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Lecture 15: Plane Strain and Axisymmetric Structural Elements commentary

In the first e-learning course on preparing a geotechnical numerical model, we covered the meaning
of the plane strain and axisymmetric geometrical assumptions. In this video in the Structural
Elements course we return to the subject but this time look at the implications of these assumptions
for the input and output data. You need to specify input parameters carefully so that they
adequately reflect the real structure, and dont forget that outputs need to be interpreted carefully
as this is often an area of misunderstanding.

Lets start with the plane strain assumption. Here we have a case with a retaining wall supported by
a floor slab that is perfectly suited to the plane strain assumption because the geometry of the
problem is the same in one direction. The black lines you can see divide the geometry into slices
each of one unit of width. The actual width depends on the units of displacement used in your
analysis. If, for example, the displacement unit is metres, then each slice there is one metre wide.
Youll see why thats important in a moment. First of all, lets look at the 2D plane strain model of
this using solid structural elements. It is simply a 2D section and the structural elements have the
same thickness and material properties as the original 3D model. In that way the structural section
properties are included in the geometry.

Alternatively, you can model the structures with line elements, such as beam or bar elements. In this
case, the section properties are specified in the input parameters for the structural materials. Note
that outputs of structural forces such as axial force, bending moment and shear force will be
provided per unit length, or per slice as indicated in the original diagram.

Lets look at a more complicated case now. Here we have a contiguous piled wall with piles installed
at a regular spacing. The spacing is the distance between each pile, typically centre-to-centre, and
not the size of the gap between them. The wall is supported by struts at a larger spacing, through
the capping beam, as well as by ground anchors at a different spacing through a continuous waling
beam. So, how do we represent all that in plane strain? Firstly, you need to convert the structural
section properties to their equivalent plane strain values by dividing them by their spacing, as such
the values will be expressed per unit length in the direction perpendicular to the plane of the
analysis. By the way, a written example of these calculations is provided with this module that you
can work through.

Then you can choose to represent the structures with solid 2D elements or with line elements.
Calculating the input parameters for solid elements can be less straightforward because you need to
calculate an equivalent width of each structural element which, combined with the material
parameters, provides the equivalent plane strain section properties, for example bending stiffness
and axial stiffness. With line elements, you can input the equivalent plane strain section properties
directly and some programs will even allow you to enter the actual section properties and spacing so
that the program calculates the equivalent plane strain properties automatically, but it is still
important that you understand what the program is doing to help avoid errors.

Note that outputs of structural force will be obtained as plane strain values per unit length. To
convert back to values for each structural element you need to multiply the values by the spacing,
but check the manual to see what exactly your program provides in the output.
Lets look at an axisymmetric problem now. Here we have a circular shaft supported by a retaining
wall of uniform section and a solid slab near the top of uniform thickness. The black lines you see
there divide the structure into sectors of angle one radian each. So the complete shaft makes 2 or
6.28 radians. In axisymmetric analyses, structural section properties are expressed per unit angle,
which in most cases is the radian.

Since these structures have uniform section in the circumferential direction, representing them in a
2D axisymmetric analysis is relatively straightforward. If using 2D solid elements, they simply have
the same thickness as in the real structure and the same material properties. If using line elements,
you enter the section properties directly into the input parameters.

Lets look at a more complicated case, rather like the plane strain example, a contiguous piled wall,
supported by ground anchors at one level, and internal struts near the top at a spacing of 90 or /2
radians. In axisymmetry you would need to calculate the equivalent structural section properties by
dividing by their circumferential spacing in radians. So, in the case of the strut, by dividing by /2
radians or 1.57.

If using solid 2D elements to represent the structures, you would need to find the correct equivalent
thickness of the elements in order to simulate the structural members in the most appropriate way
and there is a worked example in this module for you to work through. If using line elements, you
may need to enter the equivalent axisymmetric properties directly or the actual structural section
properties together with the spacing, depending on the software you are using.

Note that the outputs from axisymmetric analyses will be provided per unit angle, usually radians,
and in order to obtain the outputs for individual struts, anchors or piles, etc. you will need to
multiply the output by the spacing in radians.