Development of an integrated computational tool for modelling structural frames in fire considering local effects
In terms of developing knowledge to enable more effective use of performance based engineering (PBE), one of the key limitations is the lack of an easy to use integrated computational tool that is also robust and comprehensive enough to enable automated modelling of more realistic fire scenarios, i.e., the structural response to localised or travelling fires. The main objective of this thesis is to establish such an integrated computational tool, which shall be based on the OpenSees software framework and facilitated by specially developed approaches to achieve higher efficiency of the integrated analysis. This includes the analysis of heat transfer from the fire to structural members, as well as the analysis of structural response to elevated temperatures during the fire. In this thesis, the research begins with the investigation of the feasibility of dimensional reduction for heat transfer analyses of structural members subjected to localised fire action (SFPE and Eurocode 1 fire models), which can be numerically represented by a linear or exponential correlation between incident heat flux and radial distance. Accurate estimates of the error induced by dimensional reduction are presented under strongly varying localised heat fluxes that represent the most non-uniform fire conditions in a building compartment. It is shown that beams and slabs can be adequately modelled with a lower dimensional heat transfer analysis for ordinary building fires. Using this approach, the complexity of heat transfer modelling and the required computing resource and user effort can both be significantly reduced, especially in cases where structural members are subjected to localised fire action. Thermo-mechanical simulations are presented to address the behaviour of structural members subjected to localised fire action, for which a ThermalAction- Wrapper is developed to approximate the temperature distribution from a mixed-order interpolation between sections (beam) or locations (slab). For concrete slabs subjected to localised fire, MITC4 based shell elements are used to account for material and geometric nonlinearities. An integrated simulation environment is developed, which is designed to be a computational tool that requires limited input but provides a comprehensive solution to the problem of simulating large structural frame and sub-frame response under realistic fire scenarios. A considerable amount of code has been written to create and operate the building model, and to process the heat fluxes from the design fires to the structure and the consequential structural response to the evolution of temperatures within it. Parametric studies have been performed to investigate the computational performance of the newly developed elements in modelling beams and slabs subjected to different cases of localised fire action. The results suggest that 3 to 6 force-based beam elements can adequately describe the localised response however more elements are required for quadratic distribution of incident heat flux and higher temperatures, which is due to the degradation of material strength that governs the accuracy especially when the members are heavily loaded. For slabs exposed to localised fires, centre fires are found to produce greater deflections than corner fires, while lateral restraints applied to the slabs may also lead to higher deflections. A small-scale three dimensional structural frame is modelled as a demonstration of the tool, tested against a number of localised fire scenarios. The global behaviour of the structure with the local effects induced by the fire action and partially damaged fire protection are investigated. Severe damage can be found in the members exposed to a single whole compartment fire, in contrast with the relatively small deflections that are observed when a fully protected column is engulfed by a localised fire. However if the passive fire protection is partially damaged, collapse may occur in the column as a result of load magnification because of the redistribution. To the author's knowledge this is the first piece of research that has been able to develop a practically feasible approach to enable efficient coupled computation of the response of structural frames to realistic fire scenarios on a freely available open source software platform. Currently this kind of analysis can only be carried out by just two or three large consulting firms because of the prohibitive commitment of analyst time and effort and to a lesser extent the need for significant computing resources. The work of this thesis will contribute enormously towards making high-end performance based engineering of structural fire resistance a much more practical proposition for small and medium size structural consultancies. Furthermore, the choice of OpenSees, which is a very well respected software framework for simulating structural response to earthquakes naturally enables this work to be extended to the simulating the multi-hazard structural resistance, such as in the event of a fire following an earthquake which may have locally damaged passive fire protection.