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FEA in the design

of reinforced
concrete buildings
How to make the best use
of FEA packages and
avoid potential pitfalls

“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 2

Author: Tim Messer BEng CPEng RPEQ NPER MIEAust,

With contributions from Mal Wilson, Director Advanced Structural Designs

Reviewed by Dr John Mullard, Associate and Newcastle office manager at Lindsay & Dynan Consulting Engineers


Gil Brock – Australia’s Concrete Structures Code Committee BD2 and owner/developer of RAPT Software

Editor: Dr Dietrich Georg

Copyright 2014 © Engineers Australia. Endorsed by the Structural College of Engineers Australia

All rights reserved

Published by Engineers Media Pty Ltd, Crows Nest, Sydney,, on behalf of Engineers

Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the national Library of Australia at

ISBN 9781-922107-27-5

The material contained in this practice note is in the nature of general comment only and is not advice on any
particular matter. No one should act on the basis of anything contained in this note without taking appropriate
professional advice upon the particular circumstances. The publisher and the author do not accept responsibility for
the consequences of any action taken or omitted to be taken by any person on the basis of anything contained in or
omitted from this note.

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 3

1 Introduction 5
1.1 Scope of this practice note  5
1.2. The aim of structural modelling 5
1.3 Preliminary design 6
1.4 Common myths about advanced analysis software 6
2 Types of FEA software 6
2.1 3D analysis 6
2.2 2D analysis 6
2.3 Other programs 7
3 Modelling inputs 7
3.1 Flexural tensile strength (modulus of rupture) 7
3.2 Modulus of elasticity 8
3.3 Poisson’s Ratio 8
4 Long-term deflection, AS3600-2009 9
4.1 Creep 9
4.2 Shrinkage 9
4.3 Volume change/support interaction 9
4.4 Temperature  12
4.5 Cracking 13
4.6 Long-term deflections 14
5 Modelling decisions 15
5.1 Element type 15
5.2 Size 15
5.3 Meshing 16
5.4 Discontinuity areas (D-regions) 16
5.5 Shape 17
5.6 Boundary conditions 17
5.7 Modelling elements 17
5.8 Supports  18
5.9 Column stiffness 19
5.10 Non-structural items 19
5.11 Walls 20
5.12 Beams 20
5.13 Foundations 22
5.14 Consideratin for interrupted supports and openings 23
5.15 Redistribution 23
5.16 Buckling 23
5.17 Loading 24
5.18 Construction 24

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5.19 Loading sequence 24

5.20 Changes in cross section 26
5.21 Composite construction using concrete elements 26
6 Ultimate limit state design 27
6.1 Design moment distribution (not redistribution) 27
6.2 Twisting moments 28
6.3 Classical beam theory 29
6.4 Torsion 30
6.5 P-Delta 30
6.6 Shear 31
6.7 Vertical load take down 31
6.8 Interpreting results 31
6.9 Rationalisation 32
6.10 Additional reinforcing 32
7 Serviceability limit state design 33
7.1 Deflection 33
7.2 Precamber 34
7.3 Vibration 34
8 Design 35
8.1 New programs  36
8.2 Recommended reading 36
9 Forensic engineering 37
9.1 Load sequencing  40
9.2 Anchorage of wall reinforcement 40
9.3 Backspin stiffness  41
9.4 Construction loading  41
9.5 Moments in steel support columns  41
9.6 Torsional stiffness of the band beam  41
9.7 Shrinkage restraint  41
9.8 Trusting what can be observed 42
10 Sensibility checks 42
10.1 Comparison to known limits 42
10.2 Heuristics (rules based on experience and intuition) 42
10.3 Sensitivity analysis 42
11 Validation 43
12 Closing comments 45
Case Study 1: Restraint effect on carpark structure 46
Case Study 2: Deflections of a concrete floor 48
Case Study 3: Royal Palm Hotel, Guam 50
Case Study 4: Sleipner offshore oil platform, North Sea 52
Case Study 5: Koro–Babeldaob Bridge, Palau 54

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 5

Concrete design packages with pre/post-processors based on finite element analysis (FEA) have become a
popular method of analysing concrete slab structures for practising engineers. There are some interesting issues
that surface in the use of these packages that could catch the uninitiated off-guard. This practice note seeks to
present some common issues and potential pitfalls that arise in the modelling of concrete building structures
using these packages, especially for new users not familiar with these design packages. It provides a general
overview of the topics in finite element analysis. Readers are advised to seek further information in regard to
their specific applications and circumstances.
Keywords: Concrete, finite element, modelling, design, computers, 3-dimensional, creep, shrinkage, Poisson’s
ratio, mesh, twisting moments.


1.1 Scope of this practice note

Advanced concrete design packages based on finite element analysis (FEA) are popular among structural
engineers. Inexperienced engineers are drawn to FEA programs as they give them the feeling of freedom to
design almost anything an architect can envisage, from complex floors to unusual loadings, without relying on
However, if the dependence on these FEA packages is such that the engineer cannot carry out simpler
methods of analysis, his or her ability to perform a self-regulating check of their model is compromised. This
also creates a potential problem for the checking engineer (senior engineer) as it is almost impossible to check
that a complex model you have not generated yourself is correct.
There are few sources of practical advice on how to model and analyse using FEA programs. This guide
seeks to highlight some of the topics engineers must be aware of when utilising such programs. However, this
should not be considered an in-depth resource and further reading in this field is recommended.
The advantage of FEA is the ability to model complex issues such as transfer slabs, large openings, irregular
column layouts and unusual loading conditions, and to easily update calculations and adjust the structure if
changes occur. For example, for circular slabs with column supports around the outside and one column in
the centre, the equivalent slab frame method can be used but the design will be conservative without some
adjustments. FEA can handle this type of arrangement effectively without the extra adjustments.
The disadvantage of FEA in commercial finite element programs is that they require a steep learning curve
and that checking the outcomes is difficult.
This practice note discusses FEA design and analysis packages with an automatic pre/post processor,
which require fewer fundamental modelling decisions than the general FEA packages such as Strand 7, where
engineers must generate all inputs. Recently graduated engineers are normally not fully educated in the analysis
of concrete, hence errors can occur especially with modelling assumptions. Finite element design requires a
“feel” for and experience with concrete behaviour. Therefore users should not treat the software as a black box
with all the answers and should seek to understand what assumptions are made by the software in all stages of
the computations.
Most structural problems can be broken down into different classes:
1. Static analysis (linear/nonlinear stress analysis);
2. Normal modes (resonant frequencies and mode shapes);
3. Buckling behaviour (buckling coefficients and mode shapes);
4. Frequency response;
5. Random response;
6. Transient response (linear/nonlinear stress analysis).
This practice note only discusses static analysis in finite element applications.

1.2 The aim of structural modelling

The aim of structural modelling is to create a model that is acceptable for practical purposes. It is important to
keep in mind that we analyse a representative model of the structure, not the structure itself. The behaviour of
the model may or may not be close to the behaviour of the structure.
To create a meaningful model an engineer must appreciate the behaviour of the components that make up

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 6

the structure and be able to transform this behaviour into an analysis model.
This requires an understanding of forces and moments, plate membrane, beam and column behaviour, load
transfer, construction sequencing, deformations, cracking, yield, buckling, actual and design loads and many
other aspects.
It then requires decisions on how to model different aspects of behaviour, given the capabilities of the
available analysis methods/computer programs.

1.3 Preliminary design

For the preliminary design of simple regular structures it is recommended that heuristics and experience be
relied upon until a working design is developed. A good reference is the Structural Engineer’s Pocket Book by
Fiona Corb. The heuristics used for preliminary design can be helpful in evaluating designs by others.
For complex or designs involving new material such as fibre composite, finite element modelling may be used
to help evaluate the preliminary designs. In these cases it is recommended that the user consider more general
software such as Strand 7 or similar so that any heuristics built into the FEA model are minimised.

1.4 Common myths about advanced analysis software

• Finite element analysis returns lower bending moments or deflections – This is only true if the previous
techniques were conservative. Studies have shown that the results from FEA compared to traditional
techniques give similar results;
• Deflections will be more accurate – Previous experience indicates the best estimate of deflection is in
the range of +15% to -30% using any technique, thus FEA is only as accurate as its assumptions.
(Using the multipliers such as Kcs, as defined in AS3600-2009, in the FEA instead of modified stiffness
methods for long-term deflection will cause the analysis of deflections to become speculative rather
than calculation based);
• FEA computer programs save time – This is only true if/when the in-depth checking of the results is
omitted. Hand calculations can be used to check the models and overall a time saving maybe made;
• Using software will give accurate results – No software is “error” free. Most programs have only limited
accuracy. For example, rounding errors and modelling assumptions will have an effect on the results;
• FEA will provide “correct” design results – According to Elms 1985, “all models are wrong, some are
FEA should be treated as a calculation with limited accuracy as to the ability to represent a concrete structure in
a model, as the model is based on many assumptions and should not be used as the only basis of design.


It is prudent to take the time to understand any design software before using it. This is especially the case with
FEA software. There are many different types of FEA software, from 3D whole-frame to 2D programs for each
floor. The common situation for a program with a complete design component is 3D analysis used to do the
load take down/lateral analysis with floors exported to a separate 2D package for reinforcement and deflection

2.1 3D analysis
Normally this is a linear based analysis package with global adjustments in stiffness made to columns and floors
to correct the model (see Figure 1). The concrete is treated as an elastic material and an assumption is made that
concrete can transfer the forces as nominated in the model. This is fine for ultimate limit state if P-Delta effects
can be ignored, but for service limit state the same does not hold, hence the 2D package requirement.

2.2 2D analysis
Normally this is a nonlinear analysis package (see Figure 2). It enables the software to predict cracked concrete
properties within a set accuracy. To achieve this accuracy the software needs to be able to do the processing
interactively. Generally this is based on Branson or Bischoff modifications to Ief (effective second moment of
area), as software with the ability to take yielding of the reinforcement into account directly is considered a
rarity and generally reserved for scholarly type applications.

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 7

Figure 1: 3D model of a building. Figure 2: A plan view of a slab modelled in 2D.

2.3 Other programs

There are programs similar to RAPT (reinforced and post tension analysis program) which are based on FEA
but don’t create complete slab models. They should be interrogated to the same extent, but due to their simpler
nature this is less difficult.

The following discussion in this practice note assumes the use of a 2D analysis type software package, which
enables the prediction of cracked concrete properties.
“Garbage in equals garbage out”. Selecting appropriate inputs for modelling is crucial for success.
Reinforced concrete is a material made up of reinforcing steel, aggregates, water, cementitious material (some
unhydrated), admixtures and voids.
Reinforced concrete has some unique features that distinguish its behaviour from other materials. At flexural
failure, concrete slabs develop hinge lines, which mobilise the tension reinforcement passing through the section
to resist the moment along its length. The total amount and orientation of the reinforcement along a design
section governs the collapse load.
Once a structure has cracked, the reinforcement determines the fashion in which the applied loads are
resisted. It is the orientation and the amount of reinforcement that govern the path that the load takes to the
supports. These features rely on the ability of the structure, once past the elastic limit, to redistribute forces.
Adequate ductility becomes a prerequisite; generally the reinforcement requirements contained in building
codes safeguard this ductility.
By varying the constituents of the concrete, varied results for its structural behaviour are obtained. For
example, Young’s modulus depends highly on the aggregate selected and the quantities. The properties of
concrete can be externally modified as well, such as by weather, age of loadings, workmanship and curing
conditions. The main concrete codes allow concrete to be modelled as an elastic isotropic material, but there
are a number of assumptions that are made to enable this. These assumptions will be discussed throughout this
practice note.

3.1 Flexural tensile strength (modulus of rupture)

The flexural tensile strength of the concrete is important as the concrete cracks once the tensile strength of the
concrete is exceeded in the extreme fibre. In AS3600-2009 the tensile strength (modulus of rupture) is taken as
0.6√ f’c MPa (f’c is the characteristic compressive cylinder 28 day strength). The standard is silent on lightweight

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 8

Table 1: Flexural tensile strengths used in some of the international codes.

Code Flexural tensile strength (MPa)

AS3600-2009 0.6√f’c
ACI 0.62√f’c
IS456 0.7√fck (fck = Characteristic compressive cube strength)
CSA A23 0.6λ√f’c
λ = 1.00 for normal density concrete
λ=0  .85 for semi low density concrete in which all of the fine aggregate is natural sand
λ=0  .75 for semi low density concrete in which none of the fine aggregate is natural sand

Eurocode 2 0.21fck^2/3
SABA 0100 0.5√f’c

The author recommends referring to the Canadian concrete code (CSA A23) for reference of lightweight
concrete values or requesting testing from manufacture. The tensile strength has an influence on the deflection
of slabs and shallow beams through tension stiffening.
The value reported by various investigators for the flexural tensile strength varies from 0.33√f’c MPa to 1.0√f’c
MPa. Table 1 shows the flexural tensile strength in some of the international codes. The deformation values can vary
by up to 40% using different expressions of flexural tensile strength. The tensile strength is highly variable, therefore
higher and lower bounds should be considered when evaluating critical deflections.

Factors affecting
modulus of
elasticity of

Volume Elastic
Moisture state Elastic Volume
fraction of modulus
of the concrete modulus of fraction of the
cement paste of the
at loading cement paste aggregate
and porosity aggregate

Figure 3: Factors affecting modulus of elasticity of concrete.

3.2 Modulus of Elasticity (Young’s Modulus)

Concrete is a composite inhomogeneous material with non-linear behaviour. Most codes allow it to be modelled
as a linear isotropic material with limitations imposed. The value of elastic modulus can vary markedly depending
on aggregate type, workmanship, time and curing condition to name a few (see Figure 3).
Researchers have established several empirical equations for predicting the elastic modulus of concrete.
AS3600-2009 gives an equation based on the mean compressive strength. It should be noted that the code points
out that the Ej (Young’s modulus) can vary by 20% under good conditions. This should be taken into account
when assessing the deflections. A sensitivity analysis varying the time dependent parameters is recommended.

