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SteelConverter and Caltech VirtualShaker: Rapid Nonlinear Cloud-Based Structural Model Conversion and Analysis


Janover, Christopher G. (2016) SteelConverter and Caltech VirtualShaker: Rapid Nonlinear Cloud-Based Structural Model Conversion and Analysis. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z9SF2T3V.


STEEL, the Caltech created nonlinear large displacement analysis software, is currently used by a large number of researchers at Caltech. However, due to its complexity, lack of visualization tools (such as pre- and post-processing capabilities) rapid creation and analysis of models using this software was difficult. SteelConverter was created as a means to facilitate model creation through the use of the industry standard finite element solver ETABS. This software allows users to create models in ETABS and intelligently convert model information such as geometry, loading, releases, fixity, etc., into a format that STEEL understands. Models that would take several days to create and verify now take several hours or less. The productivity of the researcher as well as the level of confidence in the model being analyzed is greatly increased.

It has always been a major goal of Caltech to spread the knowledge created here to other universities. However, due to the complexity of STEEL it was difficult for researchers or engineers from other universities to conduct analyses. While SteelConverter did help researchers at Caltech improve their research, sending SteelConverter and its documentation to other universities was less than ideal. Issues of version control, individual computer requirements, and the difficulty of releasing updates made a more centralized solution preferred. This is where the idea for Caltech VirtualShaker was born. Through the creation of a centralized website where users could log in, submit, analyze, and process models in the cloud, all of the major concerns associated with the utilization of SteelConverter were eliminated. Caltech VirtualShaker allows users to create profiles where defaults associated with their most commonly run models are saved, and allows them to submit multiple jobs to an online virtual server to be analyzed and post-processed. The creation of this website not only allowed for more rapid distribution of this tool, but also created a means for engineers and researchers with no access to powerful computer clusters to run computationally intensive analyses without the excessive cost of building and maintaining a computer cluster.

In order to increase confidence in the use of STEEL as an analysis system, as well as verify the conversion tools, a series of comparisons were done between STEEL and ETABS. Six models of increasing complexity, ranging from a cantilever column to a twenty-story moment frame, were analyzed to determine the ability of STEEL to accurately calculate basic model properties such as elastic stiffness and damping through a free vibration analysis as well as more complex structural properties such as overall structural capacity through a pushover analysis. These analyses showed a very strong agreement between the two softwares on every aspect of each analysis. However, these analyses also showed the ability of the STEEL analysis algorithm to converge at significantly larger drifts than ETABS when using the more computationally expensive and structurally realistic fiber hinges. Following the ETABS analysis, it was decided to repeat the comparisons in a software more capable of conducting highly nonlinear analysis, called Perform. These analyses again showed a very strong agreement between the two softwares in every aspect of each analysis through instability. However, due to some limitations in Perform, free vibration analyses for the three story one bay chevron brace frame, two bay chevron brace frame, and twenty story moment frame could not be conducted. With the current trend towards ultimate capacity analysis, the ability to use fiber based models allows engineers to gain a better understanding of a building’s behavior under these extreme load scenarios.

Following this, a final study was done on Hall’s U20 structure [1] where the structure was analyzed in all three softwares and their results compared. The pushover curves from each software were compared and the differences caused by variations in software implementation explained. From this, conclusions can be drawn on the effectiveness of each analysis tool when attempting to analyze structures through the point of geometric instability. The analyses show that while ETABS was capable of accurately determining the elastic stiffness of the model, following the onset of inelastic behavior the analysis tool failed to converge. However, for the small number of time steps the ETABS analysis was converging, its results exactly matched those of STEEL, leading to the conclusion that ETABS is not an appropriate analysis package for analyzing a structure through the point of collapse when using fiber elements throughout the model. The analyses also showed that while Perform was capable of calculating the response of the structure accurately, restrictions in the material model resulted in a pushover curve that did not match that of STEEL exactly, particularly post collapse. However, such problems could be alleviated by choosing a more simplistic material model.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Nonlinear Analysis; Cloud-Based Computing; Structural Software Interoperability; Pushover Analysis
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Civil Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Heaton, Thomas H.
Thesis Committee:
  • Hall, John F. (chair)
  • Heaton, Thomas H.
  • Asimaki, Domniki
  • Kohler, Monica D.
Defense Date:27 July 2015
Non-Caltech Author Email:chrisjanover (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:10052015-133333291
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9198
Deposited By: Christopher Janover
Deposited On:08 Oct 2015 16:55
Last Modified:22 Jan 2016 15:31

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