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# LECTURE 4

## Beam element stiffness matrix

Beam analysis using the direct stiffness method
Formal procedure for stiffness matrix determination
2D plane frame element
3D general beam in a general-purpose FE program

Learning objectives:
At the end of this session, you should be:

4.1

## Familiar with FE formulation of a plane frame element

Able to develop the stiffness matrix for a beam and a plane frame structure
Able to appreciate the difference in finite element formulation of a truss element,
a simple beam, a 2D plane beam, and a 3D beam element.

INTRODUCTION

We begin this session by developing the stiffness matrix for the bending of a beam
element, the most common of all structural elements as evidenced by its application in
buildings, bridges, towers, and many other structures. The beam element is
considered to be straight and to have constant cross-sectional area. We will first derive
the beam element stiffness matrix by using the principles developed for simple beam
theory.
We will then present simple examples to illustrate the solution of beam problems by
direct stiffness method. The solution of a beam problem shows that the degrees of
freedom associated with a node are a transverse displacement and a rotation. We will
include the nodal shear forces and bending moments as part of the total solution.
We begin with a plane beam element that can resist only in-plane bending and
transverse shear force. The element requires only four DoF (two DoF per node) and
will be called a simple plane beam element. A plane beam element that also resists
axial force requires two additional DoF. It will be described later and will be called a 2D
beam element. Finally, a beam element in space that resists all components of nodal
force and moment requires six DoF per node and will be called a 3D beam element.
We will discuss this element last.
4.2

BEAM STIFFNESS

In this section, we will derive the stiffness matrix for a simple plane beam element. A
beam is characterised as a long, slender structural member subjected to transverse
loading that produces bending effects as opposed to only axial effects for the truss

2
element. This bending deformation is measured as a transverse displacement and a
rotation. Hence, the degrees of freedom considered per node are a transverse
displacement and a rotation (as opposed to only an axial displacement for the truss
element).
Consider the beam element shown in Figure 4.1. The beam is prismatic, with elastic
modulus E and centroidal moment of inertia I of its cross-sectional area. The beam is
of length L with axial coordinate x and transverse coordinate y. Nodal degrees of
freedom (DoF) consist of lateral translations d1y and d2y and rotations 1 and 2 about
the z axis (normal to the paper). The nodal forces associated with the DoF are given
by f1y and f2y and the bending moments by m1 and m2 as shown. We initially neglect all
axial effects.
At all nodes, the following sign conventions are used:
1.
2.
3.
4.

## Moments are positive in the counterclockwise direction,

Rotations are positive in the counterclockwise direction.
Forces are positive in the positive y direction.
Displacements are positive in the positive y direction.

1, m1

2, m2
E, I

L
f1y, d1y

Figure 4.1

f2y, d2y

Simple plane beam element with its nodal DoF and nodal

We will now review the standard beam deflection and rotation formulas based on
simple beam theory in application to a cantilever beam shown in Figure 4.2. These
formulas will be used for derivation of the beam stiffness matrix later on.

Figure 4.2

## Cantilever beam element with nodal loads and associated

nodal deformations

## Flexural stress in the beam is computed as

My
I

(4.1)

Deflections and rotations due to an applied force F can be calculated by the formulas:

F L3
dy
3EI

F L2
and z
2 EI

(4.2)

Deflections and rotations due to an applied nodal moment M can be calculated by the
formulas:

M L2
dy
2 EI

and z

ML
EI

(4.3)

We now want to relate the element nodal forces to the nodal displacements shown in
Figure 4.1 for a plane beam element. This relationship will yield the beam element
stiffness matrix. That is, we want to find a matrix k such that

f1 y k11 k12
m k
1 21 k22

f 2 y k31 k32
m2 k41 k42

k13
k23
k33
k43

k14
k24
k34

k44

d1 y

1

d 2 y
2

(4.4)

4
To derive the elements of the stiffness matrix k , we apply a unit displacement to only
one degree of freedom (say, d1 y 1, 1 0, d2 y 0, and 2 0 in Figure 4.1):

f1 y k11 k12
m k
1 21 k22

f 2 y k31 k32
m2 k41 k42

k13
k23
k33
k43

k14
k24
k34

k44

1

0

0
0

(4.5)