3.3 Poisson’s Ratio

Normally taken as 0 to 0.2, these values ensure the compressive stresses are overestimated, which is acceptable for
concrete models and important for cracked sections. Conversely, in the primary reinforcement areas a minimum
of 20% of primary reinforcement should be provided in the transverse direction to account for errors relating to
the Poisson Ratio and transverse strength requirements.

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 9

• AS5100.5-2004, Australian Standard for Bridge Design, Part 5: Concrete, Standards Australia 2004.
• AS3600-2009, Australian Standard for Concrete Structures, Standards Australia 2004.
• Lamonf, J.F. & Pielert, J.H. 2006, “Significance of tests and properties of concrete and concrete making
materials”, ASTM (the US testing and materials society) International Standard Worldwide, p 169.
• Cobb, F. 2008, Structural Engineer’s Pocket Book, 2nd Edition.
• Webster, R. & Brooker, O. “How to design concrete structures using the Eurocode”, The Concrete


4.1 Creep
Creep is a phenomenon whereby the compressive strain in the concrete increases over time under constant
compressive stress. All building materials experience creep (plastic flow) strains. When added to the elastic
strains this can increase deflection for concrete spanning members by a factor of 2 to 7. The quantity depends
on many factors. Age at and duration of loading, environment, and proportioning of materials are some of the
main factors. To accurately predict the creep, deflections would require a large amount of effort with regards
to testing etc. The methods available to predict an upper bound deflection including the creep are the age-
adjusted effective modulus method (AEMM) and Eurocode 2. These two methods would be appropriate under
the AS3600-2009 code.
Creep shortening is important in vertical members, especially if different materials are used for the vertical
elements such as a steel truss core with concrete columns, shear walls with concrete columns or if columns
have different stress levels; this results in differential deflections. This creates extra stresses in the column slab
connections and, if the building is not symmetrical, will cause sway deflections (this is under vertical loading
and is a permanent condition).
Creep should be considered for any other permanent loading conditions, such as water, earth and equipment
loads. These loads can be either vertical or horizontal; for the horizontal loading, careful consideration needs
to be given to these effects to ensure the building doesn’t become unstable over time. Rule of thumb for tall
buildings: A good way to mitigate for moderate differential vertical creep is to ensure the entire vertical concrete
elements have the same average stress under long-term loads with the same concrete properties.

4.2 Shrinkage
The reinforcement restraint induced curvature should be included in the calculations for deflection, whereas
the supports restraint effects will be discussed further under volume change (see below). Shrinkage curvature
depends on the water/cement ratio, relative humidity and the size and shape of the member. The effect of
shrinkage in an asymmetrically reinforced section is to induce a curvature that can lead to significant deflection
in shallow members. Gilbert and others have proposed curvature equations based on the reinforcement in the
slabs/beams. This effect should be considered in the deflection calculations; it is included in the AEMM through
the equation below as suggested by Gilbert et al. fcs is the maximum shrinkage induced tensile stress on the
uncracked section at the extreme fibre at which cracking occurs and may be taken as

1.5 p
fcs = E
1 + 50 p s cs
where p is the reinforcement ratio (Ast /bd), εcs the final design shrinkage strain and Es the Young modulus of steel.

4.3 Volume change/support interaction

Volume change due to thermal loads, shrinkage and creep causes forces and strains to build up in restrained
concrete members; these actions should not be ignored. These strains can cause tensile stress in beams and slabs
and shear/moments in columns (see Figure 4). Since the volume changes take place over a period of time, the
effect of shortening on shear and moments is reduced due to creep and micro-cracking effects.
This causes the estimation of restraint forces to be problematic at best, with assumptions for connections,
footings etc playing a major role. For instance, if you assume fixed foundation supports, the forces will be
overestimated. Conversely, if you assume pin foundations, the forces will be underestimated. Thus slab restraint

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 10

Figure 4: Forces in structures due to volume change.

cracking is the most common cause of deflection estimates being significantly different to recorded values.
The question is how you determine the amount of restraint. Some programs account for shrinkage restraint
caused by the reinforcing, few account for restraint forces.
A published method which attempts to give a method for calculating the restraint forces is the method
proposed by PCI (Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute). The analysis method involves the use of an equivalent
shortening principle. This allows you to compute a tensile force in the slab. This can then be used to adjust the
expected tensile strength of the concrete to assess deflections.
It can be used to work out forces imposed on columns similar to Figure 4 (see Cl 3.4 on volume change in the
PCI Precast Design Handbook 6th edition). The forces for volume change are larger and real and if not detailed
appropriately can cause problems (see Figure 5).
James Deaton provides a method for using the temperature load Tsh in the analysis package to estimate
restraint forces due to shrinkage. This method is similar to M. H. Baluch, et al.
Tsh =

εsh = specified shrinkage strain
α = coeff. of thermal expansion

Figure 5: A block wall subjected to volume change forces causing it to crack.

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 11

Figure 6a : Location of movement joints.

Preferable layout of columns and walls (low restraint)

Non-preferable layout of columns and walls (high restraint)

Figure 6b: Alternative layouts of walls and columns for different levels of restraint.

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 12

In an investigation of a carpark (see Figure 5) he found that if concrete joints had been provided, this would
have relieved shrinkage stress by a factor of 3.5. Spacing of contraction joints at 30m, instead of 95m, would
have been more appropriate.
For typical concrete structures, a qualitative approach to volume-change design is recommended as opposed
to explicit calculation of volume-change forces. Designers may rely on previous experience. Advice on primary
joint spacing for different building types can be variable and conflicting, recommending between 25m and 60m
depending on the wall layouts and pour strips. It is recommended that previous success in your local area
should be reviewed for selection of joint spacing. Secondary movement joints should be considered for walls
and finishes as required.
For atypical structures, movement joints should be considered in locations of change in building configuration
(as shown in Figure 6a).
Lockable dowels are beginning to gain wide acceptance as an alternative to delayed pour strips and careful
consideration needs to be given to how much force will be transferred to the dowels after they are locked and
how cracking can be controlled as load transfers from the slabs and into the dowel. Careful consideration should
also be paid to what areas may need to be waterproofed.
Layout of walls and columns affects the build-up of strains and stresses within the structure. Careful
consideration of wall layouts can reduce these forces significantly. See Figure 6b for an idealised good and poor
layout of walls and columns with regards to these restraint forces.

4.4 Temperature
Temperature changes in a member cause thermal expansion and contraction. Because the heat source is generally
only on one side of the member, the expansion will be asymmetric which in turn can cause tensile stress and lead
to extra deflections. This asymmetric expansion occurs in addition to the overall volume change as discussed
above. It is important for members in roofs, walls and in any other position where they are exposed to the
This effect is perhaps at its most extreme when wide precast hollow-core panels unreinforced in their
transverse direction are exposed to thermal loads. A perfect storm of factors are at play here as:
• the holes act to reduce heat transfer
• the holes act as crack inducers
• the deflected geometry of the steel support beams exacerbates the transverse arching effect
• there is often no reinforcement to carry the resultant loads.
The above issue was highlighted to spectacular effect at a car parking structure in Canberra in 2002 when one
of the large number of longitudinal cracks intersected with a saw cut around a column and partially collapsed a
section of panel. Fortunately the panel only fell 80mm before getting caught on a cleat that was a shop detailing
error. Longitudinal cracking is as closely spaced as 300mm and confined almost exclusively to areas exposed to
the sun and rain.
Finite element modelling of the panels under thermal loads identified the pointed apex of the panel voids
(top side only) as a significant contributor to the phenomenon.

Figure 7: Longitudinal cracking from thermal loads leading to a structural failure.

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 13

Because temperature does not often affect the ultimate limit state of the structure, any deflection due to
temperature is sometimes not considered in design. For uncracked members, effects of temperature can be
included in deflection calculations in a relatively straightforward manner. For statically indeterminate systems
after cracking, the deflections, stiffness and temperature are inter-related, and an alternative procedure is
required for a correct solution. ACI 435.7R-85 (1997) provides guidance for this analysis.
Movement due to temperature can lead to problems with joints and sealants as it will cause tensile stress and
fatigue in the sealants. This should be taken into account when selecting sealants for multistorey buildings, in
situations where sealant replacement is expensive. For roof slabs a 25m maximum spacing for movement joints
should be considered.

4.5 Cracking
Deflection of structure is directly related to the amount of cracking. Cracking should be analysed in all directions
and not just assumed. Tension stiffening plays a major role in determining the amount of deflection for concrete
slabs. It is necessary to know the time of first cracking; this is of interest if the construction loadings are higher
than the service loadings, as once the slab has cracked the loss in stiffness is permanent. Figure 8 shows the
tension stiffening effect on a load versus deflection curve.
The concept of effective moment of inertia, Ief , to reflect the concrete cracking was conceived originally by
Branson. He assumed bilinear load-deflection behaviour of a cracked section and proposed Ief as a function
of the level of cracking. This concept has been developed further by others and most programs will give you a
selection of different methods, through the selection of different deflection models.

Tension stiffening, δΔ
Deflection assuming
Load no cracking

Actual response

Concrete carries no
A C tension anywhere
Figure 8: Typical
load v’s deflection relationship.
Concrete carries no tension
The concept of effective moment of inertia, Ief , regions
in the cracked to reflect the concrete cracking was
conceived originally by Branson. He assumed bilinear load-deflection behaviour of a cracked
section and proposed Ief as a function of the level of cracking. This concept has been
developed further 0 by others and most programs will giveDeflection you a selection of different methods,
Figure 8: Typical the selection
load versus of different deflection models.
deflection relationship.

Branson’s Formula formula
For a given
For cross-section, Ief is
Ief is calculated
a given cross-section, calculated
using Branson’susing Branson’s
formula (Branson,formula
1963): (Branson, 1963):
M 
 M 

I ef   cr*  I g  1   cr*

  I cr
 Ms    M s 
 

where moment
Icr is the second Icr is theofsecond
area of moment of area Iofisthe
the fully-cracked; thefully-cracked;
second moment Iof g is theofsecond
area moment
the gross concreteof area
section about of the gross concrete
its centroidal axis; Msection
is the about
maximum its centroidal
bending momentaxis; M is the
ats the maximum
section and Mcrbending moment at
the cracking
moment. the section,
For AS3600-2009 a value for the index m of 3 is used, because it averages the effective section over the span
of the beam. Branson recommended a value of 4 be used as discrete sections are to be utilised. Several authors
For AS3600-2009 a value for m of 3 is used, because it averages the effective section over
have suggested a “modified Branson” model to include modifications to the formula and vary m with different
reinforcement theratios.
span of the beam. Branson recommended a value of 4 be used as discrete sections are to
While the beACI
utilised. Several authors
and Australian standardshave suggested
use Branson, a “modified
Eurocode Branson”
2 uses the Bischoff model include
modifications to the equation and vary m with different reinforcement ratios.
Engineers Australia
While the ACI and Australian standards use Branson, Eurocode 2 uses the Bischoff method.
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 14

