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Andreas Lechner Richard Greiner

Institute for Steel Structures and Shell Structures Institute of Steel Structures and Shell Structures
Graz University of Technology Graz University of Technology
E-mail: E-mail:

The rules in EN 1993-1-1 provide an approach for the stability check of members and frames
under axial compression and bending with the “equivalent column method”. This method is
based on the use of the specific buckling length of the structure and of first order internal
forces. In addition, a second approach is provided where individual members are considered
like “cut-out members” of the system with end-moments including the second order sway
effects. For the check of equivalent members or cut-out members the appropriate moment
diagram to be used in the design formula has not been defined in the code yet. The present
paper – after explaining the conceptual background of the methods – deals with the
application on individual members with different boundary conditions as well as on frame
systems of sway type. Comparisons of the results of the code-formulae with numerical
calculations were made to illustrate the efficiency of the different methods.

The stability check in EC 3, Part 1-1 for members and frames may be performed in a number
of ways, which differ in the extent to which second order and imperfection effects
(SO+I-effects) are accounted for in the global analysis. If certain parts of these effects are not
taken into account in the structural analysis, these have to be covered then by using the
specific member design formulae.
One extreme of these methods is the “equivalent column method”, which is based on first
order internal forces without any SO+I-effects and, therefore, has to account for these effects
by a specific buckling length introduced in the member design formulae.
A second method goes a step further by accounting for SO+I-effects of frames just by the
sway-effect (P.∆-effect) and by then using the second order end moments in the member
design, like for a member “cut-out of the system” and loaded by the continuity moments at
the member ends. For the member check EC3 specifies, that the full member length may be
taken. Other design specifications accounting for the beneficial continuity effects by non-
sway buckling lengths may also be found. Then, the approach of the cut-out member could be
again considered as an equivalent column method, but in this case with imposed second order
end moments.
The two methods, therefore, lead to modelling the structural behaviour by individual
members, which have a specific buckling length and corresponding moment diagram.
However, the code does not define, how the moment diagram should be accounted for in the
member-design formulae in context with the equivalent column.
This paper deals with the application of the above two methods for members and frames and
gives proposals for the yet open definitions. For simplification the two models are called
“equivalent member” and “cut-out member” in the following.
The two applications of the equivalent column method certainly play a significant role in
practical design of standard structures as long as not all SO+I-effects can be included in the
global analysis, like those for LT-buckling. The benefit of the method is, that the common
design-formulae of single span members can be used for all kinds of boundary conditions and
members in frame structures.


The equivalent column method (called ECM in the following) is applied here in its traditional
form as described e.g. in [1][2]. Accordingly, the equivalent member is regarded as pin-ended
column (Euler-case II) of uniform cross-section and uniform axial force with a buckling
length, which leads to the same critical buckling capacity Ncr as the structure considered.

Fig. 1: Equivalent columns, examples

Fig. 2: Application of Cm-factor to equivalent member in EC3

Thus, under pure axial compression the buckling effects are covered with good quality by the
column design in the code. Buckling lengths may be well understood as the sinusoidal part of
the buckling modes and are widely provided in present codes and handbooks for practical
applications (see Fig. 1).
Additional bending with various moment diagrams may lead to cases, which are exactly
represented by the equivalent column method or where just approximative results can be
achieved. The accuracy is dependent on the degree of affinity of bending effect and second
order effect. Full affinity is given if the points of inflection of the buckling mode and of the
bending deformation (of first order moments) coincide. This means that the end points of the
sinus-half wave and the zero points of the moment diagram are in the same place or just
closely apart. Then, the equivalent member is subjected to that part of the moment diagram
along its length Lcr, which includes the moment maximum (see Fig. 1). The member design
formula of the single span member may now be applied to the equivalent member under
max M. The effect of the shape of non-uniform bending moments can be accounted for by the
corresponding CM-factor of the relevant part of the moment diagram. In cases where the
buckling length exceeds the actual member length the moment diagram should be
symmetrically extended (see Fig. 1a, 1c) or linearly extended to the end of the equivalent
member. The method is, therefore, applicable to sway and non-sway structural systems
If the above affinity is not given, in particular in cases with imposed end-deformation, the
elasto-plastic buckling behaviour may be so complex, that for practical design just
approximative CM-values can be recommended. Therefore it is proposed to use the actual CM-
factor of the relevant moment diagram in cases of sufficient affinity and for all other cases the
conservative approximation of CM = 0.9 (Fig.2).

