A new design method for circular hollow sections

A new design method called the continuous strength method (CSM) has been developed at Imperial College to predict more accurately the cross-section resistance of metallic structural elements. This design process has now been extended to cover structural steel, stainless steel and aluminium circular hollow sections (CHS) offering improved and more consistent predictions of cross-section resistance than current design methods.

Circular hollow sections (CHS) have been used as structural elements since the early 1800s. Design codes, such as Eurocode 3 and AISC 360, currently use cross-section classification and linear elastic, perfectly-plastic material models in predicting cross-section compression and flexural resistances. Comparison with existing experimental data shows these traditional design methods can be overly conservative in estimating cross-section capacity particularly for stocky cross-sections, as seen in Figure 1. There are a number of existing compressive tests where the ultimate compressive resistance is far in excess of the yield load Ny, the assumed maximum compressive resistance.

The CSM features two key differences compared with traditional design methods. Firstly, the concept of cross-section classification is replaced with a continuous relationship between local slenderness and deformation capacity. This better reflects the observed continuous nature of section capacity reducing with increasing local slenderness, rather than the discontinuous nature that section classification currently suggests. Secondly, strain hardening material models are utilised, allowing the limiting material stress to exceed the yield stress as seen in coupon tests. Previous work on the CSM has focussed on plated cross-sections in structural steel, stainless steel and aluminium.

This new design process has been extended to cover structural steel, stainless steel and aluminium CHSs. In order to extend the CSM to cover metallic CHS a comprehensive dataset was collated, comprising over 500 existing stub column and four-point bending experimental results. The dataset was firstly used to identify the local slenderness limit below which there is significant benefit from strain hardening, and where the CSM can be applied.


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Then the continuous relationship between local slenderness and deformation capacity (called the base curve) was determined. This relationship is used to estimate the extent to which the cross-section can deform before its resistance decreases, due to inelastic local buckling. The limiting material stresses and strain hardening moduli are predicted using material models that incorporate strain hardening. The cross-section compressive and flexural resistances of the CHS dataset are finally determined through appropriate resistance expressions, using the estimated deformation capacities and material properties.

A graphical comparison between the ultimate compressive experimental loads and the CSM and Eurocode capacity predictions is provided in Figure 2. The graph again shows the over-conservatism of current design methods, with ultimate capacities exceeding the Eurocode predictions by a significant margin. It is evident that, on average, the CSM is more accurate and consistent than existing design methods, with the ultimate experimental capacities being closer to the CSM predictions and the CSM regression line having a reduced gradient. Work is currently under way to extend the design process to cover slender class 4 cross-sections and to undertake reliability analyses.

Another benefit of the improved capacity prediction is that cross-sections benefit from enhanced resistance. Table 1 shows the extra capacity that the CSM provides over the Eurocodes for both compression N and bending M. It can be seen that for the same cross-section, the CSM offers on average between 5% and 13% additional resistance over current design methods.  

Traditional design methods have been observed to be overly conservative in estimating the compressive and flexural cross-section resistances of CHSs. The design expressions determined through the extension of the CSM to cover CHSs can be used by structural engineers to design and build more efficient, cheaper and lighter metallic structures. Designers can specify a more locally slender cross-section, where previously a stockier cross-section would have been required. The ultimate aim is for the CSM CHS extension to be incorporated into international structural steel, stainless steel and aluminium design standards. There are also environmental benefits through the adoption of the CSM, with reduced carbon emissions through more efficient material use, leading to more sustainable construction.

For further information please contact Craig Buchanan (E-mail: craig.buchanan08@imperial.ac.uk) or Professor Leroy Gardner (E-mail: leroy.gardner@imperial.ac.uk).


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