Beam finite-element analysis of pressurized fabric tubes

William G. Davids, Hui Zhang, Adam W. Turner, Michael Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Lightweight, portable air-pressurized beams and arches serve as primary load-carrying members for a number of civilian and military structures. These members are made from synthetic fibers that are woven or braided into a circular cross section. The pressurized air provides structural capacity by pretensioning the fabric and through its behavior as a confined gas. In this paper, a beam finite element is developed for the analysis of pressurized fabric beams based on virtual work principles. Work done by internal pressure due to deformation-induced volume changes is included in the formulation. A nonlinear moment-curvature relationship accounts for fabric wrinkling, and shear deformations are incorporated. A mixed-interpolation Timoshenko beam element is used to discretize the virtual work expression. A numerical method for determining the moment-curvature relationship of an inflated beam made from a fabric obeying a nonlinear stress-strain relationship is developed. Results of experiments on pressurized fabric beams loaded in three- and four-point bending are presented, and the finite-element model is shown to accurately predict experimentally observed load-deflection response for a range of pressures. Simulations demonstrate that in addition to prestressing the fabric, the pressurized air significantly increases beam capacity as the beam volume decreases due to deformation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)990-998
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Structural Engineering (United States)
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2007


  • Beams
  • Deformation
  • Fabrics
  • Finite element method
  • Tubes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Materials Science (all)
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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