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Collapse and the Local Buckling of Structures

Nar Sripadanna, P.E. Abstract The collapse of structures usually takes place when vertical members of the construction suddenly buckle or when the lateral restraining system fails or does not exist. Material housing structures such as tanks, bins, and silos all have one thing in common; most of them are constructed with walls that have large height to thickness ratios. Examples of structural failures having been documented by the author are presented in this article. The first case presented is a large rectangular grain storage facility that stored corn product. The 20-foot high walls of the rectangular structure collapsed during loading of the product due to guy wires that were cut to allow forklifts to operate within the structure. The second case involves a group of 45-foot tall by 16-foot in diameter grain silos that developed localized buckling at approximately mid height. This type of phenomenon was wrongly attributed to wind loads from a storm event instead of the negative internal pressures exerted on the silo shells from unbalanced product removal. The final case discussed here is where a 10,000 gallon horizontal vessel used to separate water from used engine oil collapsed during the operation of the vessel. Vacuum and temperature differentials during the operation of the vessel caused the vessel shell to buckle inward. Collapse of Structural Frames A 40-year-old steel structure clad with corrugated metal panels and a 150' x 400' footprint collapsed after loading corn grain into the storage building. The structure burst open near the middle of the longitudinal sides spilling the grain out onto the surrounding ground. The perimeter wall of the structure was roughly 20 tall. The facility had been vacant for some time prior to the collapse event and had previously been used for soybean storage. The structure consists of latticed columns and sloping roof girders at every 20 feet oncenters. Girths run horizontally across the latticed columns at 2 feet on-centers. Two columns equally spaced between the two main latticed columns provide resistance to the lateral grain pressure. The grain storage facility complex contains several structures of similar size. Some of the structures have guy wires or bracing of the intermediate columns along the perimeter. The columns for the structures without the guy wires have a base plate with four anchor bolt moment connections and the columns for the structures with guy wires have a base plate with two anchor bolt pinned connections. Nar Sripadanna, P.E.

Fig. 1: Grain Storage Facility The collapsed structure was constructed with guy wires or diagonal braces at the nonload bearing interior columns. The same columns in other structures of the complex are constructed with moment resisting connections without diagonal braces or guy wires. The guy wires in the collapsed structure were cut during interior preparations, as they were obstructing the forklift operation. The warehouse employees made an attempt to reinstall guy wires prior to the filling of the grain structure, although not with the same material as the original braces or at the same locations. We observed that these guy wires were not installed at every non-load-bearing column as was done in the past, but that only every other column was braced. The lack of sufficient bracing caused the non-load-bearing perimeter columns to tilt out thus breaking the simple non-moment resisting connection at the bottom. Once one column failed then other columns on either side of the failed column either buckled or snapped their pin connections. It appears that the corners of the structure were still holding together due to hoop action of the roof-framing members. Only the perimeter columns in the longitudinal middle appeared to have failed. If all of the non-load-bearing columns were braced properly, this failure could have been avoided. The author became involved with a similar wall collapse incident when the roof of a historic building became damaged by fire. The repair contractor, in an attempt to shore the unsupported walls, inadequately braced them by nailing pre-cast wall shores to the wooden floor deck. The wall collapsed during a moderate wind event when the shores became detached from the wood deck.

Ill. 1: Photo collection of steel frame structural collapse. Lack of adequate bracing during construction and renovation has resulted in the collapse of many structures. The photographs above show a warehouse distribution center that collapsed during construction when subjected to moderate wind pressures. The collapse of metal building and steel-framed structures is common during erection. Many times, heavy loads are placed on the unfinished structures, such as steel decking stacked on top of the steel framing, thus causing an unbalanced loading situation.

Buckling of Thin Walled Structures Immediately after a significant wind storm event, the owner of a group of 6-43-6 tall grain storage silos noticed indentations in silo surfaces. The 6 storage silos were empty at the time of the windstorm event. The silos were reported to be 20 years old.

Fig. 2: Mapping of the buckles in one of the group of grain silos. The official weather reports obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center indicate that wind speeds of 70 miles per hour (61 knots) were recorded in the vicinity of the silos. A review of literature on the collapse of grain silos yielded the following information. In an article written by James Skaret, P.E. on the Insurance Canada Website titled Grain Silo Collapse Wind or Other Phenomenon, Mr. Skaret indicates that what may appear to be wind damage often can be attributed to other phenomena that are not related to high wind pressure. Additional information along this line is found in another article, by John W. Carson titled Silo Failures: Case Histories and Lessons Learned which was presented at the Third Israeli Conference for Conveying and Handling of Particulate Solids, May 2000. According to this article, silos fail with a frequency which is much higher than almost any other industrial equipment. Sometimes the failure only involves distortion or

deformation which, while unsightly, does not pose a safety or operational hazard. In other cases, failure involves complete collapse of the structure Silo design requires specialized knowledge. Material flow properties, flow channel geometry, flow and static pressure development, and dynamic effects should all be taken into account when designing a silo. Problems such as rat-holing and self-induced vibration have to be prevented. One of the most common problems that designers often ignore is the bending of circular walls caused by eccentric withdrawal.