Bischoff’s (2005) formula

Bischoff’s (2005) Formula

I cr
I ef 
 m

1   1  I cr  M cr 
 
  I  M * 
 gt  
 s

For Eurocode 2 a value for m of 2 is adopted. Icr is the second moment of area of the fully-cracked section; Ms is the
maximum bending moment at the section. In Brischoff’s Formula Gilbert has recommended the use of the transformed
For Eurocode
second moment of2area,a value for
Igt . β is m of that
a factor 2 isallows
for loss of tension stiffening.
It is important to understand that these theories are all based on different tests upon which they were developed.
where equation
Icr is has
the asecond
set validity range. Branson’s
moment of area offormula/theory was developed
the fully-cracked from
section; Msmedium
is the reinforcement
maximum ratios,
while Bischoff’s was based on lighter reinforcement ratios. Knowing the validity range for the methods used within
bending moment at the section. In Brischoff’s Equation Gilbert has recommended the use of
the software is important. For slabs with lighter reinforcement ratios Bischoff’s Formula is recommended.
the transformed second moment of area, Igt.  is a factor that allows for loss of tension
4.6 Long-term deflections
AS3600-2009 allows a multiplier Kcs for long-term deflections which includes an allowance for compression steel.
This has created confusion as often the steel in the top of slabs was considered to be compression reinforcing.
It is important to understand that these theories are all based on different tests upon which
For compression reinforcing to have an effect on long-term creep, the reinforcement must at least be in the top
the compression Eachγkudequation
, not just athas
set validityface of theBranson’s
range. member where formula/theory was or
it may be in tension
low from
compression medium
stress reinforcement
and will have no effect onratios,
creep.while Bischoff’s was based on lighter
This issue has ratios.
reinforcement been clarified
Knowingin thethe
latest editionrange
validity of the for
code. A general
the methods ruleused
of thumb
within is for
slab thickness
of less than 250mm, compression reinforcement will not affect long-term deflection significantly other than to
important. For slabs with lighter reinforcement ratios Bischoff’s theory is recommended.
provide symmetric reinforcement which in turn reduces shrinkage curvature. The AEMM or Eurocode methods
are far superior methods for estimating the deflection. They should be used for long-term deflection estimates.
The Kcs method is not usable for PT (post-tensioned) slabs or beams.
TheLong-term deflections
Kcs multiplier fails to take into account reinforcement induced shrinkage and also ignores shrinkage and
creep features of concrete. The author’s opinion is that the Kcs multiplier should be removed from AS3600-2009.
At best it will giveallows a multiplier
a “ballpark” Kcs for long-term
on the predicted deflections
deflections and which
at worst could includes
lead an allowance
to serviceability problems
for compression steel.
for the structure in question. This has created confusion as often the steel in the top of slabs was
considered to be compression reinforcing. For compression reinforcing to have an effect on
• Shen,creep, theH.reinforcement
P., Fang, & Xia, X. 2009, must
“Effectatofleast be increep
concrete the and
top shrinkage
half of the
on compression zone and
tall hybrid-structures
its countermeasures”, Frontiers of Architecture and Civil Engineering in
γ , not just at the compression face of the member where it may be in tension or low China, pp. 234-239.
• Gilbert, R.I. & Ranzi, G. 2011, Time-dependent behaviour of concrete structures, Taylor & Francis, UK.
compression stress and will have no effect on creep.
• Gilbert, R.I. 2008, “Calculation of long-term deflection”, paper presented at the CIA Seminar of
Control of Long-term Deflection, Brisbane.
This issue has been clarified in the latest edition of the code. A general rule of thumb is for a
• Doug J, 2009, “Predicting the deflection of concrete structures in practice”, paper presented at the
slab thickness of less than
Concrete Solutions 250mm, compression
09 conference, Sydney. reinforcement will not affect long-term
deflection significantly
• Gilbert, other than cracking
R.I. 2001, “Shrinkage, to provideandsymmetric
deflection –reinforcement which
the serviceability in turnstructures”,
of concrete reduces
shrinkage curvature.
Electronic JournalThe AEMMEngineering,
of Structural or Eurocode pp.methods
2-14. are far superior methods for
estimating theR.I.
• Gilbert, deflection.
1988, TimeThey
effectsshould be used
in concrete for long-term
structures, deflection
Elsevier Science estimates.
Publishers, The K
Amsterdam, p cs
method is notR.I.
• Gilbert, usable
1992,for PT (post-tensioned)
“Shrinkage slabs
cracking in fully or beams.
restrained concrete members”, ACI Structural Journal,
Vol. 89, No. 2, March-April 1992, pp. 141-149.
• KGilbert,
The R.I. 1999, “Deflection Calculations for reinforced concrete structures – why we sometimes get it
cs multiplier fails to take into account reinforcement induced shrinkage and also ignores
wrong” ACI structural journal 96 (6), pp. 1027-1032.
shrinkage and creep features of concrete. The author’s opinion is that the Kcs multiplier
• Scanlon, A. & Bischoff, P.H. 2008, “Shrinkage restraint and loading history effects on deflections of
be removed from AS3600-2009. At best it will give a “ballpark” on the predicted
members”, ACI Structural Journal, Vol 105, issue 4, pp. 498-506.
deflections and at worst could lead to serviceability problems for the structure in question.
• Gilbert, R.I. 2007, “Tension stiffening in lightly reinforced concrete slabs”, Journal of Structural
Engineering American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Vol. 133, No. 6, pp 899-903
• ACI Committee 435, 1985, “Observed deflections of reinforced concrete – slab systems, and causes of large
deflections”, SP 86-2 ACI Journal, US.
• Gilbert, R.I. & Kilpatrick, A. 2001, “Improved prediction of the long-term deflections of reinforced concrete
flexural members”, Proceedings fib Symposium, Prague.
19 | P a g e
• Klein, G.J. & Lindenberg, R.E. 2009, “Volume-change response of precast concrete buildings”, PCI Journal

Engineers Australia
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 15

Fall 2009, pp 112 -131.

• Deaton, J.B. & Kahn, L.F. 2010, “Lessons learned from forensic FEA of failed RC structures”, paper presented
at the ACI Fall 2010 Convention.
• Iqbal, M. 2010, “Design of expansion joints in parking structures”, Structure Magazine, Oct 2010, pp. 12-14.
• DeSerio, J.N. 1971, “Thermal and shrinkage stresses – they damage structures!”, American Concrete Institute
Special Publication pp. 43-49.
• ACI Committee 435, 1985, “State-of-the-art report on temperature-induced deflections of reinforced concrete
members”, SP 86, ACI Manual of Concrete Practice, Part 3.
• Jenkins, D. 2006, “Prediction of cracking and deflections, international code provisions and recent research”,
paper presented at the Concrete Institute of Australia seminar, Sydney, 2006.
• Liao, S., Klein, G., Mikhlin, Y. & Grossman, J.S. 2010, “Vertical structural deformation estimation and control
for a deformation-sensitive building”, Structure Magazine, Sept, 2010, pp. 34-36.
• Pfeiffer, M.J. & Darwin, D. 1987, “Expansion joints in buildings”, Federal Construction Council Technical
Report No 65.
• Baluch, M.H. Rahman, M.K. & Mahmoud, I.A. 2008, “Calculating drying-shrinkage stresses”, Concrete
International, Vol 30, No 07, pp. 37-41.
• ACI Committee 435, 1985 (reapproved 1997), “State of the art report on temperature induced deflections of
reinforced concrete members”, SP 86 ACI Journal, US


5.1 Element type

Commercial concrete design software allows limited specific types of elements for building design. These are
generally plate and beam elements for reinforced concrete, with shell elements used for PT slabs. The plates can
be in the form of triangles and squares with either nodes at corners, or at corners and mid-edges (see Figure 9).
It should be noted that these types of elements are only of use for flexure design and should not be used
for bearing or shear applications (span on depth <10). For the latter applications brick elements should be
considered, which are not available in most commercial concrete FEA programs discussed in this practice note.
Accordingly, reference to other methods is required to supplement the finite element models.

5.2 Size
The selection of the size of elements is paramount to the accuracy of the design. Since the only place where forces
are calculated is at the nodes, the number of these is important for the accuracy of the models. For example, for
a 100m long beam modelled with three nodes, mistakes are certain and the model is unacceptable. Alternatively,
by using the same beam and providing nodes at 1m centres the model is more likely to be acceptable.
Rule of thumb: The size of the elements for slabs and beam modelling mesh size should be no greater than
1m, span/10 or half width of load patch.

4 Nodes 8 nodes

3 nodes 6 nodes
Figure 9: Typical element types.

Engineers Australia
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 16

5.3 Meshing
Most FEA programs do the meshing automatically; the larger plates that have been entered by the engineer get
turned into a smaller matrix. The engineer must assess the finesse of the mesh; generally the automated meshing
options will give choices of density. Figure 10 shows a typical surface member before and after meshing.
When a coarse mesh is selected, the results will not give an accurate representation of the structure,
particularly near supports, openings and under load points. Conversely, if too fine a mesh is selected, excessive
time to compute can be a problem. The maximum hogging moments the FEA shows will be affected by the size
of the mesh. The finer the mesh generally the more intense the support moment.
Given the software will do this automatically, it is advisable during the modelling stages to use a coarse mesh
to refine the model and to ensure it is error free, and to use the finer mesh for design. This reduces the time for
modelling and increases the accuracy for design.

a) Surface member b) Surface member divided into mesh

Figure 10: Typical mesh.

Items to look for when assessing the fitness of the automatically generated mesh include:
• Mesh near re-entrant corners or sharply curved edges;
• Mesh in the vicinity of concentrated (point) loads, concentrated reactions, cracks and cut-outs;
• Changes in mesh in the interior of structures with abrupt changes in thickness, material properties or
cross sectional sizes;
• When stress maximums are of interest, check whether the stress contours are smooth in the highly
stressed areas and whether the stress changes across an element are appropriate.

5.4 Discontinuity areas (D-regions)

Discontinuity areas or D-regions are parts of a structure with a complex variation in strain. They include portions
near abrupt changes in geometry (geometrical discontinuities) or concentrated forces (static discontinuity).
Based on St Venant’s principle, a D-region spans about one section depth on either side of the discontinuity.
Beams, flat plates and shells cannot be used to model D-regions. Finite element models are seldom capable of
reproducing the complexities of boundary conditions and related stress disturbances in the beam column joints.
Therefore commercial FEA programs should be limited to applications were the Bernoulli principle would be
applicable (see Figure 11).

Figure 11: Example of the division

between B-regions and D-regions
(with B-regions being parts of
a structure in which Bernoulli’s
hypothesis of straight-line strain
profiles applies).

Engineers Australia
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 17

In regard to D-regions it is recommended that further analysis is undertaken to ensure adequate reinforcing
is provided. Good complementary analysis methods for this are strut-tie analysis or specialist non-linear finite
element applications.

5.5 Shape
Meshing is normally carried out by the computer. However, the user needs to ensure a well-conditioned model
is created. To ensure the model is acceptable the ratio of shapes should not exceed 1:4 (the minimum length to
maximum length). It is important to ensure that in the areas in the model where forces change rapidly more
nodes are present to ensure accurate results are obtained. Figure 12 shows examples of good and bad shapes
for meshing.

Good Shapes Bad Shapes

Figure 12: Element shapes.

5.6 Boundary conditions

Design packages often require restraint conditions to be specified at the boundary edges. The forces generated
need to be transferred to boundary elements. The design package will not check the validity of these boundary
conditions and the engineer must do so. For example, a slab or beam framing into a thin wall may be closer
to pinned than fixed. It is important that boundary conditions are reviewed for different loading stages, as the
boundary conditions may change significantly from lower to higher loads.
Boundary conditions will vary from full 3D to 2D models and a continual review of the boundary conditions
at these different analysis points is required. For 2D packages the support conditions at columns and walls need
to be consistent with the stiffness of the columns and walls (see the discussion on supports below). In 2D the
best results are given when column walls are modelled representative of their stiffness.

5.7 Modelling elements

FEA programs require faithful modelling of the geometry accompanied by engineering judgement. Most
software packages offer a limited number of modelling elements – plates (shell for PT) and beams.
Plate elements are generally triangular or quadrilateral, with nodes at corners and sometimes include
additional nodes on the sides (see Figure 9).
Beam elements are used to model narrow beams, while plate elements are used to model wider beams. This
is due to the accuracy of the slab bending moment when beam width increases for beam elements. AS3600-2009
allows moments to be taken at an offset distance from the face of the supports such as beams for slabs and
columns for beams (Clause 6.2.3 AS3600-2009).
Engineers must keep in mind when modelling beams that torsional stiffness is important. While most
programs allow the torsional stiffness to be ignored when modelling beams, for plates this isn’t possible. This
must be taken into account for deflections where the reduction in stiffness due to cracking in torsion can be in
the vicinity of 90%. In programs where plate elements are used to design deep beams torsional stiffness may be
based on the cube of the depth rather than the cube of the width.
When a structure is not dependent on torsional resistance for equilibrium, most codes say that torsion can
be ignored. Nevertheless, if torsional stiffness is present in a computer model, torsion and the torsional stresses
developed must be included in the design. The author has found a varying array of ways that torsion is handled

Engineers Australia
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 18

by programs; the engineer must understand the assumptions implicit in their design and the computer package
being used.
Curves and circles are only able to be modelled by straight edge shapes. This should be kept in mind when
modelling, as a large mesh will give inaccurate answers. Figure 13 gives an example of this.

Poor modelling Good modelling

Figure 13: Circular meshing.

5.8 Supports
Finite element analysis programs presume that the bending of the beams and columns continues to the centre
of the beam/column joint. While this is fine for small structures with slight column and beam sizes, this is not
satisfactory for structures where the beam/column joints have larger dimensions (ie 1m x 1m) and where the
concrete is shearing – not bending.
There are ways to fool FEA software into thinking that the bending stops at the face of the beam/column
joint, but then the shear calculations may not be properly analysed. Some software programs perform this trick
well, while others do it poorly. Rigid offsets and thicker “dummy” areas are two possible methods as shown in
Figure 14. Reference should be made to the concrete code as to the location of the bending moment for design.

Infinitely s ff link
(rigid offset)
thicker area rigid offset
Figure 14: Alternative methods for modelling the area of the column.

It is important to model supports in concrete slabs as accurately as possible. Supports modelled correctly
enable bending moments for punching shear calculations to be appropriate (important for edge and corner
columns in flat slabs). If the corner and edge columns are modelled as pin-roller supports, bending moment
inaccuracies in the forces around the support will be present. This could cause punching shear problems at loads
less than the ultimate design load.
The ways in which the columns are modelled can vary drastically, from the most inaccurate way at a single
node to the more appropriate ways using rigid offsets or modelling a thicker area over the column. Neither of
these latter methods is perfect, but they will provide more correct deflection than a single node support. Plastic
assumptions are not possible in FEA.
Slabs to walls can be modelled in different ways. Some finite element packages use zipper elements to allow
the walls to be meshed independently from the slabs. These zipper elements can allow larger moments to be
transferred than preferred by the designer. So it is important to check the transfer of moments between elements.