Multiplying the two matrices in the right-hand side of Eq. (4.5), we get

k11 f1 y

k21 m1 k31 f 2 y

k41 m2

(4.6)

Equations (4.6) contain all elements in the first column of matrix k . In addition, they
show that these elements, k11 , k21 , k31 , k41 , are the values of the nodal forces and
moments that must be applied to sustain a deformation state in which the first DoF has
unit value and all other DoF are zero. In a similar manner, the second column in k
represents the value of forces and moments required to maintain the displacement
state 1 0 and all other nodal displacement components equal to zero. We should
now have a better understanding of the meaning of stiffness coefficients.
We obtain the deflection equations for node 1 by stating that end displacements and
rotations produced by force k11 and bending moment k21 are added together to
produce unit deflection and zero rotation at node 1 and using standard beam deflection
formulas Eqs. (4.2) and (4.3):

f1 y L3

m1 L2 k11 L3 k21L2
d1 y 1

3EI
2 EI
3EI
2 EI
f1 y L2 m1 L k11 L2 k21 L
1 0

2 EI
EI
2 EI
EI

(4.7)

Solving Eqs. (4.7) for two unknowns k11 and k21 results in

k11

12 EI
6 EI
and k21 2
3
L
L

(4.8)

The last two coefficients are determined from equations of equilibrium and yield k31
and k41 when k11 and k21 are known:

(forces) 0
(moments)

0 k11 k31

node 2

k31

## 0 k21 k41 k11 L

(4.9)

12 EI
6 EI
and
k

41
L3
L2

Assuming the remaining three deformations states with a unit deformation in the
direction of the degrees of freedom such as (d1 y 0, 1 1, d2 y 0, and 2 0) ,
(d1 y 0, 1 0, d2 y 1, and 2 0) and (d1 y 0, 1 0, d2 y 0, and 2 1) will result

## in the element stiffness matrix:

6 L 12 6 L
12

2
2
EI 6 L 4 L 6 L 2 L
k 3 12 6 L 12 6 L
L

2
2
6 L 2 L 6 L 4 L

(4.10)

which relates the nodal forces to the nodal displacements in the simple plane beam
element:

6 L 12 6 L d1 y
f1 y
12
m

2
2
1 EI 6 L 4 L 6 L 2 L 1
3

f 2 y L 12 6 L 12 6 L d 2 y

2
2
m2
6 L 2 L 6 L 4 L 2

(4.11)

Equation (4.11) indicates that k relates transverse forces and bending moments to
transverse displacements and rotations, whereas axial effects have been neglected.

4.3

## EXAMPLE OF ASSEMBLAGE OF BEAM STIFFNESS MATRICES

Consider the beam shown below. Assume EI to be constant throughout the beam. A
force of 1000 N and a moment of 1000 N-m are applied to the beam at mid-span. The
left end is a fixed support and the right end is a pin support.
y
1000 N-m
1
1
L

2
1000 N

6
First, we discretise the beam into two elements with nodes 1-3. We must include a
node at midlength because applied force and moment exist at midlength and, at this
time, loads are assumed to be applied only at nodes.
Using Eq. (4.10), we find that the global stiffness matrices for the two elements are
now given by
d1 y

d2 y

6 L 12 6 L
12

2
2
EI 6 L 4 L 6 L 2 L
k12 3 12 6 L 12 6 L
L

2
2
6 L 2 L 6 L 4 L
d2 y

d3 y

(4.12)

6 L 12 6 L
12

2
2
EI 6 L 4 L 6 L 2 L
k23 3 12 6 L 12 6 L
L

2
2
6 L 2 L 6 L 4 L

(4.13)

where the degrees of freedom associated with each beam element are indicated by
the usual labels above the columns. Note that here the local coordinate axes for each
element coincide with the global x and y axes of the whole beam.
The total stiffness matrix can now be assembled for the beam by using the direct
stiffness method. When the global stiffness matrix of the beam has been assembled,
the external global nodal forces are related to the global nodal displacements. Using
the direct stiffness method and Eqs. (4.12) and (4.13), the global stiffness equations
for the beam are thus given by

