steel connections

5 Best Practices for Steel Connection Design

When designing steel-to-steel connection projects that properly capitalize on the durability, longevity, and other structural benefits of steel, even the most minute details can affect the sturdiness of a project. Sometimes, the right approach from a design perspective is just as important as the materials and implements used in the construction. It can be daunting to decide which connection types and implements to use considering the absolute wealth of possibilities and the environmental and weight-based factors to consider.

The most important aspect of steel-to-steel connections to remember when designing a structure is also arguably the most basic principle of all, but it bears repeating: the integrity and strength of a structure depend heavily on the strength of the connections it’s built from. Even one poorly designed connection could be a recipe for structural failure, a risk no designer or engineer can afford to take.

If you design all your connections with this central idea in mind, treating them all as equal contributors to the goal of erecting a structurally sound finished product, safety concerns, expensive repairs, and even potentially dangerous accidents will almost certainly be avoided.

While the right tools for the job are always an important step to ensure the structural integrity of a construction project, knowing some tips and tricks for how best to use them can be just as integral. Next time you’re faced with a steel-to-steel connection project needing direction, here are some best practices to ensure your project maximizes the unparalleled strength, longevity, and durability potential of steel.

Methods of Connection

Considering which type of connection to use is an important facet of connection design.
Amongst the three main types of connection implements, it’s best to forgo the notion that every connection has a one-size-fits-all solution; every connection method has strengths, weaknesses, and ideal use cases that capitalize on those strengths.

Below are the four most widely used connection methods; while some may be less common or practical than others for specific uses and projects, their unique characteristics mean they all have their place.

Bolted Connections

Perhaps the most common, versatile connection in today’s steel-to-steel connection landscape, bolted connections involve using implements like bolts, nuts, and washers inserted into steel components through drilled holes. These connections can typically be easily installed, moved, and replaced by just one person with basic skills. For that reason they are the most flexible, versatile, and simplest to install connection type, used for a range of applications with the many different types of existing bolts and similar devices.

Bolted connections are for everything from simple beam connections in buildings to complex joints in more specialized structures like bridges. For more ambitious or specific situations, specialty bolts such as BoxBolts® exist to streamline design and construction processes even further. BoxBolts® are used when one side of a connection is difficult or impossible to access, known as hollow structural sections or HSS. Typically, welding or trickier bolting techniques, like a “through bolt,” are used in these circumstances. Still, BoxBolts® are installed by just one person and removed easily, unlike more traditional HSS connection methods.

Welded Connections

Welded connections, use heat and specialized equipment to physically bond steel components together in a process that damages the surface of the steel but creates a lasting hold if done properly. Since the welding process melds the steel together, the resulting connection is very secure.

Still, it’s important to note that the durability of welded connections depends on the quality of the weld affixing them. A bad-quality weld may not be as strong as it appears, and the welding process itself is a costly and time-consuming process where mistakes can be difficult to fix. Because of this, welders are in high demand, especially since they need to be highly skilled to perform the job adequately. Despite their lack of flexibility and the unsightly damage the process leaves behind, the strength and durability of properly welded steel are nothing short of impressive.

Welding has been widely used in steel-to-steel connections since the 1920s. Although more practical, simpler alternatives exist, the durability of welded steel, as well as its increased vibration resistance compared to bolted connections, still make it a formidable, essential method of connection that isn’t going out of use anytime soon.

Riveted Connections

In many countries, riveted connections have largely been replaced by bolting since the 1950s. In countries where older structures are still in use and require regular maintenance, riveted connections can still be seen, albeit very rarely in newly built structures. Despite being largely eclipsed by them in the mid-20th century, rivets do offer some advantages over bolting.

Firstly, they resist vibrations and can be installed without needing access to both sides of the connection, something that only recent bolting innovations, such as BoxBolts®, have successfully accomplished. Much like welding, however, riveting requires heat, specialized equipment, and skilled labor and is difficult to remove or replace for adjustments, meaning it lacks accessibility and flexibility. While riveted connections were once the dominant form apart from welding for their extreme durability, bolting and its more convenient advantages have largely made riveted connections a thing of the past, although they are still in use in highly specific circumstances, largely overseas.

Design Factors To Consider

Understanding the various types of connection methods and how they can be used is very important, but when using any connection, it’s paramount to keep some general considerations in mind. These tips can help ensure the integrity of any structure and should largely never be ignored.

Load Distribution

Regardless of your connection method, any type can falter if you improperly distribute the weight it needs to bear. Balancing load is as simple as ensuring all sides of a connection are influenced by equal weight, so tearing, bending, and other actions of shear force cannot occur. Equal weight distribution also means your structures will be well-balanced, something that’s especially important considering natural factors from the mundane to the dramatic, like ice buildup, uneven ground, and earthquakes.

Stiffness and Tension

Crucial to any connection is ensuring enough tension is in place to maintain its sturdiness and structural integrity. This primarily relies on two factors: tightness and distance. Tightness is self-explanatory, referring mainly to bolts needing to be tightened adequately to ensure maximum durability. It’s also important to consider that you’re using enough bolts in the right places, but that point also relates to load distribution.

The other aspect of maintaining tension and stiffness is through distance, meaning the distance between two connections. If connections are too close together or far apart, the tension these exert on the structure may be less or not exerted in the right way; therefore, to maximize the structural integrity of your connections, it’s important to consider how and where you’re applying the proper tension that makes it possible.

Consider Corrosion Resistance

Steel structures don’t just need to be built to last under the trials of everyday use; they also need to be able to withstand the various environmental conditions that will be imposed on them on a daily basis. One example of this is a buildup of ice and snow; a building’s roof must be designed in such a way that it won’t collapse under the weight of these, for instance. An especially pertinent environmental factor is corrosion, something that can degrade materials over time, weakening them and compromising the structural integrity of the entire structure. To avoid this, it’s important to invest in corrosion-resistant connection materials. One example is BoxBolts®, which are treated with a special coating during manufacturing to ensure they’re completely corrosion-resistant.

Accessibility for Maintenance

To properly preserve a structure’s durability and longevity, performing routine maintenance to fix problems and address weaknesses is important. While this is common knowledge, one way to ensure these proper procedures are helped along is by designing structures with maintenance in mind. This way, vital components can be easily assessed, accessed, and even replaced without much disruption to the structure, ensuring workers can focus on providing the structure the best attention they can so it can continue to last and operate effectively.

LNA Solutions: Revolutionizing Safe, Efficient Steel Connections

To design and construct safe, lasting, and durable steel structures, there are numerous factors at play, many of which the longevity and stability of a construction project can hinge on. Materials, outside factors, and design principles must be intimately understood for steel-to-steel connections to reach the potential of durability that steel construction is known for, and even just keeping these factors outlined above in mind when designing any steel structure can help keep both construction sites and the completed structures safer places to work and inhabit.

If you’re looking to learn more about bolted connections, specifically specialized steel-to-steel connection products such as BoxBolts®, BeamClamps®, and others, please refer to the LNA Solutions product page for information, applications, and case studies to inform your next ambitions steel connection project.




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