SolidWorks Featured Author Blog: The Analysis of Fabricated Steel Structures

Document created by Kimberly Richardson Employee on Apr 29, 2013Last modified by Kimberly Richardson Employee on Dec 3, 2013
Version 10Show Document
  • View in full screen mode

The Analysis of Fabricated Steel Structures.


How you join components together is a perennial problem for designers. Each of the joining methods (welding, bolting, adhesives etc.) have their advantages and disadvantages, so if the choice is free how do you choose the right one?  In many cases the method of joining is dictated by the material its thickness and size and where the components are assembled (on site or in a factory).  But the question of how many or how much of your joining method is a trickier question.


Technology also impacts your joining methods.  In the 1900’s if you wanted to permanently join two thick steel plates together the most common method was hot riveting. One hundred years later this is a pretty rare joining method. In recent years considerations of recycling have also come into play, with the increasing use of design methods promoted by the IDSA Okala Guide (you can find an old one here )


Structural analysis (or FEA) cannot tell you which joining method is the most eco-friendly or cost efficient but it can tell you if your joining method will fail. So it is an ideal tool to answer the question of “how many or how much”


Let’s consider some fabrication methods.




Using adhesives to join components together where there is a significant area is a very common manufacturing process, especially when you don’t want the parts to be separated. Below is a simple test case of two thin plates tested in tension, for clarity the plates are shown with a gap.



Adhesive Tension Test: There are a couple of ways to study this set up in SolidWorks Simulation. If you just want to join the two plates together then the automatic bonded contact with do that for you.


Perfectly Bonded Plate Results:  But if you want to look at the loads in the adhesive then you need to model the thin plates as mid plane surfaces, which creates a gap between them.  The load transfer for one plate to another is now done by a spring connector whose directional stiffness’s are determined by the adhesive manufactures data sheet.

3.jpgDefining the Adhesive Joint: As this is a shell mesh the calculation is really fast.  And even though we have used a 2D shell mesh SolidWorks Simulation can show you the results in 3D.


Stress Results for Plates Joined by an Adhesive Joint: And you can now look at the forces across the glued interface and compare it to the glues failure ratings using the list result forces and selecting the free body option.


Determining the Adhesive Joint Loads: By comparing the measured loads to the manufactures failure load you can size the correct overlapping area when using adhesives.





This is possibly one of the most common fabrication methods. In SolidWorks Simulation the analysis of a bolted fabrication is a pretty straight forward. Consider this design of a splice plate. What we want to know is how many bolts to use and what kind of preload we should use? 



Bolted Spice Plate Test Piece: SolidWorks Simulation has a great tool for analyzing bolted joints; the bolt connector. The bolt connector is a simplified representation of the bolt which speeds up the solution time without sacrificing accuracy. Within the bolt connector you can also define the load carrying characteristics of the bolt. Helping us determine the safe number and size of bolts after the analysis.


Defining the Bolt Connectors: With the analysis completed we see both the stress in the structure and the loads in the bolts.


Stress Results for Bolted Slice Plate : We can see that the top set of bolts are overloaded, shown below in red, requiring either a size change or an increase in the number of bolts.


Go No-Go Bolt Result : One could also use this method for the analysis of cold or pop rivets assuming minimal compression preload.




Hot Rivets

Hot riveting in conceptually similar to the bolt methodology except the preload is defined by a thermal load. Let’s look at the splice plate again, but this time with hot rivets. The process of hot riveting ensures a tight fit by assembling the components when the rivet is at a high temperature and as it cools the rivet shrinks drawing the components together. We can simulate this behavior with a negative thermal load on the rivets. 




Thermal Pre-Load for Hot Riveted Spice Plate: The down side of this method compared to the bolt analysis is that there are so many contacts to calculate, 95 in this case, extending the run time. But even so one can still analyze this method of fabrication. The results show that both the splice plate and rivets are highly loaded requiring the hot rivet to not so hot and maybe re-designing the spice plate to have more rivets.


Stress Results for Bolted Slice Plate




The analysis of welds is possibly one of the trickiest forms of fabrication analysis, which is a shame as this is a very common fabrication method. The difficulty in analyzing welds with FEA lies in the fact that FEA generally assumes homogeneous and defect free materials. When components are welded this is not the case. The welding process not only affects the weld bead but also the materials that are being joined, locally changing their material properties (the heat affected zone). The weld itself is also prone to imperfections and inclusions which act as stress raisers. This is why welding standards are so widely used.  Generally the effort needed to get a good FEA analysis of a weld is not worth the increase in accuracy over welding standards. But if you do feel the need to analyze a weld you should employ specific analysis methodologies.

  1. The default parent components cannot be bonded together
    • The load path can only be through the welds
  2. Create multi body parts for the heat affected zones
  3. Consider the extend of the weld penetration


These considerations are shown in a simple example below




Welded T-Plate Test Piece: The set up for weld FEA analysis is tricky but doable, especially for geometry and loading cases outside the scope of the welding standards. When looking at your results ensure that the load path is through the weld and if you have partial penetration gaps appear in the load is in tension.

13.jpgStress Results of Welded T-Plate Test Piece: Using this method you can investigate the impact of weld size, penetration, if it is a continuous weld or not etc. 




With SolidWorks Simulation one can also look at spot welding for thin or sheetmetal components.  Let’s look at the model we used for the adhesive test, but this time we can join the two sheets with a series of spot welds, defined by datum points.





Spot Welded Tension Test Piece: With SolidWorks Simulation the spot weld size can be defined and the solution quickly calculated.


Defining Spot Weld Connectors


Spot Weld Stress Results



Further considerations


In many cases you need to mix and match FEA methodologies to mimic a particular fabrication case. But as long as you are systematic this should present no problem to SolidWorks Simulation. 


If you have to analyze large structures, SolidWorks Simulation has a great tools called sub modeling. This allows you to analyze the large scale problem, and then focus is on small scale problems such as welds or joints.




With SolidWorks Simulation you can look as granular as you want or as far field as you desire. So the next time you wonder how many or how much during fabrication do yourself a favor run a quick analysis. It's much better to know rather than guess.


Stephen Endersby is a Senior Product Manager at DS SolidWorks specializing in simulation. Stephen is a passionate advocate of simulation in the design process and believes anyone can learn to use and gave value from SolidWorks Simulation


- You can view all of the Featured Author Blogs by visiting our Index.
- Subscription Services required for full access.
- Looking for more learning resources? Visit the SolidWorks Resource Center.