6L
12
6L
0
0 d1 y
F1 y
12
M
6 L 4 L2
2
6 L
2L
0
0 1
1

F2 y EI 12 6 L 12 12 6 L 6 L 12 6 L d 2 y
3

2
2
2
2
M 2 L 6 L 2 L 6 L 6 L 4 L 4 L 6 L 2 L 2
F3 y
0
0
12
6 L
12 6 L d3 y

0
6L
2 L2
6 L 4 L2 3
0
M 3

(4.14)

Now considering the boundary conditions of the fixed support at node 1 and the hinge
support at node 3, we have

1 0 d1 y 0 d3 y 0

(4.15)

7
This leaves us with only the third, fourth, and sixth equations corresponding to the
rows with unknown degrees of freedom and using Eqs. (4.15), we obtain

1000
24 0

EI
2
1000 3 0 8L
0 L 6 L 2 L2

6 L d 2 y

2 L2 2
4 L2 3

(4.16)

## where F2 y 1000 N , M 2 1000 Nm , and M 3 0 have been substituted into the

reduced set of equations. Equations (4.16) can now be solved simultaneously for the
unknown nodal displacement d2y and the unknown nodal rotations 2 and 3.
4.4

FORMAL PROCEDURE

The direct stiffness method can produce a stiffness matrix only for simple elements,
where formulas from mechanics of materials provide relations between nodal
displacements and associated nodal loads. For most elements, a general formula for
[k] must be used instead. We now take a first look at this formula, and manipulations it
requires, by applying it to the truss and beam elements. The general formula is

k B E B dV
T

(4.17)

## where B is the strain-displacement matrix, E is the material property matrix, and

dV is an increment of the element volume V.
For a truss element, it is easy to demonstrate that because the axial strain is
calculated as

d d
L d 2 d1

1 2 , or in matrix form
L
L
L L
1 1 d1
x

L L d 2

(4.18)

## the strain-displacement matrix [B] is the 1 by 2row vector

1
L

1
L

(4.19)

Finally, for the truss problem, matrix [E] is simply the elastic modulus E, a scalar, and
dV is A dx. Equation (4.17) becomes

1/ L

k 1/ L E
L

1
L

1
AE 1

L
L 1

1
1

(4.20)

8
which agrees with the stiffness matrix for the truss element derived earlier.
The special form of Eq. (4.17) applicable to a beam element is
L

k B EI B dx
T

(4.21)

## where strain-displacement matrix [B] is the 1 by 4 row vector

6 12 x
3
2
L
L

4 6x

L L2

6 12 x

L2 L3

2 6x

L L2

(4.22)

After substitution of Eq. (4.22) into Eq. (4.21), and rather tedious multiplication and
integration, Eq. (4.10) again results.

4.5

STRESS CALCULATION

## Flexural stress is computed as x My / I , and bending moment, M is computed form

curvature of the beam element, which in turn depends on nodal displacements d :

M EI

d 2v
EI B d
dx 2

(4.23)

## Equation (4.23) shows that bending moment M caused by displacements d varies

linearly with x in each element.

4.6

2D BEAM ELEMENT

## A 2D beam element might also be termed a plane frame element. It is a combination of

a truss element and a simple plane beam element. It resists axial stretching,
transverse shear force, and bending in one plane. By combination of Eqs. (4.20) and
(4.10), the stiffness matrix of a 2D beam element that lies along the x axis is

0
AE / L
0
12 EI / L3

0
6 EI / L2

k
AE / L
0

0
12 EI / L3

6 EI / L2
0

0
6 EI / L2
4 EI / L
0
6 EI / L2
2 EI / L

AE / L
0
0
12 EI / L3
0
6 EI / L2
AE / L
0
0
0

12 EI / L3
6 EI / L2

6 EI / L2

4 EI / L
0
6 EI / L2
2 EI / L
0

d1 x
d1 y

1
d2 x

(4.24)

d2 y

where the symbols on the right are appended to show DoF on which the stiffness
matrix operates. Note that at node 1 and at node 2 the element has three DoF,
namely, two displacements and one rotation, for a total of 6 DoF per element.

