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Modelling and analysis of beam bridges


The majority of highway bridges are beam structures, either single spans or continuous spans, and composite bridges
are of either multi-girder or ladder deck form. Determining the principal effects of the various loading combinations can
often be achieved with a 2-dimensional analytical model but for a more comprehensive analysis a 3-dimensional
model is needed. This article reviews the appropriate analysis and modelling techniques for typical steel-composite
bridges in the UK.

Full finite element model

Modelling options for a typical multi-beam bridge

A typical multi-girder steel composite bridge


Trinity Overbridge on the A120
(Image courtesy of Atkins)

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There are three modelling options for a typical multi-girder steel composite bridge:

Line beam
Grillage
Full finite element model

A line beam is a fairly crude tool. It does not take account of transverse distribution, it gives no output for transverse
design (e.g. slab or bracing) and does not consider skew effects. It would not be recommended for detail design, but is
a useful tool for preliminary design.

Use of a grillage model is suitable in many situations. Use of a finite element model will give more detailed results,
especially for non-uniform beams.

While grillage analysis is widely used, and is still considered to be most appropriate for most bridge decks, it is
recognised that finite element analysis programs are becoming more widely available and easier to use. Also, the
Eurocode requirements for checking lateral torsional buckling may make a finite element buckling analysis essential
for checking the wet-concrete construction load case.

Cross section of Trinity Overbridge

Grillage analysis

Grillage analysis: overview

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Isometric view of grillage representing 'I'-beam deck

The grillage model is a common form of analysis model for composite bridge decks. Its key features are:

It is a 2D model
Structural behaviour is linear elastic
Beam members are laid out in a grid pattern in single plane, rigidly connected at nodes
Longitudinal members represent composite sections (i.e. main girders with associated slab)
Transverse members represent the slab only, or composite section where transverse steel beams are present

Grillage analysis: member layout

The following guidance is offered for choosing the grillage layout:

Keep grid dimensions approximately square


Use even number of grid spacings
Grid spacing not more than span/8
Edge members along line of parapet to facilitate load application
Insert additional joints for splice positions (usually assumed to be 25% of span from piers)

For a 2-span bridge, as illustrated above, an appropriate layout would be as shown below.

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Typical grillage layout for 2-span multi-girder steel composite bridge

Grillage analysis: application of loading in stages

At least three different grillage models will be required to model the response of the structure to the range of
permanent and variable actions:

A ‘steel-only’ model: The self weight of the steel beams and the weight of the wet concrete during
construction are applied to a steel-only grillage model. Longitudinal members represent the steel girders only,
while transverse members are not usually necessary (they may be set as ‘dummy’ members to keep the same
model arrangement as composite models).
A ‘long term’ composite model: The permanent actions applied to the completed structure (chiefly the
superimposed dead loads such as surfacing, and the restraint of curvature due to shrinkage) are applied to a
long-term composite model. The section properties of the longitudinal composite members and the transverse
members representing the slab are calculated using long-term concrete modulus of elasticity of the concrete.
Where the slab is in tension, cracked section properties may be needed.
A ‘short term’ composite model: The transient actions (mainly the vertical loads due to traffic) are applied
to a short-term composite model. Section properties are calculated in the same way as for the long-term model
but using the short-term modulus of elasticity. Again, cracked section properties may be needed where the
slab is in tension.

Note that BS EN 1992-1-1[1] gives a slightly different long-term modulus of elasticity of concrete for shrinkage loading,
so theoretically there should be a fourth model for analysing shrinkage effects. However, the modulus is not
significantly different from the ‘ordinary’ long term value and it is reasonable to apply the shrinkage restraint moments
to the long term model for determining the secondary moments in the beams. However, appropriate section properties
for shrinkage should be used for calculating stresses due to those effects.

Grillage analysis: section properties

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Transformed section properties for a grillage composite beam element

It usual to calculate all section properties in ‘steel units’, using a transformed area for the concrete flange (divide by the
modular ratio n = Es/Ec). The following section properties are needed for each different cross section:

Steel only: steel girder properties only


Long term composite: concrete area transformed for the long-term modular ratio
Short term composite: concrete area transformed for the short-term modular ratio
Cracked properties (in hogging regions): reinforcement area only taken as effective in slab section

For the uncracked section properties, the reinforcement in the slab may be ignored.

A typical transformed section is shown right.

