An Overview of Structural Analysis
Structural analysis is the process that examines the physical integrity of a structure, such as an aircraft, bridge, building or sea vessel. This process relies on the constant laws and principals of physics and mathematics to predict and examine the stability of a structure. It is often used to evaluate the ability of a structure to withstand high winds, forces of nature, heavy weight loads, earthquakes and flood waters.
Why Structural Analysis is Important
Structural analysis is an instrumental part of any architectural student’s training. Engineers rely on structural analysis to render structurally sound plans and models. Without structural analysis, countless dollars would be wasted on the trial and error method of building full scale structures only to find later that they are physically flawed.
The process can also be used to evaluate the safety and integrity of bridges, embankments and buildings following a natural disaster such as an earthquake or flood. In this form, structural analysis can help to save lives. The process and the physical laws that govern it were studied by historical figures such as Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei.
The Goal of Structural Analysis
The main goal of the structural analysis process is to compute the internal forces, stresses and deformations of any given structure. By inputting certain facts pertaining to the materials used, support conditions, structural loads and geometry, a resulting equation can be compared to know failure criteria.
Three Approaches to Structural Analysis
This process can be approached in three different ways: the mechanics of the given materials, continuum mechanics and the elasticity theory, and the finite element approach. All three approaches are based on the fundamentals of equilibrium, constitutive, and compatibility.
Approach One: The Mechanics and Strength of the Materials Used
This approach uses the known properties of each type of building material and examines mathematically how those materials will react under the stress of a load. The computations are based on linear isotropic infinitesimal elasticity and Euler-Bernoulli beam theory. This approach is considered to be simpler in nature than the other two and can be computed by hand.
Approach Two: Elasticity Methods
The second analytical approach uses a set of equations for linear elasticity. This system is part of 15 partial differential equations and may be used only for relatively simple geometries. This process is useful in examining structural elements such as beams, shells, columns, plates and shafts. This approach can also be computed by hand.
The Third Approach: the Finite Element Approach
The finite element approach examines a structure’s connection between various materials and determines the flexibility or stiffness of the structure. This approach is used for more complex structures and often requires the use of a computer.
This brief overview of structural analysis examines the bare bones basics of the process and does not include the inherent limitations and effectiveness of each approach to structural analysis.