Engineers Australia
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 19

5.9 Column stiffness heavily loaded columns or lightly loaded columns. Column stiffness can vary from 0.4I to
Saint-Venant’s theory for1.2Ig .
torsion is used for equivalent column stiffness when calculating the bending moments
using the strip method. The equivalent columns theory has been shown to be a good theory for ultimate strength
design. It does have its Therefore
shortcomings for deflection
it needs to be takendesign. Care is
into account in required foraslarger
the model, spansbyorElwood,
explained significant
K. J. and
difference in length. Eberhard, M. O.:
This problem doesn’t exist with FEA programs as all parts of the building are modelled. However, the
column stiffness still needs to be“For
modelled. Some
example, programs
a low willofset
estimate thethe columnstiffness
effective stiffnessoftocolumns
0.7Ig forin
design, but
a moment-
this is only true for a particularresisting
load andframe
not correct for heavily loaded columns or lightly loaded columns.
usually leads to a conservative (high) estimate of the displacement
Column stiffness can vary from 0.4Ig to 1.2Ig.
demands. In contrast, a low estimate of the effective stiffness for columns in a shear-
Therefore it needs to be taken into account in the model, as explained by Elwood, K. J. and Eberhard, M. O.:
wall building would lead the designer to conservatively underestimate the elastic
“For example, a low estimate
shearof the effective
demands on thestiffness of columns in a moment-resisting frame
usually leads to a conservative (high) estimate of the displacement demands. In contrast, a low
estimate of the effective stiffness
Edge and cornerforcolumns
a shear-wall
reducedbuilding would
in stiffness duelead the designer
to cracking. Careto
should be taken
conservatively underestimate the elastic shear demands on the columns.”
in reducing the column stiffness especially with punching shear. Care should also be taken in
Edge and corner columns are often reduced
over-estimating in stiffness
the stiffness due to cracking.
and attracting Care should
more moment be taken
to the column in reducing
than should be. The
the column stiffness especially with punching shear. Care should also be taken in
detailing of the joint should match or exceed this assumption. over-estimating the stiffness
and attracting more moment to the column than should be. The detailing of the joint should match or exceed
this assumption. Elwood and Eberhard proposed the following values for column effective stiffness
Elwood and Eberhard proposed the following values for column effective stiffness:
EI ef P
= 0.2 ≤ 0.2
EI g Ag f c '

EI ef 5P 4 P
= − 0.2 < ≤ 0.5
EI g 3 Ag f c 30 Ag f c '

EI ef P
= 0.7 0.5 <
EI g Ag f c '

P is the axial load in the column

Where P isand
the A is the
load area
in the of the and
column column.
Ag isMore advanced
the gross formulas
area of for effective
the column.
stiffness have been developed by researchers in recent times. These should be considered if better effective
stiffness models are required
complex formulas
or seismicfor applications. Figure have
effective stiffness 15 shows
been the basic stiffness
developed equations
by researchers in recent
for columns for checking of models.
times. These should be considered if better effective stiffness models are required in complex
or seismic applications. Figure 15 shows the basic stiffness equations for columns for
checking of models.

4EI1 3EI1
L1 L1 L1 L1

4EI2 L2 3EI2 L2
L2 L2

28 | P a g e
Figure 15: Modelling column stiffness.

5.10 Non-structural items

Non-structural items can affect buildings in many different ways. They can cause significant changes to the
behaviour of the structure. For instance, the framing of full-height interior walls in buildings can affect damping.
Masonry infill walls can cause short columns, which will attract extra loads due to stiffness being proportionate

Engineers Australia
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 20

to roughly a cube of their length. Such higher loads, especially lateral loads due to earthquakes or wind, must
be taken into account.
Figure 16 shows some common situations that create short columns. These should be avoided if possible.
However, if short columns are required, attention must be paid to detailing to ensure that the column can handle
the forces and displacements until the full moment or brace frame are fully activated.
It is recommended that non-structural items that can or will affect the structure be included in the models.

e  loading Building  shape  before  loading

Load Load
Load Load

Building  shape  after  l oading

Short column created

Short   by Short
Short  column
column  created
rt  column  created   Short  ccolumn  
olumn  ccreated  
reated   Short column
Short  column  
Short   created
column  created  
created   created  
masonry infill walls.
by  masonry   infill  walls byby  
sloping  ground.
ground by
by  structural
structural  layout.
masonry  infill  walls by  sloping  ground by  structural  layout
The The  stiffness
stiffness  ofof  aa  column
column  iis
s  aapproximately
pproximately  aa  ccube
ube  of  ofit's  
ence  the  the short column
 stiffness  of  a  column  is  approximately  a  cube  can
of  it's  
take length.  
up toH8x ence   the  short  
or more the load of the longer columns due to equal displacements.
column  take  can  take  up  to  8x  or  more  the  load  of  the  longer  longer  columns  due  
umn  take  can  take  up  to  8x  or  more  the  load  of  the  longer  longer  columns  due  
Figure 16: Multistorey frames to  equal  with short columns in unloaded versus loaded conditions.
equal  displacements

Figure 16: Multistorey frames with short columns in unloaded versus loaded conditions.
ultistorey frames with short columns in unloaded versus loaded conditions.
5.11 Walls
It is recommended
Wall elements that non-structural
are normally modelled as verticalitems that
plates. canengineer
The or will affect
needs the structure
to decide be included
if this in There
is suitable.
ded that non-structural items that can or will affect the structure be included in
are manythe models.
possible support conditions, such as knife edge, with walls free to uplift or not. Slabs with corners can
develop corner levers as shown in Figure 17.
The Figure shows the bending moment distribution that results from the corner restrained for uplift and the
yield line5.11.
These bending moments can be seen in finite element models. They can become large in skew
slabs with acute angles. In this application extra reinforcement above the code minimums might be required.
Wall elements are normally modelled as vertical plates. The engineer needs to decide if this is
are normally modelled on the plates.
as vertical design it
The canengineer
be important
needs to account
decide iffor
toconditions, thiscorner levers in the modelling. This corner
suitable. There are many possible support suchisas knife edge, with walls free to
condition produces Mxy moments which will be discussed later.
are many possible support conditions,
uplift(e)or not. Slabssuch
with as knife can
edge, with walls free to as shown in Figure 17.
Cl AS3600-2009 hascorners develop
a detailing requirementcorner levers
for these areas to ensure that, if corner levers develop,
labs with corners can doesn’t
cracking developbecome
levers as shown in Figure
Rombach 17. that approximately 20% of a slab edge will attempt to
uplift with Figure
a 13% showsinthe
increase bending
bending moment
moment anddistribution
an increase that resultsreactions
in support from the in
corner restrained
the walls for is able
if the wall
ows the bending moment distribution
uplift and the that
yield results
line from
to uplift. Figure 18 shows this phenomenon. the
These corner
moments for
can be seen in finite element models.
yield line pattern. These bending
They moments
can become largecan
in be seen
skew in finite
slabs element
with acute models.
angles. In this application extra
5.12 Beams
me large in skew slabs with acute angles. In this application extra
reinforcement above the code minimums might be required.
above the code FEA programsmight
minimums presumebe that everything is co-linear and co-planar. In reference to a concrete structure, to design
a T-beamDepending
properly, the slabdesign
on the shoulditbe
canmodelled at a different
be important to accountelevation to the
for corner beam
levers andmodelling.
in the integral as with the
This corner
the design it can be important conditionfor
to account produces Mxy moments
corner levers which will be discussed later.
in the modelling.
ndition produces Mxy moments which will be discussed later.

Engineers Australia
30 | P a g e
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 21

Mxy twisng moments develop

Secon A

M*1 M*1 upli force

Secon A

M*1 = Corner lever Moment

yield line

two way slab supported on four side yield line paern

Figure 17: Corner levers.

Figure 18: A double spanning plate lifting up at the corner.

Depending on the computer package the beams can be modelled using different techniques, the most common
being with horizontal level of centroids for the beam and slab matching. When the centroids match the beam,
effective depth needs to be increased for the eccentricity (for PT slabs this is not recommended and the model
should correctly represent the depth and centroid of the beam). Figure 19 shows that the equivalent beam can
be of substantial depth compared to the depth of the T-beam web for the example provided.
To ensure all the moments within the T-beam it is also important that effective flange width is used to size
the reinforcing in the beam.

Engineers Australia
centroid of the beam). Figure 19 shows that the equivalent beam can be of substantial depth
compared to the depth of the T-beam web for the example provided.

To ensure all the moments

“FEA in thewithin
T-beam it is also
reinforced importantbuildings”
concrete that effective flange width 22
is used to size the reinforcing in the beam.

Figure 19: Depth of equivalent beam hw. Extract from G.A. Rombach
Figure 19: Depth of equivalent beam hw (Extract from G.A. Rombach)

Where beams are32loaded

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by slabs at the bottom of the beam rather than at the top, additional ‘hanging
reinforcement’ is required to supplement the normal shear reinforcement. Many programs will not supplement
the reinforcement as required so these situations may need to be independently checked. This problem is most
significant in short heavily loaded beams.
The above should not be confused with suspension zone reinforcement which again may not be adequately
catered for within a given design program.

5.13 Foundations
Generally foundations are between fully fixed and pinned and should be modelled as partially fixed or by way
of another conservative assumption depending on the action being considered. If you are limited to fixed and
pinned foundations it is recommended you model both cases to ensure the worst case effect is computed.
Most FEA packages allow the user to enter soil properties at different locations and estimate settlements.
This is useful on buildings with mat foundations that might be subject to differential settlement. Differential
settlement can be caused by many situations: varying loads, varying strata, clay shrink/swell, water table
variations and varying properties of the soils.
FEA programs will vary in how they model the soil conditions, with different programs using different
approaches. Some of the approaches support settlement input directly, spring supports, equivalent elements and
volume 3D elements.
Use of this feature to estimate settlements should be approached with consultation of the geotechnical
engineer on the project. Most good geotechnical engineers will be able to provide the properties required for the
different methods such that the settlements estimated by the software are similar to the settlements estimated
by the geotechnical engineer. Acceptable settlements given by different published sources are listed in Table 2.

Table 2: Acceptable settlements offered by various sources.

Published source Acceptable settlement isolated Acceptable differential settlement

(flexible) foundations
McDonald and Skemption 75mm clays 40mm clays
(1955–56) 50mm sands 25mm sands
Maximum angular distortion L/300
Sowers (1962) 50–100mm L/300
Bjerrum (1963) Not total maximum recommended L/150
European Committee for 50mm 20mm (L/300)
Standardization of Differential
Settlements parameters

Differential settlement rather than settlement itself is the main concern with concrete buildings. Buildings can
accept large settlements providing the differential settlements are within tolerable limits. Differential settlement
can lead to unexpected cracking and tilting of the building (see Figure 20).

Engineers Australia
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 23

Figure 20: Graphical representation of varying geological conditions under a building.

Properties for use in your FEA package for the soils should be sought from the geotechnical engineer on
the project or other reliable sources. It is unlikely that the FEA program will be able to help with estimates of
differential settlement due to clay shrink/swell. Other references and programs such as SLOGS, AS2870 and
RAFTS are available to assist in this.
Soil reports only provide the designer with total settlement results. A general rule of thumb is that even
with ostensibly homogeneous soils, differential settlement should be assumed to be half the total settlement. It
is recommended that you consult with the geotechnical engineer on the project for specific recommendations.

5.14 Considerations for interrupted supports and openings

Infinite stresses, both shear and bending, can be developed at the edge of line and point supports due to
numerical modelling. These peaks are not actual stresses and are created from the modelling process. If the
discontinuity in the line support is smaller than 15 times the depth, Rombach suggests that you can ignore
these in your bending analysis. Alternatively, if your opening is greater than 15 times the depth, it is suggested
that engineering judgment be used to decide on the redistribution required for the theoretical bending moment
versus the numerical results.
Support problems can occur for other reasons such as closely spaced walls. In these situations results will
show sharp peaks in the bending moments, shear and support reactions. This is due to singularities similar to
columns being modelled on a single node. These peaks should be distributed across sections due to cracking and
yielding. One method to handle this is to use spring supports to spread the peak moments to the surrounding
nodes. Discussion with the software developer will help to understand which of the available approaches have
been used and what the ramifications of these decisions may be.
For large openings, consideration should be given to stiffening the slab by using beams around the opening,
and torsion should be considered in beams surrounding openings.

5.15 Redistribution
How do you handle redistribution of moments with FEA? This is easy for the equivalent frame method, but
when you have moments in contours, do you redistribute the maximum moment? The average? It is common for
FEA programs to redistribute the moments from the columns due to singularities.
It is not intended for redistribution to reduce the moment taken by the columns (when modelled correctly).
This is due to punching shear being a brittle (non-ductile) failure mode and therefore redistribution of the design
moment transferred from the slab to the support is not allowed. In the author’s experience, redistribution of
moments in beams is of limited benefit because moment redistribution cannot be used for the service moments.
For design it is recommended that all actions be redistributed after the actions have been distributed into
strips. Nonlinear analysis will automatically allow some redistribution, due to cracking. The author recommends
that no redistribution of moments be undertaken if a nonlinear analysis is adopted.
It is worth noting here that the degree to which moment distribution is permitted under AS3600-2009 is also
a function of the ductility of the reinforcement.

5.16 Buckling
Buckling in concrete buildings can be a governing design consideration for slender elements. Slender columns,
slabs with large openings, slender inverted T-beams, and walls need to be taken into account during analysis.
Depending on the FEA method the program can help with this analysis.
Care should be taken when using the software as there will be strict limits to its capabilities. Selecting the
correct effective length is the normal problem for programs, with engineering judgment required to ensure realistic
response. Generally it is advisable that the engineer check any slender elements for buckling by recognised
methods, using the factored up loads as appropriate for sway and non-sway condition.
In the absence of a detailed buckling analysis section 8.9 of AS3600-2009 does of course nominate slanderous
limits that must be adhered to.

Engineers Australia
“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 24

5. 17 Loading
The engineer needs to determine how many load cases are required. AS3600-2009 requires pattern loading to
be included for situations where the live load is over 75% of the dead load. The author prefers to do pattern
loading for all slabs in accordance with AS1170 because even though we treat the load as uniform for design,
loads are never uniform. This can increase the number of load combinations substantially and a checker pattern
is not a “one fits all” solution. Figure 21 provides a number of possible configurations of loadings that should
be considered for patterning of slab loadings.
It is up to engineering judgement, if point loads from the slabs above should be patterned for transfer slabs
and columns. Punching shear associated with point loading will often not be checked by the software and hand
calculations may need to be carried out to ensure code compliance.
Point loads if modelled as a single point will cause singularities; they should be distributed over an area of
the actual loading. Generally codes have foot prints for consideration of point loads; it is recommended that
these be incorporated using a high pressure load over a square rather than a point load, if possible.

