Fatigue Assessment of Complex Riveted Connections

A study on old steel bridges using Advanced Finite Element Analysis

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Numerous traffic bridges have been constructed over the last 150 years. Because bridges are commonly built based on an expected lifetime of 75 to 100 years, a large quantity of bridges are reaching the end of their design lifetime, or even are far overdue. To ensure these bridges remain operational without experiencing catastrophic failures, they have to be recalculated, and if need be, repaired, strengthened or replaced. Particularly older bridges are commonly constructed utilizing rivets. Their often overly complex geometries, the fact that riveting has become largely obsolete as a construction process, and old bridges are commonly not design for fatigue loading, engineers regularly face significant challenges when reassessing such bridges.

While fatigue phenomena have been extensively investigated throughout the years, studies pertaining to the fatigue of riveted connections are relatively limited. The Eurocode on fatigue, EN-1993-1-9 includes only two detail categories. Additional guidelines, like RBK Steel expand upon these detail categories, but focus primarily on built-up beam cross-sections in riveted structures, rather than riveted connections. In order to attempt to more accurately assess the complex joints present in ancient steel bridges, this thesis attempts to answer the following question: What would be a suitable approach to model complex riveted joints and assess their fatigue life considering a balance between the level of complexity and applicability in design practice?

A literature study is performed to identify the different factors that affect the fatigue resistance of riveted connections, as well as to highlight several of the available methods to perform a fatigue assessment. Through the investigation of experimental studies complemented with Finite Element (FE) Analyses, a design methodology for a full scale riveted model is drawn up, and finally a FE model of a joint of the John S. Thompsonbridge is constructed. A critical location within the joint is identified. On this critical locations, several stress- and strain-based fatigue life analyses are performed, namely the use of Stress Concentration Factors (SCF), Smith-Watson-Topper’s (SWT) strain-life equation, and the multiaxial shear strain criterion (MSSC) method, to investigate the effects of incorporating mean stress effects and multiaxiality.

From these analyses, it is concluded that SCF appears to provide overly conservative fatigue life estimates, whereas SWT and MSSC provide more probable results. The increased life estimate through MSSC suggests a limited degree of multiaxiality present in the critical location. All three methods require a detailed FE model, complicating the fatigue assessment of the joint. While the SCF method is slightly simpler to use than SWT and MSSC, it does not weigh up to the conservativity of its life estimation. SWT is deemed the most suitable approach for the fatigue assessment of riveted joints, given that it is more widely applicable and relevant than MSSC.