Extent of cracked properties

Where the ratios of the lengths of adjacent spans are at least 0.6, the allowance for cracking of the slab in hogging
regions may be made by using cracked section properties for 15% of the span either side of an intermediate supports,
as shown below. This covered by BS EN 1994-2[2], clause 5.4.2.3.

Extent of cracked properties in beam elements

Shear lag in concrete flanges

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The effective width of concrete flanges is based on a width of slab equal to Le/8 outside the outer stud, either side of
the beam, where Le is the distance between points of contraflexure. This definition is given in BS EN 1994-2[2], clause
5.4.1.2, where approximate values of Le are given. Note that shear lag does need to be considered at both ULS and
SLS (the same effective width is used for both limit states).

Grillage analysis: application of loads

Permanent actions (self weights) are apportioned between longitudinal members by simple statics. A graphical view
of a typical permanent loads applied to a grillage model is shown below (left).

Traffic loads are usually derived by ‘auto-loading’ programs that are part of most analysis software. These programs
use influence surfaces to determine the extent of uniformly distributed loads and the positions of tandem systems and
special vehicles. A typical influence surface for a midspan bending location is shown below (right).

The user decides which positions on the model are most significant for design (e.g. midspan, splices and support
positions) and requires the influence surfaces to be generated for those positions; the auto-loader then determines the
positions where loads are applied for the most onerous effect.

Typical influence surface for bending moment at mid-span


Graphical view of permanent loads applied to model
in a 2-span, 4-beam bridge

Grillage analysis: output

The main aim of any global bridge analysis is to produce output that can then be used in section analysis and design.
Typically this output will be bending moments, shear forces and torques (where significant) in the main beams.
Deflections will also be required for precamber calculations. The output is likely to be either graphical or tabular both
are useful. The graphical output allows the peak moments and shears to be quickly established by eye and also allows
the designer to make a visual check of whether the model is behaving as expected. The tabular output can be useful
for post-processing by spreadsheet and simultaneous reading of coexistent load effects. However, the designer
should use judgement of where the critical locations are on the structure to avoid excessive amounts of output data
and post-processing.

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Typical graphical view of bending moment output

Typical output of load-effects from grillage analysis

Grillage analysis: other considerations

Graphical output of bending moments in slab elements in a grillage model

The following also need to be considered:

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Global effects for transverse slab design: Take load effects on transverse members from the grillage
model and add to effects from local analysis (e.g. Pucher Charts. See SCI 356). Any loads applied to the
grillage should be applied to joints only for this purpose to avoid any inaccurate double counting of local
effects.
Bracing: Bracing is usually modelled with a shear-flexible member (is conservative to use a member that does
not allow for shear flexibility), with equivalent properties calculated from a plane frame model. The plane frame
model can also be used to for the bracing design using deflections, from the grillage model, imposed on the
plane-frame model and restraint forces as appropriate.
Supports: All supports provide only vertical restraint in 2D grillage. The effects of non-vertical loads must be
assessed either by hand or by an alternative model.
Hand checks: Hand checks should be carried out to validate the model, for example checking bending
moments under uniform loading and checking support reactions
Combined global analysis and section design software: Some software offers combined global analysis
and section design capability. Designers should ensure that they understand the theory behind the design of
beam sections and carry out checks on the output.

Plane frame model for assessment of stiffness (for grillage model element) and for determining effects due to
displacements from output

Grillage analysis: variations


Skew bridges

Many bridges are skew in plan and the grillage model is able to accommodate this arrangement in one of several
ways. Consider the typical plan of a skew bridge shown below.

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Plan of typical skew bridge

For small skew angles, the mesh can be aligned with the skew, as shown below.

skew mesh (for skew not greater than 20°)

For larger skew angles, the behaviour of skew elements becomes inaccurate and it is better to return to an orthogonal
mesh. At the ends, the skew must be accommodated.

Orthogonal mesh for larger skew. (skew more than 20°)

Curved bridges

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Typical curved composite bridge

It is relatively common for bridges at grade separated interchanges and other locations where space is restricted to
have significant plan curvature.

For such situations, curved grillages can be used, although care is needed in choosing the layout and in considering
the analysis results as torsional effects in the slab are not easily separated from warping effects in the steel girders.
Additionally, the effects of the horizontal ‘radial’ forces in the in steel flanges will need to be added in after grillage
analysis.

Curved grillage model for a 4-span bridge

Variable depth girders

Variable depth girders, such as that illustrated below can easily be accommodated in a grillage model by varying the
section properties along length of longitudinal members.