Figure 4.3

4.7

## 2D BEAM ELEMENT ARBITRARILY ORIENTED IN A SPACE

Many structures, such as buildings and bridges, are composed of frames and grids
with arbitrarily oriented beam elements. We will develop the stiffness matrix for an
arbitrarily oriented beam element, thus making it possible to analyse plane frames.
We can derive the stiffness matrix for an arbitrarily oriented beam element in a manner
similar to that used for the truss element. The local axes x and y are located along
the beam element and transverse to the beam element, respectively, and the global
axes x and y are located to be convenient for the total structure.
Recall that we can relate global displacements to local displacements by using the
following relationship

10

d x C S dx

d
S
C
y

d y

(4.25)

In case of a beam element that has three degrees of freedom per node, as discussed
in Section 4.6), we now relate the global to the local displacements by

d1x C
d S
1y
1 0

d2 x 0
d 2 y 0

2 0

C
0

0
1

0
0

0 C

0 d1x

0 0 d1 y

0 0 1

S 0 d2 x
C 0 d
2y
0 1
2
0

(4.26)

where the transformation matrix [T] has now been expanded to include local axial and
shear force effects, as well as principal bending moment effects:

S
C
0
0

C
S

0
T 0

0
0

0 0
0 0
1 0
0 C

0
0
0
S

0
0

C
0

S
0

0
0
0

0
0

(4.27)

Substituting [T] from Eq. (4.27) and [k] from Eq. (4.24) into Eq. (3.21), we obtain the
general transformed global stiffness matrix for a beam element that includes axial
force, shear force, and bending moment effects as follows:

L
2 12 I 2
AC L2 S

Symmetry

12 I

A 2 CS
L

12 I
AS 2 2 C 2
L

6I
S
L

6I
C
L
4I

12 I
12 I
6I

AC 2 2 S 2 A 2 CS
S
L
L
L

12 I
12 I

6I
A 2 CS
AS 2 2 C 2
C
L
L
L

6I
6I
S
C
2I
L
L

12
I
12
I
6
I

AC 2 2 S 2
S
A 2 CS
L
L
L

12 I 2
6I
2
AS 2 C
C
L
L

4 I
(4.28)

11

The analysis of a rigid plane frame can now be undertaken by applying stiffness matrix
Eq. (4.28). A rigid plane frame is defined as a series of beam elements rigidly
connected to each other. From Eq. (4.28), we observe that the element stiffness of a
frame are functions of E, A, L, I, and the angle of orientation of the element with
respect to the global coordinate axes. Note that computer programs for frame analysis
often refer to the frame element as a beam element, with the understanding that the
program is using the stiffness matrix in Eq. (4.28) for plane frame analysis.

4.8

3D BEAM ELEMENT

## A beam element in a general-purpose FE program has three-dimensional capability.

For explanation, we introduce global coordinate axes XYZ and let the element lie along
a local x axis (Figure 4.4). Local coordinate axes xyz may arbitrarily be oriented in
global XYZ space. The local x axis is defined by the coordinates of nodes 1 and 2. The
web of the beam lies in the xy plane, which contains nodes 1, 2, and 3. Node 3 is
either an extra node or another node of the structure, whose coordinate serve to orient
the xy plane in XYZ space. No degrees of freedom of the element are associated with
node 3. At node 1 and node 2 the element has six DoF, namely, three displacements
and three rotations, for a total of 12 DoF per element.

## Figure 4.4 3D beam element

arbitrarily oriented in global
coordinates XYZ

## Figure 4.5 Degrees of freedom

of the beam element in global
coordinates

## Question about support conditions: if a 3D beam element is used to model a

cantilever beam along the x axis, what DoF must be supported?
Answer: All six of them, including rotations 1x and 2x (see Figure 4.4) to
prevent the beam from being free to spin about its own axis (even if no torque is
applied).