5.18 Construction
For high-rise buildings commercial time pressures often lead to a requirement to strike the formwork as soon as
possible and move on to subsequent floors, with a minimum of propping. Tests on flat slabs have demonstrated
that as much as 70% of the loads from a newly cast floor (formwork, wet concrete and construction loads) may
be carried by the suspended floor directly below. This early high loading has the potential to cause deflections and
cracking of the concrete. It is essential that all members of the project design and construction team understand
the implications of this load and make adequate allowances to accommodate it.
It can generally be assumed that early striking of formwork will not greatly affect the deflection after
installing the cladding and/or partitions. This is because the deflection affecting partitions will be smaller if the
slab becomes “cracked” before, rather than after, the installation of the cladding and/or partitions.
Construction loads should not be ignored. Writing that the structure should be fully propped by the contactor
until the structure is fully stable is NOT engineering. On most projects the arrangement for back propping is to
back prop for three floors.
AS3610 outlines the minimum requirements in terms of project documentation of formwork and only the
building designer is in a position to provide a good deal of this information.

5.19 Loading sequence

The loading sequence and timing is critical in determining the deflections, because it will influence the point
at which the slab cracks. A loading sequence from the St George Wharf study shows the relatively high loads
applied during casting of the floor above (see Figure 22). If an earlier stage proves critical, the crack depth at
that stage should be carried forward to all subsequent stages, as once a slab is cracked it remains cracked and
the stiffness reduction is permanent.
The timing of formwork removal is particularly crucial where walls over act to support structure under and
this needs to be highlighted on drawings as necessary. Staged stressing can also be a critical requirement of
construction that needs to be highlighted on the drawings. When software is used to check prestress transfer
stresses, some software for example may assume that all self-weight is present at transfer. But this is of course
only true if it has been constructed. If some loads from floors over are categorised as self-weight, it may for
example be necessary to change them to dead loads. This last point is a trap in both 3D and 2D structural

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 25
Load Array 1 Load Array 2 Load Array 1 Load Array 2
Load Array 1 Load Array 2

Load Array
Load Array 13 Load
Load Array
LoadArray Load
Array34 Load Array 4
Load Array 2

Load Array354
Array Load
Load Array465
Array Load
Array56 Load Array 6

Load Array56
Load Array
Array 7 Load
Load Array687
Array Load
Load Array798
Array Load Array 8
Load Array 10
Load Array 9 Load
Load Array910
Array Load Array 10

Load Array 8
Load Array 7 Load Array 8
Load Array 11 Load Array 12
Load Array 10 Load
Load Array 11 LoadArray
12 Load Array 12

Load Array 14
Load Array 12 Load Array
Load 1314
Load Array13
Load Array 13

Figure 21: Suggested loading arrangements for pattern live loading broken into an idealised strip layout – yellow
represents imposed plus permanent, blue represents permanent only.

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 26

c 1st slab above cast

d 2nd slab above cast

Theoretical load (kN/m2)


Slab struck 3rd slab above cast

Time from casting (days)

Figure 22: St George Wharf study loading of slab during construction.

Extract from the concrete centre study of the St George project.

5.20 Changes in cross section

If the section properties (the shape) of a beam or slab change as you cross the span, accurately modelling the
shape of the changing section is virtually impossible in FEA packages. For most situations the shape can be split
into equivalent sections. However, careful consideration is required to ensure that the approximations made are
appropriate. Generally a minimum of three sections is required to model an appropriate approximation of a
haunched area, this could be used as a guide to more complex arrangements.

5.21 Composite construction using concrete elements

by Mal Wilson
Most of the discussion presented here to this point has assumed that slabs and beams are constructed in a
single pour but there is a significant segment of the residential and commercial market that uses reinforced or
prestressed precast concrete elements to support cast in situ toppings. Such systems vary, from precast prestressed
joists with infill panels to hollow core floor panels or Beamshells. All of these systems are increasingly being
designed using concrete finite element packages. While some suppliers may indicate that these elements can be
designed as if the concrete were monolithic, this is not strictly correct for a number of reasons and great care
needs to be taken in modelling their strength as well as their serviceability performance.
These precast concrete members are often constructed using concrete many times stronger than the cast in
situ concrete surrounding them. If plate elements are used in the modelling, only one set of strength and stiffness
parameters can be set, and which is most appropriate will depend on the moment direction and the situation
being considered.
The concrete in the precast element is in a very different place in time with respect to its shrinkage and creep
history when compared to the concrete poured on site so the construction is fundamentally composite in nature.
How old the precast unit may be when it becomes part of the composite element is something outside the control
of the designer.
It is important to check that allowable longitudinal shear stresses are not exceeded at the interface between
the existing and new concrete. Consideration needs to be given not only to the stresses induced by the shear from
the ultimate load condition but also any stress that may be present due to differential creep and shrinkage. When
joists or slabs are subjected to very high shear loads longitudinal shear stresses can quickly become a critical
consideration especially in prestressed joists constructed of very high strength concrete.
In some instances in the past at least one Australian manufacturer has recommended details that do not
comply with AS3600–2009 reinforcement anchorage requirements. It is the author’s view that AS3600–2009
detailing requirements must be complied with unless it can be clearly shown (preferably through testing
programs) that any alternate detail offers the same degree of strength and ductility as well as the equivalent
robustness in the event of unexpected loading.
Precast suppliers have in the past provided advice to suggest that codified longitudinal shear stress limitations
are unduly conservative. It is the author’s experience that claims of vastly improved longitudinal shear capacity

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gained through one-off testing do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny. So where such claims are made, test data,
coefficients of variation used and general test methodology should be checked first hand prior to any conclusions
being drawn. If the precast manufacturer claims the raw data is confidential, the advice should simply be ignored
as sound engineering design should be based on peer reviewed fully transparent and independently verified
Certainly finite element analysis can be used to assist in understanding the behaviour of these composite
systems but no FEA programs commonly used are set up to model the behaviour directly, and considerable
engineering judgement is required to establish what modifications to the normal design parameters are
appropriate and what conclusions may be drawn from such modelling. Particular attention needs to be paid to
anchorage of prestressed strands as many commonly used FEA programs will assume all strands are anchored
by live and dead ends which is clearly not the case in precast construction. This point alone can affect designed
reinforcement layout, shear capacity and even deflections.
Once the effects of elastic shortening, creep and shrinkage have been accounted for in the precast elements
themselves it is not necessary to fully account for them again in the same way that would be required in post-
tensioned construction. Further creep and shrinkage does inevitably occur but the amount and effect need to be
carefully considered.
• Vollum, R. 2004, “Backprop forces and deflections in flat slabs: construction at St George Wharf ”, BRE
Report, No. 463, UK.
• Enochsson, O. & Dufvenberg, P. 2001, “Concrete slabs designed with finite element methods”, Lulea
University of Technology Thesis p 146.
• Elwood, K.J. & Eberhard, M.O. 2006, “Effective stiffness of reinforced columns”, Research Digest No.
2006-1, Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center pp. 1-5.
• The Concrete Society 2005, TR43: Post-tensioned Concrete Floors Design Handbook, Concrete Society
Technical Teport, UK, p 160.
• Mota M.C. & KaMara, M. 2006, “Floor openings in two-way slabs”, Concrete International Magazine,
July 2006, pp. 33-36.
• Rombach, G.A. 2004, Finite element design of concrete structures, Thomas Telford Publishing, UK.
• Skemption, A.W. & MacDonald, H.H. 1956, “The allowable settlement of buildings”, Proceedings of
Civil Engineers, Part 3, Vol. 5, pp. 727-784.
• Sowers, G.F. 1962, Shallow foundations, foundation engineering, G.A. Leonards (ed.), McGraw-Hill
Book Co, New York, pp. 525-632.
• Bjerrum, L. 1963, “Allowable settlement of structures”, Proceedings of the 3rd European Conference on
Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering, Wiesbaden, 2, Brighton, England, pp. 135-137.
• European Committee for Standardization, 1994, “Geotechnical design, general rules – Part I”, Eurocode
7, Brussels, Belgium.


Ultimate limit state design replaces working stress design. Other than this minor change structural engineering
hasn’t changed much in the past few decades.

6.1 Design moment distribution (not redistribution)

FEA programs generally report moments and reinforcement in contours. It is recommended that moments be
distributed across the column and middle strips as appropriate, keeping in mind all detailing requirements of the
code (see Figure 23). This is due to the micro-cracking relieving the slab at the support locals to the surrounding
areas. There is a temptation to provide reinforcement to resist the peak moments; this should be avoided as this
is too conservative.

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column/middle strip design


Bending moment


Moments from FEA
20 average bending moments

column strip
Middle Middle
0 1 2 3 4
strip strip

Figure 23: Column/middle strip distribution.

Design strips and sections must be defined for the serviceability and strength checks. The advantage of
FEA is that design strips can be defined after the slab has been modelled. Design strips can be defined by code
definitions or points of zero shear. Engineering judgment should ensure that the design strip is designed for the
load acting on it (see Figure 24). The point of zero shear is especially useful for complex geometries. Defining the
strips based on FEA results should lead to more economical reinforcement for complex support situations (refer
to Concrete Society report TR43 (2)). It is important for strips with moments of different signs to be integrated
separately as they produce top and bottom reinforcement and do not cancel each other out.

Lines of zero shear

code defined strip

Figure 24: Defining the column strips.

A useful rule of thumb for verifying the results is that top reinforcement in the column strip be in about
twice the area of the bottom reinforcement. While distributing the steel the engineer needs to keep in mind the
requirements for shear.

6.2 Twisting moments

Modelling slabs as plate elements can lead to interpretation problems for bending moments. FEA gives bending
moments in the Mx and My directions, but due to the modelling used it will give Mxy moments (see Figure 25).
This moment should be included in the design of reinforcement as it can be significant. The most common
methods for including this in the reinforcement design are proposed by Wood Armer or Denton and Burgoyne.
These methods are slightly conservative and your FEA program may use more complex methods. Most FEA
packages allow you to include Mxy in the outputs for Mx and My; this should be selected by the user. The Standards
Australia committee has recently reinforced this position.

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Figure 25: Slab twisting shear.

The term Mxy, the twisting moment, represents the twist, that is the rate of change of slope in the x-direction
as one moves in the y-direction or vice versa. The twisting moment results in shear stress parallel to the plate
surface except near the ends. Because of this shear flow difference, the reinforcement to prevent torsional beam
failure should not be confused with the reinforcement to prevent twisting plate failure. (see Figure 26).

My Mxy



My Mxy

Figure 26: FE bending moment output.

Many people think the plate finite element is just a “smaller” plate and that the nodal reactive moments M’x and
M’y are the same as Mx and My in classical plate theory. Well, they are not!
Let’s take a look at Lagrange’s equation:

2 M x 2 M xy 2 M y
+2 + = q (where –q is the load).
x 2 xy y 2

This equation for plates shows that Mx, My and Mxy are coupled. Therefore, according to the Lower Bound Theory,
this allows the apportioning of Mxy moments to the Mx and My moments. For slabs, this is natural and can be easily
achieved by increasing the orthogonal Mx and My reinforcement using the Wood Armer equations or similar.

6.3 Classical beam theory

With the plane-remains-plane assumption and shear deformation excluded, the beam theory equations are
simple and will not be repeated here. However, the torsion equation will be discussed.
The torsion as shown in Figure 27 in beams is not related directly to the twisting moment Mxy. These are two
different actions and should be treated as such. If anything, torsion in beams should be related to Mx and My.
It is important to realise that:
• the placements of longitudinal reinforcement and torsional stirrups are coupled;
• beam torsion results in circular shear stress.

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Figure 27: Basic torsion diagram for a solid section.

6.4 Torsion
Cracking of concrete can reduce the strength of concrete in torsion significantly as discussed earlier. It is
important that any torsional steel designed by the program is reviewed for accuracy, and that it is known what
assumptions the program is making when designing the amount of torsion steel required. Most programs design
the beam as single beams without taking into account the extra torsional strength provided by the internal slab
and beam arrangement.
Research by Warner & Ragan found during tests on beams integral with slabs that slab restraint increased the
shear/torsion capacity by a factor of 4 to 6. These tests were carried out on torsion beams with same depth as
the slab. Yew-Chaye Loo et al showed that the increased resistance depended on the depth of the beam relative
to the slab.
Engineering judgement should always be used when selecting the option for design with or without torsion
and when the compatibility torsion design is selected. This is particularly important to torsion members which,
if they were to fail in torsion, would compromise the structure.
Some programs use plate elements to model beam behaviour and, while these may perform satisfactorily
for shallow beams, care must be taken where beams are deeper than they are wide. Torsional properties may be
linked to the cube of the depth which will vastly overestimate the torsional stiffness of a deep beam.

6.5 P-Delta
P-Delta is a non-linear action occurring in all structures with axial loads both vertical and horizontal. The
effect is a change in structure with possible changes in deflection and moments. These second order effects are
relative to the magnitude of the applied axial force, displacement and slenderness of the elements making up
the structure.
These effects can generally be classified as:
• P-“BIG” Delta (P-Δ) – a structure effect;
• P-“little” Delta (P-δ) – a member effect.
It should be ensured that, if required, P-Delta effects (see Figure 28) are taken into account in the analysis.
Care should be taken to understand and work within the limitations of the software. FEA programs generally
don’t allow for the reduction in load-bearing capacity from slenderness, so users must review slender columns
for load distribution.

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Figure 28: P-Delta effects.