Variable depth girders in a 2-span bridge


(Image courtesy of Atkins)

Ladder decks

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Ladder deck bridge (construction stage, with launching nose)

Ladder decks, such as that shown right can be modelled using grillages.

In the grillage model for a ladder decks:

The main longitudinal members represent full composite section


Intermediate longitudinal members represent slab only
Transverse members will generally represent the composite section including cross-beams. Sometimes
intermediate slab-only members may be included, in-between the composite transverse members.

A 3D model is likely to be required to model interaction between cross-girders and main girders, particularly the
determination of ‘U’ frame stiffness and effects on cross-girders due to local application of special vehicles.

Grillage model for a ladder deck bridge

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Ladder deck 3D model for interaction of cross-girders and main girders

Integral bridges

For an integral bridge, one could use 2D grillage with rotational spring supports at the integral supports in conjunction
with 2D plane frame model for temperature effects. Alternatively a 3D model with grillage section for deck and vertical
sections for abutment and foundation could be used.

Elastic critical buckling analysis for wet-concrete loadcase

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Bare steel beams awaiting wet concrete loading

BS EN 1993-2[3] gives no formula for determining the lateral torsional buckling slenderness of paired steel beams with
torsional bracing, where the pair of girders is liable to buckle as a pair in sympathy with each other rather than
between restraints. This is the usual scenario for wet concrete loading. There are two options that can be considered:

Calculate the slenderness using an FE elastic critical buckling analysis

Use the simplified rules for the flexibility of torsional restraints derived from BS 5400-3[4] (these are available in
Eurocode format in SCI P356).

For an FE analysis, the user needs to view buckling modes to find the lateral torsional buckling mode – one may find
web or flange buckling modes occur before lateral torsional buckling modes.

An FE analysis is likely to give significant benefit over the simplified approach, as discussed in beam design.

Further guidance on how to determine the buckling resistance of steel plate girders in composite bridges during
construction (the bare steel stage) and in service (when the deck slab acts as a top flange) is available in ED008

Finite element modelling


As it is likely that a finite element model will be required for the elastic critical buckling check, one could consider using
a full finite element model for all the analysis. This would also have the advantage that the structural response is
potentially better modelled. However, there are a number of disadvantages including:

Full finite element model

Longer set-up
More chance of errors
Longer to extract results
More practice required to use with confidence
Debugging harder

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Peak support moments could be underestimated

Where it is decided the use a finite element model, the following guidance may be of help:

Coarse mesh likely to be adequate


Keep mesh as square as possible
More thorough planning required
Thick shell elements for beams and slabs, beam elements elsewhere (e.g. for bracing)
Alternatively could use beam elements for the component plates for the steel beams
More checking required
Anisotropic properties required in cracked regions

Conclusions
The grillage is the commonly used model for bridge decks and it is relatively easy to use. However, a finite element
model is quite likely to still be required as well for elastic critical buckling analysis of the steel girders supporting wet
concrete loading. Consequently, a finite element model could be considered for all analysis, which would also have the
possible advantage of better modelling of structural response. However, there are many disadvantages of this
approach at present and many designers use a grillage for the main analysis and only use a finite element model
where absolutely necessary.

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References
1. ↑ BS EN 1992-1-1:2004+A1:2014 Eurocode 2. Design of concrete structures. General rules and rules for
buildings, BSI

2. ↑ 2.02.1 BS EN 1994-2:2005, Eurocode 4. Design of composite steel and concrete structures. General rules and
rules for bridges, BSI
3. ↑ BS EN 1993-2:2006, Eurocode 3. Design of steel structures. Steel bridges, BSI
4. ↑ BS 5400-3:2000 Steel, concrete and composite bridges. Code of practice for design of steel bridges. BSI

Resources
Iles, D.C. (2010) Composite highway bridge design. (P356 including corrigendum, 2014). SCI
Iles, D.C. (2012) Determining the buckling resistance of steel and composite bridge structures. (ED008). SCI
Iles, D.C. (2012) Design of composite highway bridges curved in plan. (P393). SCI

See also
Multi-girder composite bridges
Ladder deck composite bridges
Integral bridges
Bridges - initial design
Design of beams in composite bridges
Bracing systems
Connections in bridges
Plan curvature in bridges
Skew bridges

External links
Highways England DMRB (Design Manual for Roads and Bridges)
Highways England MCDHW (Manual of Contract Documents for Highway Works)
The Steel Bridge Group (SBG)

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