Common types of beam - Steel Structures.

Beams are possibly the most fundamental type of member present  in a civil engineering structure. Their principal function is the transmission  of vertical load by means of flexural (bending) action into, for example, the columns  in a rectangular building frame or the abutments in a bridge which support them.

Table 16.1 provides some idea of the different structural forms suitable for use  as beams in a steel structure; several of these are illustrated in Fig. 16.1. For modest spans, including the majority of those found in buildings, the use of standard  hot-rolled sections (normally UBs but possibly UCs if minimizing floor depth is a prime consideration or channels if only light loads need to be  supported) will  be sufficient. Lightly loaded members such as the purlins supporting the roof  of a portal-frame building are frequently selected from the range of proprietary cold-formed sections produced from steel sheet only a few millimetres thick, nor- mally already protected against corrosion by galvanizing, in a variety of highly efficient shapes, advantage being taken of the roll-forming process to produce sections with properties carefully selected for the task they are required to perform. For spans in excess of those that can be achieved sensibly using ready-made sections some form of built-up member is required. Castellated beams, formed by profile cutting of the web and welding to produce a deeper section, typically 50% deeper using the standard UK geometry, are visually attractive but cannot withstand high shear loads unless certain of the castellations are filled in with plate. The range of spans for which UBs may be used can be extended if cover plates are welded to both flanges.

Table 16.1 Typical usage of different forms of beam
Typical usage of different forms of beam



Types of beam cross-section
Fig. 16.1 Types of beam cross-section


Alternatively a beam fabricated entirely by welding plates together may be employed allowing variations in properties by changes in depth, for example, flange thickness, or, in certain cases where the use of very thin webs is required, stiffening to prevent premature buckling failure is necessary.A full treatment of the specialist aspects of plate-girder design is provided later. If spans are so large that a single member cannot economically be provided, then a truss may be a suitable alternative. In addition to the deep truss fabricated from open hot-rolled sections, SHS or both, used to provide long clear spans in sports halls and supermarkets, smaller prefabricated arrangements using RHS or CHS provide an attractive alter- native to the use of standard sections for more modest spans.


Since the principal requirement of a beam is adequate resistance to vertical bending, a very useful indication of the size of section likely to prove suitable may be obtained through the concept of the span to depth ratio.This is simply the value of the clear span divided by the overall depth. An average figure for a properly designed steel beam is between 15 and 20, perhaps more if a particularly slender form of construction is employed or possibly less if very heavy loadings are present.

When designing beams, attention must be given to a series of issues, in addition to simple vertical bending, that may have some bearing upon the problem.Torsional loading may often be eliminated by careful detailing or its effects reasonably regarded as of negligible importance by a correct appreciation of how the structure actually behaves; in certain instances it should, however, be considered. Section classification (allowance for possible local buckling effects) is more involved than is the case for struts since different elements in the cross-section are subject to different patterns of stress; the flanges in an I-beam in the elastic range will be in approximately uniform tension or compression while the web will contain a stress gradient.

The possibility of members being designed for an elastic or a plastic state, including the use of a full plastic design for the complete structure, also affects section classification.Various forms of instability of the beam as a whole or of parts subject to locally high stresses, such as the web over a support, also require attention. Finally certain forms of construction may lend themselves to the appearance of unacceptable vibrations; although this is likely to be affected by the choice of beams, its coverage later on floors.

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