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4.4 Compression Members

Members under compression can fail by yielding, inelastic buckling, or elastic buckling depending on the slenderness ratio of the members. Members with low slenderness ratios tend to fail by yielding while members with high slenderness ratio tend to fail by elastic buckling. Most compression members used in construction have intermediate slenderness ratios and so the predominant mode of failure is inelastic buckling. Overall member buckling can occur in one of three different modes: flexural, torsional, and flexural-torsional. Flexural buckling occurs in members with doubly symmetric or doubly antisymmetric cross-sections (e.g., I or Z sections) and in members with singly symmetric sections (e.g., channel, tee, equal-legged angle, double-angle sections) when such sections are buckled about an axis that is perpendicular to the axis of symmetry. Torsional buckling occurs in members with doubly symmetric sections such as cruciform or built-up shapes with very thin walls. Flexural-torsional buckling occurs in members with singly symmetric cross-sections (e.g., channel, tee, equal-legged angle, double-angle sections) when such sections are buckled about the axis of symmetry and in members with unsymmetric cross-sections (e.g., unequal-legged L). Normally, torsional buckling of symmetric shapes is not particularly important in the design of hot-rolled compression members. It either does not govern or its buckling strength does not differ significantly from the corresponding weak axis flexural buckling strengths. However, torsional buckling may become important for open sections with relatively thin component plates. It should be noted that for a given cross-sectional area, a closed section is much stiffer torsionally than an open section. Therefore, if torsional deformation is of concern, a closed section should be used. Regardless of the mode of buckling, the governing effective slenderness ratio (Kl/r) of the compression member preferably should not exceed 200.

In addition to the slenderness ratio and cross-sectional shape, the behavior of compression members is affected by the relative thickness of the component elements that constitute the cross-section. The relative thickness of a component element is quantified by the width-thickness ratio (b/t) of the element. The width-thickness ratios of some selected steel shapes are shown in Figure 4.6. If the width-thickness ratio falls within a limiting value [denoted by the LRFD specification (AISC 1999) as 1r] as shown in Table 4.4, the section will not experience local buckling prior to overall buckling of the member. However, if the width-thickness ratio exceeds this limiting width-thickness value, consideration of local buckling in the design of the compression member is required.

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