The stability check of sway frames may alternatively be based on the buckling check of
individual members, which are considered as isolated columns cut-out of the system and are
loaded by the end forces/moments of the structure – apart from internal loads along the span.
These end moments have to include the SO+I-effects of the sway-mode (P.∆-effect). For the
member buckling length EC3-1-1 specifies to take the full length, while other codes allow
also to use a reduced buckling length due to the restraints of the continuity conditions of the
non-sway mode. The idea behind is, that – since the sway effect is accounted for by the end
moments – the cut-out member may be regarded like an equivalent column of a non-sway

Fig. 3: Cut-out members, examples

Fig.3 illustrates examples of two sway frames, where the cut-out members were modelled
with full member length or alternatively with the non-sway buckling length. If the member
check is based on the full member length, the actual column may be regarded like a pin-ended
isolated member under the given end moments and the corresponding CM-factor. (This design
is called COM/1 in the following). If the design is based on non-sway buckling lengths (called
COM/2 below) the cut-out member containing the moment maximum exceeds the actual
member, so that the moment diagram has to be extended to the outer member end.
An alternative approach of this kind is also provided in BS 5950-1 by the Amplified Sway
Method. There the first order moments are split into two parts; the sway moments are
amplified due to the sway-effect and the non-sway moments are reduced by the CM-factor for
the moment diagram along the column length. The buckling length is specified as non-sway
mode. The application of the above methods will be illustrated below.


The buckling check of the individual members, used in the following for either equivalent
members or cut-out members, has been based on the formula for in-plane buckling of Method
2 in EC3-1-1 (class 1 and 2 sections) (Fig.4).
buckling mode y-y: + Cmyk y y ,Ed ≤ 1 with ny =
χ yNRd My ,Rd χ yNRd
k y = 1 + (λ y − 0.2) ny ≤ 1 + 0.8 ny
Cmy = 0.6 + 0.4 ψ ≥ 0.4 or Table B.3

Fig. 4: Design formulae of EC3/Method 2 for flexural buckling


A set of examples is presented in Fig. 5 and is called classical equivalent members, because
full affinity exists between the buckling mode and the bending deformation in the sense
explained in par.2 above. Further examples are given in Fig. 6 for cases, where just
approximate affinity exists. Since the points of inflection of buckling mode and bending
deformation are close to each other, the results of the equivalent column method are in
sufficient accordance with the numerical simulations.

Fig. 5: Examples for classical equivalent members

Fig. 6: Examples for approximate equivalent members

For illustration a few selected cases are presented. There, numerical simulations (GMNIA, i.e.
geometrically and materially nonlinear analysis with imperfections, with imperfection of
L/1000 and residual stresses of 0,5 fy) [3] have been carried out for both the actual member
and for the equivalent member. These results are then compared with the member buckling
formula of EC3, Method 2 for the equivalent member. While the comparison of the GMNIA-
results proves the physical accuracy of the equivalent column model, the comparison with the
EC3-formula serves for illustration of the application in design.
GMNIA My 0.67L
GMNIA equ.memb. -0.5
0,8 buckling curve: a 1.0 e=L/1000
Cmy = 0.58
λy for Lcr = 0.7L

RHS 200/100/10 Lcr = 0.7L

0,6 S 235 L

equivalent member
0,4 My
1.0 e=L*/1000
λy = 0.5
λy = 1.0 L*=0.7L
λy = 1.5
λy = 2.5
0,0 N/Npl
0,0 0,2 0,4 0,6 0,8 1,0

