Beams and Flanges

Flanges and I Beams

I-beams are commonly made of structural steel but may also be formed from aluminum or other materials. A common type of I-beam is the rolled steel joist (RSJ)—sometimes incorrectly rendered as reinforced steel joist. British and European standards also specify Universal Beams (UBs) and Universal Columns (UCs). These sections have parallel flanges, as opposed to the varying thickness of RSJ flanges which are seldom now rolled in the UK. Parallel flanges are easier to connect to and do away with the need for tapering washers. UCs have equal or near-equal width and depth and are more suited to being oriented vertically to carry axial load such as columns in multi – storey construction, while UBs are significantly deeper than they are wide are more suited to carrying bending load such as beam elements in floors. I-joists—I-beams engineered from wood with fiberboard and/or laminated veneer lumber—are also becoming increasingly popular in construction, especially residential, as they are both lighter and less prone to warping than solid wooden joists. However, there has been some concern as to their rapid loss of strength in a fire if unprotected. 

I-beams are widely used in the construction industry and are available in a variety of standard sizes. Tables are available to allow easy selection of a suitable steel I-beam size for a given applied load. I-beams may be used both as beams and as columns. I-beams may be used both on their own, or acting compositely with another material, typically concrete. Design may be governed by any of the following criteria:

• Deflection: the stiffness of the I-beam will be chosen to minimize deformation

• Vibration: the stiffness and mass are chosen to prevent unacceptable vibrations, particularly in settings sensitive to vibrations, such as offices and libraries

• Bending failure by yielding: where the stress in the cross section exceeds the yield stress

• Bending failure by lateral torsional buckling: where a flange in compression tends to buckle sideways or the entire cross-section buckles torsion ally

• Bending failure by local buckling: where the flange or web is so slender as to buckle locally

• Local yield: caused by concentrated loads, such as at the beam’s point of support

• Shear failure: where the web fails. Slender webs will fail by buckling, rippling in a phenomenon termed tension field action, but shear failure is also resisted by the stiffness of the flanges • buckling or yielding of components: for example, of stiffeners used to provide stability to the I-beam’s web. 

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