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A look at different ways a steel structure can fail

A look at different ways a steel structure can fail

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Whether you are currently working in the construction industry or completing a training course to embark into the industry, you likely already know how much of an important part steel plays in a building’s design. Steel is a very strong and ductile material, but this doesn’t mean it can be constructed without care and consideration. It is vital that a structural engineer ensures the design of the building will be safe and structurally sound before building begins.
Here, we’re going to take a look at the different ways a steel structure can fail and how to prevent these failures from happening:
1. Connection Failures
The most common reason a steel structure fails is because of poor connections. When designing a building, a structural engineer has to place an incredible amount of thought and use a lot of maths to ensure that the connections and joints are strong enough to support the load they are carrying. However, calculating the strength of each of these connections is a tedious process and quite often, issues with connection failures are down to human error.
It’s also vital that the structural engineer is on the same page as the construction workers. Any miscommunication regarding the types of materials to use or the types and sizes of bolts can lead to the structure being too weak to hold its load. This again can lead to the structure failing.
2. Inadequate Reinforcement
Steel is often used for its strength and this plays a large part in the construction of buildings predominantly made out of concrete such as bridges, tunnels, and high-rise buildings. In fact, concrete with steel reinforcement is the most commonly used building material worldwide. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s completely safe. In order to perform as properly designed, it needs to be constructed with the steel pilings spaced and positioned correctly.
When constructing a building using steel pile reinforcement, it is vital that the materials are up-to-standard and suitable for the job. Standardized cages and columns designed by a company with experience are vital. You can find more information on about this. However, in addition to the actual materials, it’s also vital that they are correctly used to reduce problems during construction. This again is another time when a structural engineer and the site team need to work closely together to ensure the building is constructed as intended.
3. Too Much Weight Being Placed on Beams
Lateral torsion buckling is a top concern for every structural engineer, as it involves calculating how much weight will be placed on a beam. When this is calculated incorrectly, the beam will fail, causing the structure to collapse. Luckily, it’s pretty simple to calculate this, with each beam having a weight limit that it can handle. The centre point of the beam is where it is the strongest, and buckling often occurs when the weight on either side of the centre point is too high.
This is one of the least likely failures to occur due to the straightforward formula used to calculate it. What is important, however, is that the load is applied exactly to the centre of the beam. If a construction team fails to do this correctly, the beam will twist under the eccentricity of the load, leading to failure. It is vital that the engineer’s design is fully understood by everyone working on the project before construction begins in order for this to be prevented.
4. Tension Failures
Another possible failure that can happen with a steel building is a tension failure. Again, these are very rare as structural engineers will usually place a lot of importance on ensuring their calculations are correct before construction begins. That said, when these do occur, the results are usually very catastrophic, and some of the largest building collapse disasters having been due to this type of failure.
A tension failure occurs when a piece of material is stretched further than it should be. This usually happens at the point of a bolt hole, and can also be called a net section rupture. This can sometimes be caused by the quality of the materials used during the construction process, but again is most often due to human error and a lack of care taken during construction. Extra loads or unauthorized changes to the project should always be discussed with the structural engineer before building commences, to ensure that the materials will hold.
Thankfully, it is very rare for a steel structure to fail, with most of those failures caused by natural disasters and other outside factors that a structural engineer and a construction team could not have prevented. That said, human error is a key component too, and one that should be considered at all times.
For more information, please contact Emily Roberts at contact


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