an



equal and opposite bending moment M at both end. As a result, the beam will deflect into a
circular arc. The section is said to be in a state of simple bending or pure bending. The next
step is to analyses the bending stress within the section under pure bending.

Nature of bending stress

With a hogging bending moment, the top part is stretched so the material is under tension
and the bottom part is compressed. A neutral surface (plane) must exist that is parallel to the
upper and lower surfaces and for which the length does not change. Stresses and strains are
positive (tension) above the neutral plane and negative (compression) below it. So the
bending stress is tensile and compressive stresses, acting on the cross-section of the beam
and normal to the cross-sectional area of the beam.


The theory of simple bending depends on the following assumptions:

• The material of the beam is uniform
• The cross section of the beam remains symmetric about bending plane
• The beam is initially straight and unstressed
• cross-sectional plane of the beam before bending remains planar after bending
• the loads are applied to the beam in the plane of bending

Strain due to bending

When the beam is bent, the strain of the beam varies with the distance to the neutral plane y:
ε= (1)
R is the radius of the neutral plane.

Stress due to bending

For a linearly elastic material with a Young’s modulus E: σ = Eε

Then the stress due to bending can be written as:
y σ E
σ =E or = (2)
R y R

Bending equation

Figure 3 shows the cross-section view of a beam section, let dA be the area of a small
element at a distance y from the neutral axis of the cross-section. The force on the element is

dF = σ .dA = y.dA dA
The moment of this force about neutral axis: y

E 2
dM R = dF × y = y dA
Figure 3
The sum of all the moments about neutral plane:

E 2
M R = ∫ dM = ∫ y .dA (3)

This moment acts as resistance to the bending moment of the applied external forces M and
is called resistance moment. For static equilibrium, it equals the bending moment M acting
on the cross section considered:

E 2 E E
M =∫ y dA = ∫ y 2 dA = I (4)

where I = ∫ y 2 dA

Combining the equation (2) and (4) to complete the bending equation that relates the stress at
a given point in a cross-section to the bending moment at that section and corresponding
radius of curvature of the neutral surface:

σ M E
= = (5)
y I R

Where σ is the stress at a distance y from the neutral plane (Nm-2); M the bending moment
(N.m); E the Young’s modulus (Nm-2) and R the radius of curvature of the neutral surface
(m). I is the second moment of area (or moment of inertia) of the section about the neutral
plane (m4).

By introducing the second moment area of the beam, I, into the equation, the stress
calculation can be separated from the complex calculation of the geometrical shape. The
equation (5) can apply to any beam bending about its neutral plane.
Another important parameter in bending equation is the y, the distance to neutral plane that
need to be defined.

Position of neutral plane

If there is no axial load, the neutral axis passes through the centroid of the cross-section. For
a symmetrical shape, the centroid is its geometrical center. For irregular shape, the centroid
can be found from the first moment of the area.