Fig. 7: Propped cantilever with end moment and axial compression. Method (P-P)
1,0 q
GMNIA equ.memb. -1.0 -1.0
EC3/M2 Class 2:
εmax = 3εy 0.5 0.42L
buckling curve: a e=L/1000
Cmy = 0.888
λy for Lcr = L/2
0,6 RHS 200/100/10 Lcr = L/2 L/2
S 235

equivalent member
0,4 q
My -1.0 My

0,2 0.125 0.125

λy = 0.5 V
λy = 1.0
λy = 1.5 e=L*/1000
λy = 2.5

0,0 N/Npl L*=L/2

0,0 0,2 0,4 0,6 0,8 1,0

Fig. 8: Beam-column with clamped ends under transverse load and axial compression. Method (E-P)

The examples of the classical cases in Fig. 5 were investigated and showed, that full
accordance exists between real and equivalent member [see 4]. Here, just the approximate
cases are given in Fig. 7 to 9. The results of the numerical simulations (GMNIA) show that
the equivalent members with their specific buckling length and the corresponding moment
diagram – containing the moment maximum – are well able to describe the actual buckling
behaviour. The use of the member design formula EC3/Method 2 leads to conservative
results, which is mainly due to the safety considerations made for the design formula.
Vmax = 1.44 Vpl
plastic moment distribution
GMNIA equ.memb. 0.7L V
1,2 EC3/M2
buckling curve: a 1.0
Cmy = 0.8 0.85L
λy for Lcr = 0.7L
1,0 e=L/1000
RHS 200/100/10
S 235
Lcr = 0.7L Lcr = 0.7L

equivalent member
My -1.0
λy = 0.5 1.0 V
λy = 1.0 0.43L* 0.57L*
λy = 1.5 e=L*/1000
λy = 2.5
0,0 N/Npl L*=0.7L
0,0 0,2 0,4 0,6 0,8 1,0

Fig. 9: Propped cantilever with point load and axial compression. Method (P-P)


The application of the EC3-design methods to frame systems is presented here for two
different sway-frames with two kinds of loading, the one with bending purely from sway-
effects (Fig. 9) and the second with bending combined of sway and symmetrical loading (Fig.
10). The frames were studied for different slenderness λ = 0.5 ÷ 2.5 , where λ describes the
The GMNIA-calculation (with eigenmode-conform imperfections L/1000 and residual
stresses) has been compared with the following methods. Thereby, equivalent members and
cut-out members were calculated with the Method 2 of EC3.
– 2O EP: elasto-plastic second order analysis with global and local imperfections acc. to EC3
– ECM: equivalent column method with sway-buckling length and first order moments
– COM/1: cut-out member with second order end-moment and full member length
– COM/2: cut-out member with second order end-moment and non-sway buckling length
– BS-ASM: amplified sway method of BS 5950, but member check with EC3, Method 2
For the frame (Fig.10) subjected to bending by pure sway-load it was found that the model of
ECM, when investigated by GMNIA leads to very close approximation of the frame analysis
(not shown here). The good results are mainly connected with the clear anti-symmetry of the
given load case, which is conform to the buckling mode. When checked by the formula of
EC3/Method 2 it is conservative as illustrated in Fig.10. Thereby, the equivalent member has
been calculated by use of CM=0.9 as specified for sway members in EC3/Method 2.
My/Mpl,y resp. [3*F*H/10] / Mpl,y
1,0 F1 ECM
GMNIA εmax=3εy F1
2O EP-analytical

ECM Cmy=0.9 F My
COM/2 MIIE,col
Lcr,non-sway Cmy=0.9 -0.67
0,8 COM/1 MIIE,col


Lcr =1.231*H
Lcr=H, Cmy=0.4
MIIE,col = kamp*MIsway 1.0
0,6 RHS 200/100/10
L = 1.5*H
S 235

