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Steel Structure Design

Steel Structure Design: 10 Useful Tips

If steel structure design seems challenging, follow these 10 tips and discover how to easily create safe and reliable structures


Steel structures are widely used in the construction industry for their strength, durability, and flexibility. Designing such structures, however, requires a combination of engineering skills, knowledge of material properties, and use of advanced calculation tools.

In this article, we provide some helpful tips to optimize steel structure design. To simplify and further improve the entire design process, you can rely on highly innovative BIM-based software solutions, such as structural calculation software, which will help you analyze and evaluate the strength and stability of your steel structures, extracting input data directly from your building’s BIM model and providing accurate and detailed results in rapid time.

Steel as a Building Material

In recent years, we have witnessed an increasing use of steel as a construction material, especially in structural applications. This phenomenon is attributed to the numerous advantages steel offers over other materials. The advantages of steel structures are closely related to the following properties:

  • Strength: Steel is a very strong material, capable of bearing high loads and resisting tension without easily deforming or breaking. This property makes it ideal for building structures that must support significant weights, such as bridges, skyscrapers, and offshore platforms;
  • Ductility: Steel is also a very ductile material, which can be easily shaped or bent without the risk of breaking. This characteristic allows for the creation of complex shapes and adapting the material to specific structural needs. Ductility makes steel particularly suitable for constructing structures that require flexibility, such as buildings subject to seismic movements;
  • Durability: Steel is highly resistant to wear, corrosion, and weathering. It can maintain its structural integrity over time, requiring less maintenance compared to other building materials. Steel can be treated with protective coatings to further increase its durability and corrosion resistance;
  • Lightweight: Despite its high strength, steel is a relatively lightweight material. This means it requires less material to support a given load capacity compared to other materials, thus reducing the overall weight of the structure. The lightweight nature of steel also simplifies the transportation and installation of various structural components;
  • Rapid Construction: Steel is a prefabricated material that can be produced in factories and subsequently transported and assembled on-site. This approach allows for quick and efficient construction, reducing overall project timelines. Additionally, prefabrication allows for greater quality control and reduced construction waste;
  • Sustainability: Steel is a highly recyclable material that can be reclaimed and reused without losing its properties. The recovery of this material helps reduce waste and the use of natural resources. Steel structures can also be designed to be energy-efficient, further reducing the environmental impact of the structures.
Steel Properties

Steel Properties

Structural Connections in Steel

In addition to numerous advantages, the use of steel in the construction industry also poses several challenges, mainly related to the complexity of structural connections between various components. These connections are the critical points where structural elements (such as beams and columns) join together to form a cohesive and stable structure.

Structural connections must be accurately designed to ensure the safety and efficiency of the entire structure. They can take on various configurations, depending on the specific project requirements and the loads to which the structure will be subjected. Some of the most common types include:

  • Bolted Connections: These connections involve the use of connecting plates and standard or high-strength bolts to join beams and columns. Bolts are inserted into specially drilled holes in the structural components and then tightened to achieve the desired tension. This solution offers maximum flexibility in design and implementation, as it allows for the replacement or modification of parts as needed;
  • Welded Connections: Involve the fusion of steel parts by welding to create a continuous and strong connection between elements. Welds can be made using various methods (arc, groove, spot, etc.). It is important that they are executed correctly to meet quality and safety standards. Steel surfaces are prepared by cutting or grinding and then brought into contact. Molten metal is then accurately applied to form a durable and resistant welded connection;
  • Interlocking Connections: Designed to allow for the quick and precise assembly of steel structural elements. These connections use interlocking joints and mechanical locking systems to ensure a solid and stable connection between components. Interlocking connections are often used in modular or prefabricated structures;
  • Adhesive Connections: This is an innovative method that involves the use of structural adhesives to bond steel elements. This type of connection offers good strength and can also be used to connect steel structural elements with components of other materials, such as glass or wood.
Example of a Steel Node

Example of a Steel Node

Challenges in Steel Structure Design

Designing steel structures poses a complex challenge even for the most experienced professionals. The reasons that make this challenge so demanding are due to the following factors:

  • Dynamics of Forces: Steel structures must be designed to withstand a wide range of loading conditions, paying particular attention to dynamic actions that may vary over time (such as wind actions, snow loads, or seismic loads). The accurate prediction of each of these forces requires thorough and detailed analysis to ensure structural stability and occupant safety;
  • Geometric Complexity: Modern architectural forms often require complex geometries, such as curves, twists, or irregular shapes. Designing connections and structural details in accordance with these forms requires a deep understanding of the mechanical properties of steel and knowledge of advanced analysis techniques;
  • Structural Connections: Connections between steel structural elements are of critical importance, as they must ensure the stability and strength of the entire structure. Designing effective connections requires an accurate assessment of stresses, shear forces, and torsions acting on them;
  • Regulatory Compliance: The design of steel structures must comply with a series of regulations and safety standards, which may vary locally, nationally, and internationally. It is therefore necessary to have a thorough knowledge of the guidelines and design and verification criteria to be followed in each geographical area, to avoid errors and ensure the maximum safety and reliability of the structures.

10 Practical Tips to Simplify Steel Structure Design

To overcome the complexity associated with the design of steel structures, it is important to adopt a series of measures that help simplify the entire process and ensure the realization of structures with the utmost stability, safety, and efficiency.

Here are ten useful tips that you can implement to optimize the design of steel structures and ensure the reliability of structural connections:

  1. Understand Project Requirements: Before starting to design a steel structure, it is essential to fully understand the project requirements. Carefully analyze the expected loads, environmental conditions, applicable regulations, and functional needs. This will help you define the project objectives and make informed decisions during the design phase;
  2. Collaborate with an Experienced Structural Engineer: Structural engineering is a complex and specialized discipline. Collaborating with an experienced structural engineer will provide you with the necessary support to address technical challenges and ensure the safety of your structures. An experienced professional can offer innovative solutions and guide you in choosing the most suitable materials and design techniques for your project;
  3. Plan the Structure’s Geometry Carefully: The geometry of the steel structure has a significant impact on its strength and stability. Carefully plan the arrangement of structural elements, taking into account loads, horizontal forces, and boundary conditions. Maintain a balance between structural efficiency and aesthetics, seeking solutions that meet functional and architectural requirements;
  4. Choose Appropriate Steel Profiles: The choice of steel profiles is fundamental for the stability of the structure. Consider carefully the mechanical properties of the profiles, such as strength, stiffness, and ductility, and choose those most suitable for the expected loads. You can consult design tables and reference standards to identify the most suitable profiles;
  5. Evaluate Constructive Feasibility: During design, consider the constructive feasibility of the steel structure. Consider manufacturing, transportation, installation, and maintenance processes of structural elements. Avoid complex or impractical solutions that could increase costs or slow down the construction process;
  6. Verify Connections: Connections are the most critical points in a steel structure. Ensure that connections are designed and verified accurately to ensure the safety and strength of the entire structure. Use calculation methods and specific software to verify steel node connections, and ensure that connections can withstand the expected stresses;
  7. Consider the Effect of Thermal Deformations: Steel is subject to dimensional variations in response to temperature changes. During design, consider the effect of thermal deformations on the structure. Provide expansion joints and adopt solutions that allow for proper thermal expansion and contraction without compromising structural integrity;
  8. Perform Detailed Structural Analysis: Structural analyses are essential for evaluating the strength, stability, and deformation of the steel structure. Use analytical methods or advanced simulation tools to perform static and dynamic analyses, considering different loading conditions. This will allow you to optimize the structure’s design and ensure its safety;
  9. Perform a Final Verification: Before finalizing the project, perform a final verification of all structural details. Ensure that all project specifications have been met and that the structure complies with safety and regulatory requirements. Review calculations and analyses, and check drawings and construction details to eliminate any errors or omissions;
  10. Use Advanced Structural Calculation Software: Powerful tools that simplify and improve the design process of steel structures. These software solutions allow you to analyze structural stresses, assess material strength, and verify structure stability.

You can transform the design of your steel structures by starting to use the following powerful and reliable structural calculation software, with which you can perform detailed analyses of your steel structures, starting from the input data provided directly from the BIM model of your building. This software offers you the possibility to model the structure’s geometry, apply loads and constraints, and obtain reliable results regarding stresses, deformations, and loads present in the structure. Thanks to this advanced analysis, you can make informed decisions about the size of structural elements, connections, and the overall response of the structure, ensuring maximum safety and efficiency.

 

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