Ill. 2: View of mid-level skin buckling in vertical grain silos. Typical Failure Example: A silo storing sodium sulfate consisted of a 14-foot diameter by 50-foot tall cylinder section, below which was a screw feeder. A significant inward dent developed about mid-height in the cylinder section. It extended about a quarter of the way around the circumference and was centered slightly offset from the long axis of the screw at the back end. The problem was caused by eccentric withdrawal due to an improperly designed screw feeder. Similar Example: A blending silo utilized 24 external tubes to withdraw plastic pellets at various elevations from the cylinder. Significant wrinkles developed in the cylinder section above several of the external tubes. Another factor to consider in the diagnosis of buckling walls is that the walls of outdoor metal silos can expand during the day and contract at night as the ambient temperatures fluctuate. If there are no discharges taking place and the material inside the silo is free flowing, it will settle as the silo expands in the rising temperatures of the day. However,

as temperatures recede during the night, the stored material cannot be pushed back up as the silo walls contract, so it resists the contraction, which in turn causes increased tensile stresses in the wall. This phenomenon, which is repeated each day that the material sits at rest, is called thermal ratcheting. Furthermore, an unusual loading condition can occur when moisture migrates between stagnant particles, or masses of stagnant particles, which expand when moisture is added to them. If this occurs while material is not being withdrawn, upward expansion is greatly restrained. Therefore, most of the expansion must occur in the horizontal plane, which will result in significantly increased lateral pressures on, and hoop stresses in, the silo walls. A properly designed and properly constructed storage silo should have a long life. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Problems can arise when the flow properties of the stored materials change and/or the structure is changed due to normal wear and tear. If a different bulk material is placed in a silo other than the one for which the silo was designed, obstructions such as arches and rat-holes may form where the flow pattern and loads may be completely different than expected. When a poorly flowing material is placed in a silo that was not designed to store and handle it, flow stoppages due to arching or rat-holing are likely. Sometimes these obstructions will clear by themselves, but more often, operators will have to resort to various means to clear them. No matter which method is used, the resulting dynamic loads when an arch or rat-hole collapses can buckle or dimple the silo walls. A pressurized cylinder is more resistant to compressive buckling than an unpressurized one. In addition, if a bulk solid causes this pressure it is even more resistant. The reason is as follows: Gas or liquid pressure is constant around a silos circumference and remains unchanged as the silo starts to deform. On the other hand, the pressure exerted by a bulk solid against a silos wall increases in areas where the wall is deforming inward, and decreases where the wall is expanding. This provides a significant restraining effect once the buckling begins. However, if an arch forms across a silos cylinder section and material below it is withdrawn, not only is the restraining effect of the bulk solid lost, but the full weight of the silos contents above the arch is transferred to the now unsupported region of the silo wall. Buckling failure is likely when this occurs.

Fig. 3: Low pressure on the side of the withdrawal.

Fig. 4: The computer model on the left shows the (exaggerated) deflected shape of an empty silo under a 70 mile per hour wind speed. The computer model in the middle shows a localized buckled shape due to a loss of grain support during unloading operations. The illustration on the right shows a close-up view of the localized, buckled shape of the silo wall due to a sudden loss of lateral grain support. Based on the literature review and documentation of the distress to the group of six silos, it can be concluded that the silos were not damaged due to the reported wind forces. There was no distress at the base of the silos. Over-turning forces from wind, if significant, should have caused distress at the base of the structure around the anchor bolt area. Fig. 5 below shows a typical deflected shape of the silo structure under 70 mile per hour wind loading. Because the plate thickness of the structure is very thin, the walls of the silo will simply deflect inward with the value of deflection starting at zero toward the top and bottom and reaching a maximum value around the middle of the silo. Wind forces cannot cause localized buckling of the silo wall.

Fig. 5: Shows stress distribution in the silo from a 70 mile per hour wind force. Note that the maximum stress is at the anchor bolts on the windward side. The 70 mile per hour wind loading did not cause the stresses in the empty silos to exceed the allowable steel plate stresses. The actual stress in the wall is 1,062 pounds per square inch. The yield stress of A36 steel is 36,000 pounds per square inch. The maximum deflection at the middle of the silo due to the wind load is 0.067 inches. Therefore, the wind loading did not cause visible or obvious distress to these silos. The localized buckling reported by the owner had been present prior to the wind event and the owner probably happened to notice it while inspecting the property for damage after the wind storm event occurred. Collapse of a Pressure Vessel This case history describes a collapsed pressure vessel while being used to remove water from used automobile engine oil.

Ill. 3: Oil/Water separation unit collapses after shutdown due to an equipment failure. Specifications and operation of the oil/water separation unit: The vessel was approximately 9 years old. Vessel capacity was roughly 10,000/12,000 gallons. The vessel had a 2 in diameter pipe at the top front side spraying 200 F oil to be recycled. At the bottom of the vessel, coils would circulate oil at roughly 350 F to heat the oil and water mixture that was pumped into the vessel at the bottom front side. A vacuum line then removed the water vapors from the top middle portion of the vessel. There was a shutoff valve on the vessel and a vacuum relief valve on the line that creates vacuum in the vessel.