0,4 F1 F1


Lcr =H

Lcr =0.65*H Lcr


λy = 1.0 λy = 0.5
λy = 1.5 MEII MEII
λy = 2.5

0,0 N/Npl resp. [F1 + 4/15*F] / Npl

0,0 0,2 0,4 0,6 0,8 1,0

Fig. 10: Sway frame with sway loading. Method (E-P)

My/Mpl,y resp. [q*L /16 + F*H/2] / Mpl,y
GMNIA εmax=3εy ECM
2O EP-analytical F1
ECM Cmy=0.9

Lcr = 2.69 H
COM/2 Cmy=0.6 q
0,8 Lcr,non-sway
F=q*L/4 -1.0 MI
COM/1 Cmy=0.6
BS-ASM MIIE,col= 0.56
kamp*M sway+0.6*MInon-sway

Lcr,non-sway My
0,6 RHS 200/100/10
S 235 L = 2*H

F1 F1
Lcr=0.92H Lcr



λy = 1.0 λy = 0.5
λy = 2.5 λy = 1.5

0,0 N/Npl resp. [F1 + q*L/2 + F/2] / Npl

0,0 0,2 0,4 0,6 0,8 1,0

Fig. 11: Sway frame with combined sway and non-sway loading. Method (E-P)

Using the buckling check COM/1 with full member length and bitriangular moment diagram,
again good accordance with GMNIA is reached. This because the second order end moments
are the correct ones and the local buckling effect within the member is described by the
member check. If differences occur they result from the approximate limit of the Austin
formula by 0.4 and/or different assumptions of the local imperfection.
When the check is made with COM/2 with non-sway buckling length and the relevant part of
the moment diagram the result is rather conservative, which is caused by the increase of the
given second order end moment in the member check for the extended moment diagram.
The check by BS-ASM leads to conservative results too, since the second order end moment
is used in the member check without reducing it by CM.
In Fig.11 a frame has been investigated with bending moments resulting from both sway and
non-sway loads. The result of ECM is more conservative than in the example before, since the
non-sway part of the moments is treated like sway moments. The buckling checks with cut-
out members COM/1 and COM/2 result in curves, which are slightly above the GMNIA-
results. The small differences come from the effect of the local imperfection e0 on the second
order end moments, which has not to be taken into account by the rules of EC3 for this
example. Further the results of COM/1 and COM/2 are nearly coincident due to the fact that
the non-sway buckling length is nearly the member length H and the moment diagrams are
nearly the same (CM=0.6) for both cases.
The check by BS-ASM again is conservative for the same reasons as given above.

The present study with comparison of different equivalent column methods with GMNIA- or
second order results leads to the following conclusion:
– The original ECM with system bucking length and first order moment suffers from
the fact that it is not consistently derivable from mechanics. While there are many
cases where practically exact results are achieved, also cases are found which can
only approximately be treated, (e.g. bending under imposed end deformation).
– The method COM/1 with member length and second order end moments leads to
good results, since the already correct second order end moments are kept and just the
local member buckling is added.
– The method COM/2 with non-sway buckling length and second order end moments
used in the given form (with approximate CM-factors 0.9) may be more conservative
as COM/1.
– The method BS-ASM leads to conservative results, mainly since the full sway
moment is introduced without CM.
Considering the many implications of the different methods it appears that nowadays the most
preferable concept for frame systems is to use a consistent second order analysis for in-plane
buckling effects and the equivalent column method for out-of-plane buckling effects.

[1] Roik K., Kindmann R., Das Ersatzstabverfahren – Tragsicherheitsnachweise für
Stabwerke bei einachsiger Biegung und Normalkraft, Der Stahlbau, 5/1982
[2] Roik K., Vorlesungen über Stahlbau, Ernst & Sohn, 1978
[3] Abaqus, Version 6.3, Hibbit, Karlsson & Sorensen, Inc.
[4] Lechner A., Steel Structures and Bridges 2003, ISBN 80-01-02747-3, Prague 2003

Eurocode3-Part 1, flexural buckling, equivalent member, effective length method, amplified
sway method, member buckling, frame analysis