Concrete-Filled Steel Tubes

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Circular CFT Section
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Rectangular CFT Section

Concrete-Filled Steel Tubes (CFTs) are composite members consisting of an steel tube infilled with concrete. In current international practice, CFT columns are used in the primary lateral resistance systems of both braced and unbraced building structures. There exist applications in Japan and Europe where CFTs are also used as bridge piers. Moreover, CFTs may be utilized for retrofitting purposes for strengthening concrete columns in earthquake zones.

Advantages of Concrete-Filled Steel Tubes

The CFT structural member has a number of distinct advantages over an equivalent steel, reinforced concrete, or steel-reinforced concrete member. The orientation of the steel and concrete in the cross section optimizes the strength and stiffness of the section. The steel lies at the outer perimeter where it performs most effectively in tension and in resisting bending moment. Also, the stiffness of the CFT is greatly enhanced because the steel, which has a much greater modulus of elasticity than the concrete, is situated farthest from the centroid, where it makes the greatest contribution to the moment of inertia. The concrete forms an ideal core to withstand the compressive loading in typical applications, and it delays and often prevents local buckling of the steel, particularly in rectangular CFTs. Additionally, it has been shown that the steel tube confines the concrete core, which increases the compressive strength for circular CFTs, and the ductility for rectangular CFTs. Therefore, it is most advantageous to use CFTs for the columns subjected to the large compressive loading. In contrast to reinforced concrete columns with transverse reinforcement, the steel tube also prevents spalling of the concrete and minimizes congestion of reinforcement in the connection region, particularly for seismic design. Numerous tests have illustrated the increase in cyclic strength, ductility, and damping by filling hollow tubes with concrete. Recent applications have also introduced the use of high strength concrete combined with high strength thin-walled steel tubes with much success. When high strength concrete and thin-walled steel tubes are used together, the more brittle nature of high strength concrete is partially mitigated by the confinement from the steel tube, and local buckling of the thin steel tube is delayed by the support offered by the concrete. Progress in concrete technology has made it possible to utilize concrete strengths over 15 ksi in CFT beam-columns.

A number of additional economical benefits stem from the use of CFTs. The tube serves as formwork in construction, which decreases labor and material costs. In moderate- to high-rise construction, the building can ascend more quickly than a comparable reinforced concrete structure since the steelwork can precede the concrete by several stories. The cost of the member itself is much less than steel and roughly equivalent to reinforced concrete on a strength per dollar basis for low to medium strength concrete (Webb, 1993). When compared to steel moment resisting frames, in unbraced CFT frames, the amount of savings in steel tends to grow as the number stories increases (Morino et al., 1996). On the other hand, relatively simple beam-to-column connection details can be utilized for rectangular CFT members. This also results in savings for the total cost of the structure and facilitates the design process. In addition, the steel tube and concrete act together to provide natural reinforcement for the panel zone, which reduces the material and labor costs of the connections. With the use of high-strength concrete, CFTs are stronger per square foot than conventional reinforced concrete columns (Webb, 1993). In high-strength applications, smaller column sizes may be used, increasing the amount of usable floor space in office buildings. The smaller and lighter framework places less of a load on the foundation, cutting costs again. These advantages have secured an expanding role for this versatile structural element in modern construction.

Limitations of Concrete-Filled Steel Tubes

A primary deterrent to widespread use of CFTs is the limited knowledge regarding their behavior. A number of factors complicate the analysis and design of concrete-filled steel tubes. A CFT member contains two materials with different stress-strain curves and distinctly different behavior. The interaction of the two materials poses a difficult problem in the determination of combined properties such as moment of inertia and modulus of elasticity. The failure mechanism depends largely on the shape, length, diameter, steel tube thickness, and concrete and steel strengths. Parameters such as bond, concrete confinement, residual stresses, creep, shrinkage, and type of loading also have an effect on the CFT’s behavior. Axially loaded columns and, in more recent years, CFT beam-columns and connections, have been studied worldwide and to some extent many of the aforementioned issues have been reconciled for these types of members. However, researchers are still studying topics such as the effect of bond, confinement, local buckling, scale effect, and fire on CFT member strength, load transfer mechanisms and economical detailing strategies at beam-to-CFT column connections, and categorization of response in CFTs and their connections at all levels of loading so as to facilitate the development of performance-based seismic design provisions. It should also be noted that, despite a recent increase in the number of full-scale experiments, the majority of the tests to date have been conducted on relatively small specimens, often 6 inches in diameter or smaller (see Tables 1 through 6). This is due to the load limits of the testing apparatus and the need to run the tests economically. Whether these results can be accurately extrapolated to the typically larger columns used in practice remains a pertinent and debatable question, although recent research in Japan has begun to address this important issue (Morino et al., 1996).