6.6 Shear
FEA models produce shear stress results; these results generally are unable to help in punching shear checks.
It is recommended that punching shear be checked using the requirements of AS3600-2009, and that column
stiffness included in the model be correct or upper and lower bounds be used. If you prefer to use the software
to carry out these checks, all openings (even small) must be modelled correctly especially if near the shear
Note: Punching shear is required to be calculated at the edges of drop panels and similar. Most software will
not carry out this check; the designer should complete this external to the program.
The requirements of the code should be included in designs including minimum transfer of moments between
columns and slabs for punching shear and detailing requirements for reo near columns. The 25% detailing rule
Cl 9.2.2 AS3600-2009 is often not well understood; the detailing is required for punching shear. The reinforcing
forms the tie in the crude strut tie over the columns. The author hopes that in the future the % steel over the
support will be included in the punching shear calculations to ensure this is clear to the design engineer.

6.7 Vertical load take down

An FEA model based on the static reaction for vertical loads can be un-conservative, as elements can be designed
to take tension from above the floor under construction, thus creating an unstable situation during construction
or a different load path.
An FEA model based on the area method for vertical loads generally is conservative as no elements are
designed to take tension. The area method or construction sequence is recommended for vertical loads and
reactions; the construction sequence method will simulate the gradual increase of the loading as the building is
constructed. This is especially important if hanging beams or outriggers are present in the building structure.

6.8 Interpreting results

Before the invention of complete building modelling software, engineers had to analyse each design strip for
moment compression/tension, shear and torsion, combined. This gave them a good understanding of the
building and response to loadings.
Engineers should carry out this in-depth analysis of critical points using engineering judgement. If you
don’t have the experience to decide the critical points, review every point. However, because of the huge
volume of results produced by the models a single engineer will find it hard to review all results. Therefore
it is recommended that the model be reduced to more simple strips for analysis purposes, with results and
calculations being recorded.
Rationalisation of the design results is an important step in the design process. Often with highly
advanced analysis methods you can get highly varying reinforcement results which, if provided in the design
drawings, would allow for less reinforcement overall but would not represent the best cost outcome (as shown

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in Figure 29).

Slow Fast

Minimum overall cost


Labour, plant & preliminaries

Low Material

Highly Usual Rationalised Highly

detailed Rationalised
Level of rationalisation of reinforcement
Figure 29: Relationship between cost of building, rationalisation of reinforcement and time.

6.9 Rationalisation
Rationalisation is the process of eliminating unnecessary variation by reducing complexity so that provision of
materials is easier and efficient. Finite element reinforcement results generally do not undertake the rationalisation
process to an appropriate level, other than to select a common reinforcement bar size.
The engineer needs to review the results from the finite element program such that overly complex details are
not provided. Simple philosophies that can help with this objective are:
• Rather than detailing each element separately, the engineer can try to identify typical reinforcement
arrangements that will be suitable for common elements;
• Rather than having varying reinforcement lengths along supports, try to keep the changes in length to
a suitable number;
• Rather than providing small bars sizing at close centres, try larger bar sizes at more appropriate
This may result in some elements being ‘over designed’, but there will be subsequent cost saving because of the
reduction in the time taken to provide alternative arrangement onsite, hence this will be faster.

6.10 Additional reinforcing

While the analysis provides the majority of reinforcing for the building, there is additional reinforcement
required for serviceability and detailing. While serviceability considerations will be discussed later, this section
concentrates on reinforcement due to sound engineering judgement:
• Additional steel may be required around openings (possible recesses) to prevent shrinkage cracking or
similar. Extra steel is also recommended at re-entrant corners;
• The Australian code has a requirement to offset the bending moment at a distance d (depth to tension
reinforcing centroid) in each direction. Most computer programs don’t include detail for development
length and offset d. This is important near edges of slabs and transferring moments.
The Sleipner accident should serve as a warning in regard to the importance of anchorage and detailing. While
that accident cannot be attributed to anchorage and detailing alone, detailing of the joints was inadequate and
the structure did fail more radically than it would have with correct detailing. All anchorage requirements and
lapping should be checked, most programs do not provide extra steel required for this purpose.
Over-reinforcing of slabs and thin elements can lead to restraint deflection from steel. Designers need to be
careful that all the reinforcing is included in deflection analysis of shallow members.

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“FEA in the design of reinforced concrete buildings” 33

• Jakobsen, B. & Rosendahl, F. 1994, “The Sleipner accident”, Structural Engineering International,
IABSE, Vol. 3, pp. 190-193.
• Wood, R.H. 1968, “The reinforcement of slabs in accordance with a predetermined field of moments”,
Concrete 2 No 2, pp. 69-76.
• Li, J. 2002, Reinforced plate design for Mxy twisting moment, Solutions Research Centre, Hong Kong, p 7.
• Timoshenko, S.P and Woinowsky-Krieger, S. 1959, Theory of plates and shells, McGraw-Hill International
Editions, p 580.
• Morris, A. 2008, A practical guide to reliable finite element modelling, John Wiley & Sons, p 380.
• FIB Bulletin 45, 2008, Practitioners guide to finite element modelling of reinforced concrete structures –
state of the art report, p 337.


Hardy Cross once wrote: “Strength is essential but otherwise not important”.
Modelling of the structure must reflect the required serviceability performance of the building with regards
to cracking, deflection, crack and stress limitation. Serviceability dominates the design of most structures,
with deflection being influenced by concrete strength (both compression and tension), creep, shrinkage, elastic
modulus, restraint, loading/time of loading/duration of loading, ambient conditions, formwork stripping
procedures and durability.

7.1 Deflection
Deflection design has many influences, none of which can be predicted accurately. Thus deflection predictions
are best estimates, and the estimates you make should be the upper bound for deflection, not the lower bound.
While there are minimum deflections quoted in the code, there are a lot of instances where deflection is
critically important. The designer needs to decide which of these apply to an individual project. Often the load
which affects the critical deflection (eg deflection affecting cladding) is not applied at the same time as the initial
Some critical situations for deflections:
• Cladding walls can only handle a finite amount of deflection, ranging from 1/250 to 1/2000, and
some cladding manufacturers state the systems can only handle 5mm of deflection. The design is best
carried out in coordination with the design of the walls. Edge beams can be used to control deflections
of the external facade. Failure to account for deflection under walls reduces the expected life of seals
and joints.
• Ceiling and light-weight partition walls need to be considered for visual deflections, and if the edge of
the slab is visible, this should be considered.
• In light-weight slabs vibration needs to be checked as well. This is extremely important in mixed-use
areas such as a gym in an office building or hospitals.
• Glass walls are sensitive to deflections.
• Operable walls have stringent requirements for deflection and manufacturers’ input should be sought
early for each project.
• Roof structures with membranes need extra care to ensure that accelerated wear of the membrane is
not a problem. Membrane problems have been experienced where deflection reduces the drainage of
the roof or where there is cracking of the supporting slab.
• Coordination with the architect or hydraulic consultant is essential to ensure that outlets are located in
appropriate locations such that minimum fall will be achieved throughout the life of the structure.
To check the deflections in complex slab systems, the author recommends the procedure shown in Figure 30.
The span is defined in any direction.

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The maximum deflection at any
a point can be defined as 2a/n
(n = span to deflection ratio as
defined by AS3600-2009, eg
span/250 maximum deflection
a may be critical on grid lines).

Figure 30: Interpreting deflection.

Actual concrete deflections are influenced by many factors which cannot be fully taken into account. They include:
• Tensile strength of concrete (a change in strength from 2.7 to 2.1 can increase deflections by 50%)
• Modulus of concrete +/- 20%
• Early construction loading
• Shrinkage warping.
Always remember loads can only be estimated and even dead loads cannot usually be calculated to within 5%
accuracy. It is advisable to give a suitable range/warning with any estimate of deflection that others are relying
Possible methods for calculating deflections using FEA:
• Deemed to comply span on depth ratio as per Cl 9.6.3 AS3600-2009 (the author questions the advantage
of finite element modelling)
• Linear analysis with section properties adjusted for cracking factored up deflections using Kcs (the
author suggests that this is guess work)
• Nonlinear analysis with adjusted elastic modulus or similar advanced modelling (the author recommends
the use of non-linear analysis with adjusted elastic modulus in accordance with AEMM or Eurocode).
With any of the above methods it is recommended that a sensitivity analysis on deflections be conducted on the
vital input parameters. This will ensure that any deflections reports are reported with the appropriate range. This
is especially important if providing deflections for the use of others.

7.2 Precamber
Modelling of precamber in slabs in FEA programs is difficult. Slab and beams can be precambered to reduce
the effect of deflection. In practice, if precamber is utilised too much it is generally estimated and the slab
remains permanently cambered. This is because of the difficulty in accurately calculating deflection and also
representing it in models to see the effect across all areas.
It is recommended that precamber be set at a conservative value. However, the author is of the opinion that
it is better to design for the deflection requirements of the AS3600-2009 rather than precamber. It is important
to remember precamber does not reduce the deflections affecting partitions or cladding.
A positive development in the industry has been that with the near universal move to levelling with laser
levels rather than taking heights off the deck there has been a major move away from precambering.

7.3 Vibration
More efficient design utilising stronger materials can lead to lighter structures with lower natural frequencies
which makes them potentially more vulnerable to vibration problems. The most common causes of vibrations
are human activities (walking, running, dancing, jumping or gymnastics).
Conventional methods of predicting floor accelerations are only suitable for a narrow range of floor layouts
and materials. FEA models allow any type of layout of walls and floors to be modelled for deflection. Using
finite element methods vibration sources can be modelled and the effects on other areas evaluated due to the

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decreased accuracy required when dealing with small loads and strains.
FEA will allow the user to include the effects of the rotational stiffness of columns, and the effects of
partition walls, stairwells, services and finishes.
The author has found Steel Construction Institute publication P354 entitled Design of Floors for Vibration: A
New Approach describes a reasonable method for modelling in FEA which is applicable to any type of suspended
A realistic allowance for non-structural mass, due to services, fit-out finishes etc should be included. It is
normally possible to add non-structural mass to an element, and some programs also allow static load cases
to be converted to additional mass. If neither of these options is available, then the density of the material
representing the slab must be modified. In general, only include additional mass that is likely to be there in
practice. Over-estimating the mass can be non-conservative for footfall response.
The movement of some offices towards a paperless environment which has been muted for 20 years is finally
gaining significant traction. This is a situation which increasingly needs to be considered in design.
There are several parameters that can influence vibration. They include the steel, the modulus of elasticity,
damping and the extent of cracking.
In regard to steel beam connections, for strength or serviceability design structural engineers often assume
pinned end connections. For the very small strains associated with footfall-induced vibration, it has been found
from tests that connections will normally act as if they are fixed rather than pinned, and so can be modelled
without releases.
The modulus of elasticity for vibration analysis is larger than the static values, in particular when high
strength concrete is used.
Damping has an inherently high variability that is difficult to determine before a floor system is placed in
service. The recommended values from reference [Allen, D.E., and Murray, T. M., 1993] vary from 2% – 3% for
bare concrete floors to 5% – 8% with full height partitions.
Cracking reduces floor stiffness and consequently lowers its natural frequency. For conventionally reinforced
concrete it is important to allow for cracking.
When evaluating the above parameters, reference to the base method and the assumptions used both in
development and testing should be reviewed.

• Buettner, D.R. & Ghosh, S. K., ACI Committee 438.8R-8, 1997, “Observed deflections of reinforced concrete
slab systems, and causes of large deflections”, SP 86-2 ACI Journal, p 47.
• Thomas, M.M., Allen, D.E. & Ungar, E.E 2003, “Floor vibrations due to human activity”, Steel Design Guide
Series 11, American Institute of Steel Construction, p 69.
• Allen, D.E. & Murray, T.M. 1993, “Design criterion for vibrations due to walking”, AISC Engineering Journal,
4th Qtr, pp.117-129.
• Smith, A.L., Hicks, S.J. & Devine, P.J. 2009, “Design of floors for vibration: A new approach”, SCI P354, The
Steel Construction Institute, p 114.
• Willford, M.R. & Young, P. 2006, A design guide for footfall induced vibration of Structures, the Concrete
Centre, Gillingham House, 38-44 Gillingham Street, London, p 79.
• AS3600-2009, Australian Standard for Concrete Structures, Standards Australia 2009.
• Elwood, K.J. & Eberhard, M.O. 2006, “Effective stiffness of reinforced columns”, Research Digest No.
2006-1, Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, pp. 1-5.
• Cobb, F. 2004, Structural engineer’s pocket book, Elsevier, UK, p 354.
• Morrison, J. & Jones, T. 2003, “Use of computers in the design of concrete structures”, Concrete
Magazine, May, 2003, pp. 40-42.
• Brooker, O. 2006, How to design reinforced concrete flat slabs using finite element analysis, The Concrete
Centre, London, p 16.

