Experimental characterization and finite element analysis of inflated fabric beams

Christopher G. Malm, William G. Davids, Michael L. Peterson, Adam W. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


An airbeam is a high-strength fabric sleeve with a highly flexible internal bladder that can be used as a load-bearing beam or arch when inflated. Due to their fabric construction, airbeams are inherently thin-walled structures that are prone to local buckling. In this study, airbeams were tested in bending at different inflation pressures to quantify their load-deformation response and the effect of inflation pressure on response. Tension-torsion tests of the airbeam fabric were conducted to estimate the fabric shear modulus, and the bend test results were used in conjunction with Timoshenko beam theory to estimate the fabric elastic modulus. Three-dimensional membrane finite element (FE) models were then used to predict the beam load-deformation response given these moduli. The FE models successfully predicted localized fabric buckling and softening of load-deflection response. Comparison of FE model-predicted load-deflection response with beam theory shows that conventional beam theory is accurate prior to local buckling of the airbeam fabric. The FE model and test results indicate that the consideration of work done by pressure under deformation-induced volume changes may increase beam capacity beyond previously derived theoretical limiting values.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2027-2034
Number of pages8
JournalConstruction and Building Materials
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2009


  • Airbeam
  • Finite element analysis
  • Membranes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • General Materials Science


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