Efficient modelling of beam-like structures with general non-prismatic, curved geometry

Mayank Patni*, Sergio A Minera Rebulla, Paul M Weaver, Alberto Pirrera

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
161 Downloads (Pure)


The analysis of three-dimensional (3D) stress states can be complex and computationally expensive, especially when large deflections cause a nonlinear structural response. Slender structures are conventionally modelled as one-dimensional beams but even these rather simpler analyses can become complicated, e.g. for variable cross-sections and planforms (i.e. non-prismatic curved beams). In this paper, we present an alternative procedure based on the recently developed Unified Formulation in which the kinematic description of a beam builds upon two shape functions, one for the beam’s axis, the other for its cross-section. This approach predicts 3D displacement and stress fields accurately and is computationally efficient in comparison with 3D finite elements. However, current modelling capabilities are limited to the use of prismatic elements. As a means for further applicability, we propose a method to create beam elements with variable planform and variable cross-section, i.e. of general shape. This method employs an additional set of shape functions which describes the geometry of the structure exactly. These functions are different from those used for describing the kinematics and provide local curvilinear basis vectors upon which 3D Jacobian transformation matrices are produced to define non-prismatic elements. The model proposed is benchmarked against 3D finite element analyses, as well as analytical and experimental results available in the literature. Significant computational efficiency gains over 3D finite elements are observed for similar levels of accuracy, for both linear and geometrically nonlinear analyses.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106339
JournalComputers and Structures
Early online date2 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Aug 2020


  • unified formulation
  • finite element
  • non-prismatic
  • tapered sandwich
  • curved structures


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