Many FEA programs handle the reinforcement and bending moment calculations for the design of the structure

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to the relevant codes. Thus the engineer needs to have a good method for checking to ensure the assumptions
made by the software designer are in accordance with the design being undertaken by the engineer.
Simple or alternative calculations are very important for this, some possible checks are:
• Calculate wl2/8 (a basic bending moment formula) for a span and check the FEA model gives the same
value between the positive and negative moments (10% difference could be considered a pass, anything
greater would need further investigation).
• Compare the total slab weight against the total reactions under dead load.
• Span on depth ratios: again if you are well above normal limits then it would be worth checking again.
• Use alternative analysis program (like RAPT) to do a few lines up and down the building and compare.
• Is the span/depth or height/depth ratio in line with standard practice, if not why?
• Simple hand bending and shear diagrams.
• Using the direct methods from the code and compare, if these vary why?
• Are supports modelled; how are they going to really behave? Check walls to slab connections as these are
difficult to reinforce for full moment transfer.
• Do the contour plots have similar results as the Pucher influence charts (Pucher charts are a series of
contour plots of influence surfaces for various plate and loading geometries).
• Static equilibrium; compare total loads to total reactions.
• Check the load increase (and face shear) in a column at any given floor is approximately equal to the load
on the floor area notionally supported by the column.
• One of the commonly used methods for estimating the fundamental frequency is known as the self-
weight method. If the maximum gravity deflection of a single bay structure (under self-weight plus
service super-imposed load) is δ, then the fundamental frequency (Hz) can be estimated using f = 18/√δ,
where δ is the maximum deflection in millimetres. This equation works reasonably well for most single-
span beam or floor plates.
Some items to be considered in design but not discussed in this practice note are:
• How much does the slab contribute to the beam load?
• Properties of concrete flat slabs, one-way slabs, waffle slabs, and slabs acting as diaphragms supported
on steel joists.
• Torsional and flexural effects of such systems on the actual stiffness of beams.
• Interaction of shear walls and beams.
• Shear lag effects on interconnecting concrete walls (in elevator and stair shafts).
• Skewed slabs – in skew slabs infinite stress will be caused in the corners and special consideration is
required. Refer to “Finite element design of concrete structures” by G.A. Rombach for further
information on modelling possibilities.
• Most software assumes the centre of elements with different thickness will be aligned in the vertical
plane, so the offset of the drop or beam should be defined in the model.
• The output is usually in the form of contour plots, and interpretation is required at the interface of
elements with different thicknesses.
• The discussions in this practice note are not for the design of post-tensioned/pre-stressed flat slabs.
Most importantly, the discussions in this practice note are not intended to be a substitute for engineering judgement.

8.1 New programs

New programs are being created all the time. These can increase design speed, with some programs developed to
analyse design detailing and drawing from one package. The engineer using such programs must understand the
software, understand the limitations and things it doesn’t do. The possible time saved by using such programs
should be spent on checking to ensure a safe and durable structure.

8.2 Recommended reading

This practice note has only scratched the surface of finite element modelling for reinforced concrete structures.
Further reading is recommended to fully understand the more complex issues of finite element modelling. The
author recommends:

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• Finite element design of concrete structures, G.A. Rombach.

• The Sleipner Accident, Jakobsen and Rosendahl.
• Theory of plates and shells, Timoshenko S.P and Woinowsky-Krieger S, McGraw-Hill International
Editions (this is an old classic book, which presents a number of solutions for elastic plates, which may
be helpful for some simple cases).
• A Practical Guide to Reliable Finite Element Modelling, Alan Morris, Emeritus Professor of
Computational Structural Analysis, Cranfield University, UK.
• Practitioners guide to finite element modelling of reinforced concrete structures – state of the art report
– FIB bulletin 45.
• Influence surfaces of elastic plates, Pucher, A, 5th revised edition, Springer Verlag, New York, 1977.

by Mal Wilson
In forensic engineering we look to discover why a structural element has collapsed, cracked or deformed in a
way that is unexpected and FEA can provide a very useful tool in discovering what may have led to the situation
being explored. FEA may also contribute to an understanding as to what the response of a given element may
be under additional loading. In this form of endeavour much of the advice given in the preceding chapters needs
to be reconsidered and in certain circumstances ignored completely for a number of important reasons which
will be considered below.
It is often the case that when a structure is deflecting or cracking unexpectedly, detailing rules set out in the
Australian Standards have not have been followed. It must be remembered that design details such as where
and how positive and negative reinforcement must be curtailed can affect the ability of a structure to cope
with unexpected moment changes along a given member. Limits to the amount of flexural reinforcement may
also affect the capacity of a section to redistribute moments prior to a section failing. Much of the advice
given previously is based on the assumption that the AS3600–2009 or other code requirements have been fully
implemented. When such detailing has occurred the structure is ‘guaranteed’ a certain amount of ductility as
well as a capacity for the expected moment envelope to move left or right without catastrophic consequences. It
is this attention to detailing that means that ‘close enough really is good enough’ when it comes to FEA.
Detailing rules are in place for a number of purposes one of which is to enable the structure to more reliably
deal with unexpected loads and form an important role in the overall safety of the structure. These detailing
requirements are therefore not conditions to be lightly traded off when considering whether a structure is safe to
remain in service. Essentially it needs to be shown that the building is not only safe under a given load condition
but it should also be as safe as it would have been had all code detailing provisions been complied with in the
first instance. This requirement can be considered a measure of the structure’s robustness.
When code detailing rules are ignored it fundamentally changes the guidance on FEA given so far as suddenly
any modelling assumption we make can be extremely critical depending on the circumstances. Effectively the
safety net in terms of the structure’s ductility and its capacity to redistribute moments or carry shear loadsmay
have been compromised and a failure to model a behaviour precisely may prove critical or even catastrophic.
Under such circumstances nothing should be taken for granted and parametric studies are often required for
a full understanding of the structure in its current form as well as the potential risks under additional loading.
Such studies are a form of sensitivity analysis that lead to an understanding of how robust the current
situation is.
The other important consideration in forensic work is that we are no longer necessarily working within a
carefully controlled set of construction parameters. In design work we can, theoretically at least, control the
construction and loading process through careful documentation and prudent supervision. Our documents can
and should for example specify the:
• maximum amount and distribution of loading during construction
• sequence and method of stripping of the formwork
• prestress sequencing and staging (as necessary)
• concrete strength to be achieved before loading or stripping of form work
• maximum amount and distribution of in-service loading
• weld sizes, types and categories

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• lap lengths for reinforcement

• code requirements to be adhered to
• chemical anchor depths and type.
In design we are operating in a ‘perfect world’ where every parameter is theoretically within our control.
When carrying out forensic investigative work we too often find that some or all of the parameters listed
above are unspecified, unmonitored and unrecorded. Even the raw data gathered on site is sometimes ‘polluted’
by construction inaccuracies (initial out of plumb or level etc) which can make interpretation challenging. In
many instances this situation can devalue any attempt to model the behaviour of the structural system with
FEA as the models become a series of hypotheses, a number of which may fit the data gathered on site equally
well. When this situation occurs the physical data will quite naturally take precedence over the FEA model and
residual strength considerations may need to be based more heavily upon what can be observed on site rather
than what can be modelled on a computer. The important point to take from this is that it is often what is not
specified within our documents or recorded on site that renders our FEA questionable.
It may be difficult for some readers to grasp the significance of all of this. The following example
illustrates how failure to comply with code detailing provisions or to adequately document or record the
construction process can lead to unexpected problems within the resultant structures. Moreover, this example
highlights that FEA assumptions that may be perfectly reasonable in general design may be dangerously
un-conservative when applied to existing poorly detailed structures.
Figure 31 shows a view of a suspended slab where cracks exist at the extremity of some precast joists which
carry a cast-in-situ slab and are supported by a cast-in-situ band beam on a line between X and Y. The extent of
these cracks is indicated as a red line at the underside of the band beam (see Figure 32).

Figure 31: Isometric view of a suspended concrete floor.

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Figure 32: View of the underside of a suspended concrete floor. The red line depicts the extent of cracking.

Figure 33 is a typical cross section through the band which depicts the crack at the point where the precast
beam terminates.

Figure 33: Section through slab showing location of crack.

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Figure 34: Cracks at end of Ultrafloor beams.

From Figure 33 it can be seen that the bottom tendons in the precast beam do not continue to the support.
They do not for example continue past and above the bottom reinforcement of the band beam. Most structural
engineers will be well aware AS3600 cl c) requires at least one quarter of the bottom reinforcement
continue past the near face of support. To a prospective FEA modeller the designer’s failure to comply with
this basic design rule should ring alarm bells as a positive moment at the slab band junction could significantly
compromise the capacity of the floor system to carry shear loads. For many structural engineers the visible
cracking at bottom of the interface and the associated face step in some places would provide more than enough
evidence to suggest a shear problem exists already at serviceability loads (see Figure 34) but let us consider for a
moment what the modelling challenges might be for this and uncracked areas with similar geometry.
Under the circumstances we can only imagine that the original designer assumed that the walls crossing the
band beam (which incidentally are three stories tall) would act to stop any beam rotation and induce a negative
moment in the adjacent slab. While this situation would not be code compliant in terms of bottom reinforcement
anchorage it would significantly enhance the shear capacity as the do (see AS3600 cl would jump from
around 35mm to around 160mm (negative Vs positive bending).
When modelling the structure using finite elements the following matters need to be carefully considered.

9.1 Load sequencing

To obtain the maximum benefit from the walls over it would be important that the slabs loading the bands
remain propped until the walls over are in place. In this instance no such requirement has been noted on the
drawings and the precast supplier’s web advice suggests that props can be removed 7 days after the slab over is
poured. When site records are not available this adds greatly to the complexity of the FEA task as walls coming
on after the props are removed may still act to reduce creep deflections and also to eventually carry an amount
of load, but the quantum will be difficult to predict.

9.2 Anchorage of wall reinforcement

The N16 vertical bars in the block walls over (see Figures 31 and 32) are called up at 600c/c but there is no
indication of what epoxy is to be used or whether the starter bars are required to finish at the ends of the walls.
The hole size nominated for the N16 bars is 18mm which is certainly not enough to correctly epoxy the bar and
we would expect that the bar may need to be hammered into its 125mm deep hole. When the performance of the
wall anchorage reinforcement is very poorly specified FEA becomes more challenging and it may be instructive
to search for gaps appearing between the blockwork and the slab, or indeed prudent to ignore the contribution
of the bars entirely. Certainly any attempt to model load stiffness behaviour of the anchor would seem futile
given the state of the specification.

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9.3 Backspan stiffness

The FEA shows the short backspan to the left of point A in Figure 35 in significant negative bending. In this
instance the backspan is passively reinforced with low ductility mesh and the longer span between B and D is
primarily in positive bending and prestressed (pre-tensioned). Clearly it will be important in any analysis to
calculate and use the correct cracked section moduli as the back span will crack far more which increases the
likelihood of a positive moment at B. Much of the FEA software available for this type of modelling is set up for
post-tensioned situations, so great care needs to be taken in using such software to model pre-tensioned beams.

Figure 35: Diagram showing deflected shape (deflections factored for clarity).

It is important in this case to fully understand the concept of plastic and elastic moment redistribution and
the effects that this may have on resultant moment at point B. For a fuller understanding we recommend Scott,
R.H. & Whittle, R.T., University of Durham, Arup Research and Development, 2005, “Moment redistribution
effects in beams”, Magazine of Concrete Research 2005, Vol. 57, Issue 1, February, pp. 9-20.

9.4 Construction loading

As noted earlier construction loading can have a significant effect on how much cracking occurs in the slabs and
band beams which can also effect the effective section moduli and in turn the moment distribution.

9.5 Moments in steel support columns

Clearly any moment that can be delivered to the column will act to increase the likelihood of a negative moment
at B. In this instance N16 bars on top of the column (see Figure 33) are specified but the number is ambiguous,
the weld procedure is unspecified and the hooks are not anchored over any bars. Reliably modelling the moment
in the column may therefore prove difficult but the moment resulting from edge loading of the column could be
considered a likely minimum.

9.6 Torsional stiffness of the band beam

Figure 33 shows that despite the large amount of torsion on the band beam the reinforcement documented does
not include any closed ties so hairline torsional cracks may act to significantly reduce torsional rigidity of the

9.7 Shrinkage restraint

With all FEA there are practical limits to the size of model that can be run and for this reason it would
be quite normal (given the complexity of the structural form) to run the size of model similar to what
we have indicated in Figure 31. One problem that can result from such an approach is that we have
neglected to include the restraining effect of the retaining walls that the car park slab has been rigidly
connected to. These retaining walls act to restrain the slab shrinkage which can also have a significant
effect on the shear capacity at the critical section (see AS3600 cl β2). What this code rule is
effectively suggesting is that if the critical shear zone is in 3.5MPa of tension across the gross area then
Vuc = 0.
To complicate matters further the extent of stress from constrained shrinkage can be influenced by the age
and construction of the retaining walls the pour sequencing of the slab the type of curing the constituents of the
concrete as well as many other factors. The assumption of full restraint may be a prudent approach when it comes
to shear capacity of a critical element with no shear reinforcement and no anchorage of critical reinforcement.
Shrinkage stresses can also adversely affect flexural and torsional stiffness of the various elements.

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9.8 Trusting what can be observed

When so little can be determined with confidence it is often useful to go back to the basics and measure what
you can see. In this case if we look at Figure 35 the deflection between A and B varies from 4mm to 18mm and
a line drawn between B, C and D indicates minimal deflection which all points to a positive moment at point B.
More compelling than this is the fact that there is a crack at B and the compressive zone of a negative moment
does not by definition include any cracks as fresh air is free to move in and out of the crack and cannot be
compressed. If there remained any doubt the face step in the cracks in some areas should be enough to highlight
a very significant problem that may well represent the onset of shear failure.
In other cases where these ‘smoking guns’ are not present FEA is an excellent tool but it must be used
with great care as it is not the structure itself but rather our best guess at the structure. Parametric studies (or
sensitivity analysis) hold the answer to a realistic analysis of the risks we face in any given circumstance and
we encourage engineers working in this field to see FEA as a tool to explore options rather than some type of
absolute model of structural behaviour.


10.1 Comparison to known limits

FEA models are difficult to check. It is recommended that simple sensibility checks be developed to easily
establish if the structure is proportioned appropriately.
Table 3 lists a number of preferred stress ranges which the author finds helpful in determining areas within a design
that need further review.

Table 3: Preferred stress ranges for concrete design elements.

Element Action Preferred stress range (MPa)

RC slabs M°/bd 2
0.5 ~ 2.5
V°/bd 0.31 ~ 1.5
RC beams/bands M°/bd2 0.9 ~ 3.0
V°/bd 0..80 ~ 2.0
RC columns N°/A 0.2 ~ 0.51f’c
M°/bd2 0.5 ~ 3.0
PT slabs P/A 1.0 ~ 1.8
PT beams/bands P/A 1.5 ~ 2.5

(Note: These are not maximums or minimums for stress ranges).