Reportedly, the vacuum relief valve should trigger if the vacuum in the vessel exceeds 15 inches of mercury (Hg). There was a vacuum gauge next to the vacuum relief valve and a vacuum gauge on the vessel itself. A water pump that circulates water from an underground tank creates the vacuum.

Just before the collapse of the vessel, a pump that removes the oil from the bottom of the vessel failed. The operator of the vessel informed us that everything was shut down at that time. The oil pump was shut down at 10:00 AM and the vessel collapsed at 1:30 PM. The temperature gauge on the vessel read 170 F and the vacuum gauge on the vessel read 12 of mercury immediately after the collapse. The operator also reported that during operations of the past, the vessels vacuum gauge had indicated a vacuum of as high as 22 of mercury. Ideally, this was not possible since the vacuum relief valve should have triggered at 15 of mercury. This would have meant that the relief valve on this vessel was not functioning properly. On a typical day of operation, the oil to be recycled is sprayed at the top while the recycled oil is removed at the bottom. After a few hours of this process, a vacuum buildup in the vessel occurs due to the constant removal of water vapors. To remove any excess oil in the vessel, a 1 diameter bleed valve at the back of the vessel needs to be opened. Typically, the vessel operator will also open the top hatch to allow the oil pump at the bottom to drain the oil from the bottom of the vessel. In this case, the vessel operator also mentioned that he normally tries to keep the maximum operational temperature at 250 F. On the day of the vessel collapse, the system became operational at 7:00 AM in the morning. Then at 10:00AM a problem developed in the oil pump that drains the recycled oil at the bottom of the vessel. The vessel operator then shut the system down, which included the pump that sprays the oil to be recycled at the top, the oil pumps in the heating coils, and the vacuum pump. However, the vessel bleed valve at the back of the vessel was not released to eliminate the vacuum in the vessel. The temperature in the vessel cooled down from a 250 F maximum to 170 F. This drop in temperature caused vapors in the vessel to reduce in volume, which resulted in more suction in the vessel. The oil level in the bottom of the vessel increased as the oil pump that pumps the oil out of the vessel failed. At the time of the vessel collapse, there was 3-6 to 4-0 of oil in the vessel. Because there is oil at the bottom, a partial loading condition was created. Usually, circular shapes exhibit higher load resistance if they are loaded uniformly rather than partially. This phenomenon can also be explained by creating a computer model and comparing the stresses in the vessel skin between full and partial loading conditions. The system operator suggested that the vacuum relief should trigger at 15 of mercury. It is possible that the vacuum in the vessel was at or below 15 of mercury. However, it still failed because of the fair amount of oil at the bottom that created the partial loading condition thus contributing to the vessels collapse. Another factor to be considered is differential temperature in the vessel skin. As there is hot oil at the bottom, the top surface cools more rapidly when compared to the bottom area where there is oil. This results in thermal stresses that would exacerbate the partial loading problem. It is also quite possible that the valve on the vacuum line was shut or became stuck thus

preventing the vacuum relief valve from functioning. Cooling of the vapors created more vacuum in the vessel than was already there. This factor could also have contributed to the vessels collapse. Theory Behind Critical Buckling Most engineers are familiar with the Euler buckling formula. Presented below is an example column with dimensions where the Euler buckling formula is then applied.

Fig. 6: Example with column dimensions.

Pcr :=

29000 ksi .844 in ( 120in)


Pcr = 16775.586lb
Euler buckling formula applied to the example above. In most cases, this formula is part of the code checking process.

However, most engineers do not realize that this buckling phenomenon can occur not only to an individual member, but that the entire structure could buckle. Some times the buckling mode shape of the structure is not very intuitive. By usage of the finite element program, the critical buckling load and the buckling mode shape can be determined.

Fig. 7: Shows finite element results of a critical buckling analysis. The buckling load multiplier on a 1 pound load is 16765.3 lbs. This is close to the Euler buckling formula calculated value above. While finite element analysis is not required to calculate the critical buckling load for a column, a complex structure can buckle in ways we cannot easily envision. Figure 8 below shows the buckling mode of an un-braced bottom truss chord. Note that the critical buckling load multiplier is a negative value. This means that the truss bottom chord will buckle if the loading is reversed.

Fig. 8: Shows the buckling mode of un-braced bottom chords of a truss system.

Conclusion Most engineers design structures for strength. However, some thought process needs to go into the structural stability during the service life or during repair and retrofit of the structure.

References Load Development and Structural Consideration in Silo Design by J. W. Carson Ph.D., R.T. Jenkyn, P.Eng. A web article. Original Source: Carson, J. W. and R. T. Jenkyn: Load Development and Structural Considerations in Silo Design. Presented at Reliable Flow of Particulate Solids II, Oslo, Norway, August 1993. Article from the Insurance Canada Website titled Grain Silo Collapse Wind or Other Phenomenon by James Skaret, P.E.