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Development and application of corotational finite elements for the analysis of steel structures in fire

Time: Fri 2021-02-19 14.00

Location:, Trento (English)

Subject area: Civil and Architectural Engineering, Structural Engineering and Bridges

Doctoral student: Luca Possidente , Bro- och stålbyggnad, Department of Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering, University of Trento, Trento

Opponent: Professor Paulo Vila Real, University of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal

Supervisor: Professor Jean-Marc Battini, Bro- och stålbyggnad; Assistant Professor Nicola Tondini, Department of Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering, University of Trento, Trento


The ignition and the propagation of a fire inside a building may lead to global or local structural collapse, especially in steel framed structures. Indeed, steel structures are particularly vulnerable to thermal attack because of a high value of steel conductivity and of the small thickness that characterise the cross-sections. As a crucial aspect of design, fire safety requirements should be achieved either following prescriptive rules or adopting performance-based fire engineering. Despite the possibility to employ simple methods that involve member analysis under nominal fire curves, a more accurate analysis of the thermomechanical behaviour of a steel structural system is an appealing alternative, asit may lead to more economical and efficient solutions by taking into account possible favourable mechanisms. This analysis typically requires the investigation of parts of the structure or even of the whole structure. For this purpose, and in order to gain a deeper knowledge about the behaviour of structural members at elevated temperature, numerical simulation should be employed. In this thesis,thermomechanical finite elements, suited for the analyses of steel structures in fire, were developed and exploited in numerical simulation of relevant case studies.

The development of a shell and of a 3D beam thermomechanical finite element based on a corotational formulation is presented. Most of the relevant structural cases can be adequately investigated by either using one of these elements or combining them. The corotational formulation is well suited for the analyses of structures in which large displacements, but small strains occur, as in the case of steel structures in fire. The main features of the elements are described, as well as their characterization in the thermomechanical context. In this regard, the material degradation due to the temperature increase and the thermal expansion of steel were considered in the derivation of the elements. In addition, a branch-switching procedure to perform preliminary instability analyses and get important insight into the post-buckling behaviour of steel structures subjected to fire is presented.

The application of the developed numerical tools is provided in the part of the thesis devoted to the published research work. Several aspects of the buckling of steel structural elements at elevated temperature are discussed. In paper I, considerations about the influence of geometrical imperfectionson the behaviour of compressed steel plates and columns at elevated temperatures are provided, as well as implications and results of the employment of the branch-switching procedure. In Paper II, the proposed 3D beam element is validated for meaningful case studies, in which torsional deformations are significant. The developed beam and shell elements are employed in an investigation of buckling resistance of compressed angular, Tee and cruciform steel profiles at elevated temperature presented in Paper III. An improved buckling curve for design is presented in this work. Furthermore, as an example of the application of Fire Safety Engineering principles, a comprehensive analysis is proposed in Paper IV. Two relevant fire scenarios are identified for the investigated building, which is modelled and analysed in the software SAFIR.