Mο is the design moment, Vο is the design shear, P is the design axial force,
b is the element effective width, d is the element effective depth, A is the area.

10.2 Heuristics (rules based on experience and intuition)

Every engineer is going to have heuristics that they have collected or established over time, for instance span/
depth ratios. These are good tools for reviewing outputs from computer programs.

10.3 Sensitivity analysis

For complex models a sensitivity analysis is a useful method. Sensitivity analysis can provide the following:
• Increased appreciation of relationships between input and output variables in a model
• Recognising model inputs that cause uncertainty in the output and should therefore be the focus of
• Establishing the robustness of a model
• Finding for errors in the model.
By understanding these above points a confidence level can be established in the model.

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With any analysis it is important to validate the software; you should request from the software developer designs/
tests/comparisons that have been used to validate the software. Often the company will have comparisons that
have been published. A plea by the author is for software developers to produce detailed documentation on the
technical assumptions made for the design analysis of the software.
Table 4 provides a checklist for evaluating the software you are using.

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Table 4: Checklist for evaluating the software you are using.

Software Query Discussion Critical for Yes/No

Does the program allow for Analysis An FE analysis based on static reaction for vertical Transfer slabs/beams,
of vertical loads using a Construction loads can be un-conservative. An FE analysis columns,
Sequence? based on area method for vertical loads generally
is conservative. The area method or construction
sequence is recommended for vertical loads and
Ability to reduce torsion stiffness? This is extremely important for beams in torsion. Can Transfer Edge beams,
the beam generate the nominated stiffness required equilibrium torsion,
to take the torsion loading, if not can you reduce the service deflections
Partially cracked section properties Reduction in stiffness due to cracking is important. Deflections
calculated and recalculated for Cracked section properties vary throughout the slab
subsequent iterations for every element, and in both x and y directions.
in all directions.
What column/wall stiffness does the Column stiffness is hard to calculate due to the large Column to slab and
program assume? interaction of P/A and bending. Extremely important column moments
for flat slabs as punching shear calculations depend
on the moment in the columns.
What does the program take into The bending moments in orthogonal directions mxy Reinforcement
account when working out bending need to be taken into account for reinforcement and
moments and reinforcement. deflection design (e.g. are Wood Armer or Denton and
Burgoyne methods used for steel design?)
Does the program generate bending The unconverted moments reported by FEA (Mx, Comparing/checking
moments Mx, My and Mxy or converted My, Mxy ) are not the same as moments reported by moments
moments Mux and Muy. simple analysis (Mux, Muy ). The moments reported by
FEA need to be converted to design moments either
using Wood Armer or Denton and Burgoyne so that
checking can be completed.
Automatically apply load patterning to Ensures “worst credible” design forces obtained. Moment and shear
determine worst case design forces. AS1170 requires that patterning be taken into forces
account in design.
Does Software analyse Allows realistic analysis of structure with varying Beam stiffness and
in-plane forces ie variations thicknesses containing beams etc. step in the slabs
in centroid elevation?
Incorporate curvature due to free Required for determining deflections accurately. Deflections
shrinkage strain.
Partially cracked properties are Tensioning stiffening will prevent a fully cracked Deflections for slabs
calculated. situation in thin slabs.
Separate analysis used for ULS and SLS. Less cracking occurs at the SLS, so the slab is more Deflections
Software calculates creep coefficients, Important for the long term deflection calculations. Long term deflections
tensile strength for each change in
loading throughout the life of the slab.
What creep or shrinkage properties are This is especially important if you have a different Column deflections/
assumed for the vertical elements? material used for vertical elements (eg a steel core slab slopes
with concrete column, as the columns will creep and
shrink and the core will not).
Areas of required reinforcement can be This automation saves time for distributing over the
averaged over a specified width. strips.

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The ultimate end game of any design/analysis should be proportionate to the design requirements. This practice
note explores the world of modelling in finite element programs. Nonetheless, alternative models should still be
used to verify the model produced.
Most programs have a good solver, thus the results for bending moments etc are dependent on inputs by the
user. The same cannot be said for the post processor for designing reinforcement. These post-processors are less
tried and tested. The engineer needs to know how to interpret their results.
Now that you have read this practice note you should be able to evaluate your program and understand the
full implications of the models you create, validating and interpreting the results given by your FEA software.
Understand that software is a utensil to do this in a faster manner, not a substitute for engineering knowledge
or experience.
“As a rule, a program should be used only if engineers can predict the general deflection and distribution
of moments in the structure prior to obtaining a solution. The computed solution is used to verify the results
previously predicted by the engineers. If the solution is significantly different from the prediction, engineers
should use the results only if they can satisfactorily explain the reason for the discrepancy and find it acceptable.”
(ACI President’s Memo José M. Izquierdo-Encarnación, 2003.)

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Following are five case studies – the first two illustrate failure of serviceability and the other three deal with
collapsed structures due to inexpert application of FEA. Even though case studies 4 and 5 are non-building
structures they are included here because they illustrate in a dramatic way the potentially very serious
consequences of faulty use of FEA.
The lessons learned could be put to good use in avoiding the recurrence of similar failures in the future.
These case studies are a summary of the findings from larger reports and investigations. They are the author’s
opinions and may not match the conclusions from the official investigations.
It is recommended that for further information on these case studies the references be accessed.

CASE STUDY 1:  Restraint effects on carpark structure

• 108m × 40m, two storey parking deck, unknown location
• Extensive early-age cracking of slabs reported
• Case study used the approach by James Deaton for the analysis; however, plate analysis is used rather
than solid elements
• FEA model that was created to represent the structure is simplistic including assumptions such as
fixed foundations, reduction in stiffness, ramps ignored, thermal effects ignored.
• No expansion joints in the structure
• Construction sequence had no visible pour breaks in the slab
• Parking structure serviceability failure – the concrete floor had extensive cracks visible and greater
than 1mm wide.

Figure 1: 3D view of forensic model.

 erivation of temperature load for shrinkage modelling

for use in the finite element models for Figure 2 and 3:
∈SH = 0.00085, α = 9.9× 10-6/°C
∆Tsh = -85 °C (see chapter 4.3)

sigmax kPa

Figure 2: Top floor In-plane stress; average stress 6.5MPa.

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sigmax kPa

Figure 3: Top floor In-plane stress if contraction slab joints were provided at 36m crts; Average stress 1.1MPa.

Lessons learnt:
• Design of contraction joints at 36m versus 108m would be more suitable.
• Shrinkage performance criteria in mix design are important if joints are to be spaced above normal
recommended practices.
• Force from shrinkage can induce significant loads in stiff elements such as walls.
• Deaton, J.B. & Kahn, L.F. 2010, “Lessons learned from forensic FEA of failed RC structures”, paper
presented at the ACI Fall 2010 Convention.

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CASE STUDY 2:  Deflections of a concrete floor

• Office building, unknown location
• Third storey slab deflection concerns, report by Peter Taylor
• Peter Taylor reported a building slab had significant deflections and used Rapt program as the analysis
method. This showed that Rapt could provide good correlation between measured and calculated
• The slab span on depth ratio is greater than recommended by rules of thumb
• FEA model that was created to represent the structure for the purpose of this investigation is
• The AAEM method was used for deflection estimations.

Figure 4: 3D view of Forensic Model.

Figure 5: Contour deflection results from non-linear model.

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Figure 6: Measured deflection. Extract from Peter Taylor’s report

• Measured deflections are greater than predicted by both Rapt and FEA models when live load is
assumed to be 0kPa.
• Correctly constructed FEA models can provide guidance on maximum deflection results.
• Precamber was used on the slab with limited to no success.
Lessons learnt:
• AAEM method in FEA can be used to estimate maximum expected deflections
• Rule of thumb for slabs provides a good indication.
• Precamber in slabs can be problematic in practice.
• Taylor, P.J., ‘The Initial and Long-Term Deflections of Normally Reinforced Concrete Flat Slabs and
Plates’, a special projects report for the ACSE, June, 1997.
• Taylor, P.J., “Initial and Long-Term Deflections of a Reinforced Concrete Flat
• Plate Structure”, Civil Engineering Transactions (Sydney), V. CE12, No. 1, Apr.
• 1970, pp. 14-20

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CASE STUDY 3:  Royal Palm Hotel, Tumon Beach, Guam

• 12-storey reinforced concrete moment resisting frames
• Construction of the building was completed in 1993
• On 8 August 1993 a powerful earthquake shook the island, causing partial collapse of the structure.

Figure 7: the Royal Palm Hotel building after the earthquake. Photo Earthquake Engineering Research Institute

Figure 8: Damage to columns on the third floor. Photo Earthquake Engineering Research Institute

• The analytical model used to design the structure had numerous errors, including several columns that
were rotated 90° from their actual orientation.
• Masonry infill walls created short-column conditions throughout the structure, these infill walls were
not included in the models.
• Strong-column weak beam principles were not applied.
• Additional confinement hoops required around column splices were not specified on the drawings.
• The contractor substituted “U” shaped stirrups for the closed ties required in the joints of the moment
resisting frame.
• The contractor omitted closed hoops in many joints of the concrete moment frame.
Lessons learnt:
• It is hard for supervising engineers to check large models.

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• Detailing of connections in structures is important and ensuring that these are followed onsite is
• Consideration of all structural and non-structural elements is important in modelling. Ignoring
masonry infill walls in the analysis of the structure allowed the short column conditions to go
undetected at the modelling stage. If infill walls are to be ignored, detailing of these walls is important
to ensure that short column condition cannot develop.
• Guam Earthquake Reconnaissance Report, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Oakland
California, April 1995.
• Hamburger, R. O., “Supplemental Report: Failure Investigation, Beach Wing, Royal Palm Resort,
Tumon, Guam, EQE International Report, June 2004.
• Moehle, J. P., “Royal Palm Resort, Guam – An evaluation of the causes of the failure in the
earthquake of 8 August 1993,” Engineering Report, March 1997.

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CASE STUDY 4:  Sleipner A offshore oil platform, North Sea

• Sleipner A is a condeep gravity-based offshore oil and gas drilling platform about midway between
Scotland and Norway in the North Sea.
• The original concrete support structure for Sleipner A sank in the Gandfjord near Stavanger, during a
controlled ballast test.
• The hydraulic pressure acted within the hollows formed by the intersections of the tricell joints. The
leak occurred at one of these tricell joints adjacent to shaft D3 (see Figure 9).
• The SINTEF (Stiftelsen for industriell og teknisk forskning, Norway) undertook an extensive
investigation into the failure of this platform to establish the failure cause.
• The investigations showed that during the design of the structure theoretical fundamentals were
overlooked in several instances. The first instance required an advanced knowledge of finite element
modelling to appreciate. The second however was a disturbing omission of essential engineering
1. The engineer did not understand the consequences of using distorted elements in their finite element
2. The engineer forgot the basic mechanics of materials which would require a linear modelling of the
shear stresses rather than a parabolic one. The resulting shear stress from the parabolic modelling
was 45% different to beam analysis results.
3. The tie reinforcement as shown in Figure 10 was too short. Increasing the length of this bar would
have increase the strength of this connection by 50%.
Lessons learnt:
• Simple verification using alternative method of analysis can be useful in evaluating the model’s
accuracy. Differences in results shouldn’t be greater than 10%, and if so this difference should be
• Detailing of joints is important and strut tie analysis is helpful in these D regions.
• Experienced engineers need to supervise the design process and provide direction on critical modelling
decisions for complex elements.

Figure 9: Sleipner A: Water Levels at the time of failure and location of failure. Graph by SINTEF

Figure 10: Sleipner A Tricell Strut-and-Tie Model. Illustration by University of Wisconsin

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• The Sleipner Platform Accident, by B. Jakobsen and F. Rosendahl, Structural Engineering
International 4(3), August 1994, pp. 190-193.
• The Failure of an Offshore Platform, by R. G. Selby, F. J. Vecchio, and M. P. Collins, Concrete
International 19(8), August 1997, pp. 28-35.
• Rettedal, W. (1993) “Design of concrete platforms after Sleipner A-1 sinking,” Proceedings of the
International Conference on Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering – OMAE, pp. 309-316

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• The Koror–Babeldaob Bridge was a balanced cantilever prestressed concrete box girder bridge with a
main span of 240.8m and total length of 385.6m.
• It was the world’s largest bridge of its type at the time of construction.
• On 26 September 1996 the bridge suddenly collapsed.

Figure 11: The Koror-Babeldaob Bridge before collapse.

Figure 12: The bridge after collapse.

• Creep had caused the midline of the bridge to sag 1.2m, causing discomfort to drivers and concern for
• No final cause has ever been definitively published.
Lessons learnt:
• Oversimplification of creep structural analysis using one-dimensional beam-type analysis leads to
errors in deflections including prestress loss for box girders. To capture shear lags in slabs and webs
box girders should be analysed in three-dimensional models.
• The effects of the differences in slab thicknesses within the cross sections on the shrinkage and drying
creep rates must be considered.

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• The prestress loss should be computed as part of the overall three-dimensional creep analysis of the
• The experience in Palau reminds us that it is prudent to adopt measures that minimise creep
deflections and prestress losses. It is also a good idea for large structures to allow for possible upgrades
in the future such as empty stressing ducts.
• SSFM Engineers, Inc: Preliminary assessment of Koror-Babeldaob Bridge Failure for United States
Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu, Hawaii, October 1996
• Parker, D: ‘Pacific bridge collapse throws doubt on repair method’, New Civil Engineer,17 October
1996, pp 3-4

Engineers Australia