Imperfections in buckling design

Using deformations from linear buckling as imperfections in nonlinear buckling case is the most common approach. I will use a simple example to prove that this is not always the best idea. Proper selection of imperfections is a very complicated process – I hope to shed some light on this matter.


As you know, I like to show complex problems on simple models. Today we will deal with a small shell with some stiffening. Such solution can be often observed in silos structures in their support zones. Below you can see a model I will use (simplified for the task), and one of the silos I have designed with similar support (marked in red).

Such shell is usually loaded with friction (from the material inside), but at the bottom part, we can almost assume that the load is vertical from the top. I used such approach in my simplified model as you can see above. Model is made from 1mm thick steel plate with stiffeners and rings 10mm thick. Total height and diameter are equal to 1000mm. Support is 10 degrees wide (around 87mm).

Outcomes from ideal model

I want to measure how imperfections influence the capacity of the model. This means I need a reference to compare to. The easiest is to calculate the capacity of the model without any imperfections and use this value. Below are the outcomes from linear (LBA) and nonlinear (GNA) buckling without any imperfections (follow the links to read more about the methods, you can also join my free FEA course to learn more).

As you can see above, the linear buckling gave the multiplier of 0.6813 while nonlinear buckling is 0.4725. This means that the critical load is 200 x 0.6813 = 136.3 kN/m for linear buckling (200 kN/m is the load I have applied in my model). Note that the capacity drops in nonlinear buckling (without any imperfections) by 44% which is a big difference to start with!

To distinguish somehow the outcomes I will compare imperfection influence on linear buckling and nonlinear buckling separately on the same charts. You will see what I mean in just a moment 🙂

Imperfections from linear buckling

At first, let’s do a “classical” approach. Below the deformation from LBA I have used as an imperfection “shape”. Firstly I have chosen the maximal imperfection amplitude to be equal to shell thickness (in this case 1mm).

I love this part! Note that we have applied imperfections, but capacity in nonlinear buckling… is actually 5% higher! This is the main reason, why using imperfections from LBA is not always the best idea. Look at the outcomes from models without imperfections, compare the geometries. Nonlinear buckling often produces deformations that are much more smooth than those from LBA. Imposing linear buckling imperfections in nonlinear buckling case, sometimes strengthen the model, as the shell want to buckle in a different way and have to “fight against” imperfections from linear buckling case!

Imperfections in linear buckling reduced the capacity… but note also that the “shape” of stability failure changed as well!

Imperfection from nonlinear buckling

Since in nonlinear buckling shell want to fail in a certain way (with certain deformations), lets help 🙂

Here I use deformations from nonlinear buckling (I have chosen one of the increments). They are scaled just as in the case of linear buckling: maximal imperfection amplitude is 1mm. This leads to following results:

This time both capacities in linear and nonlinear buckling dropped. What is more interesting is that in linear buckling it dropped even more than when imperfections from linear buckling were used. This is of course just a coincidence, you can never be sure which imperfections are “correct” in your case!

So… what now?

I hope I have managed to convince you to use different sets of imperfections. Please remember that deformation shape from linear buckling is not the optimal and only choice… I know a lot of people use this as the only case, but this is not the best approach. Do not forget that implementing those “linear” imperfections, you can actually strengthen your model, just as I have shown here.

Let’s take a look at the typical procedure here:

If I would perform linear buckling (r = 0.6813), and then implemented the imperfections and perform nonlinear buckling, I would got r = 0.4939.

Value is smaller as expected, so I would be happy.

While in fact, the capacity is much smaller. The simplest approach shows capacity reduced by 11%, but I haven’t searched for the minimal outcome. It can still be smaller!

This is why code EN 1993-1-6, when you want to perform nonlinear buckling demands, that you use the worst imperfections. You will never know which set is the worst one until you use several different sets and compare them. It is also required to check smaller and higher amplitudes, as bigger imperfections do not have to be worse… but this is a topic for another post 🙂

What to remember

  • Linear buckling can greatly over-predict capacity. Here in the ideal model, it showed capacity 44% higher than in nonlinear buckling!
  • Imperfections are important and should be carefully considered
  • Imperfections from linear buckling shape may strengthen the shell instead of reducing its capacity!

Free FEA course!

If you are interested in FEA, you can’t miss my free nonlinear FEA course: simply get it below! Also If you have any questions or remarks, feel free to post them in the comments section 🙂

Free nonlinear FEA course!


  1. Xiao Chen February 15, 2017 at 12:40 am - Reply

    Dear Łukasz,

    I read this post very carefully and think you have very profound understanding on buckling analysis. You are correct on that the imperfection generated from linear modes sometimes would result in larger buckling load in nonlinear analysis. I think this can be explained more academically by the minimum energy required to trigger the 1st buckling mode in linear analysis (eigenvalue and eigen vector) although your comments on the “strengthening” effect is also suitable.

    Xiao Chen

    • Łukasz Skotny April 8, 2017 at 9:25 am - Reply

      Hey Xiao!

      Thank you for the kind comment. I’m glad you like the post 🙂

  2. Larry April 2, 2017 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    Nice overview.

    The problem is in determining the “worst” imperfection pattern that is consistent with the manufacturing and construction typical for the component being evaluated in a probabilistic/risk based approached. In general this requires a significant effort in data collection to characterize the manufacturing and construction process for application at the design stage and becomes problematic for a one of a kind new design.

    It is also important to consider any in situ (constant) loading conditions on modifying the effect of the imperfection pattern, particularly for a relatively flexible structure. A nonlinear analysis would inherently account for any constant in situ loading in addition to the specific load under investigation for assessing the stability of the structure.

    The buckling analysis of a flexible liquid storage tank under earthquake loading is a particularly challenging problem when liquid slosh induced impacting on the tank roof structure can occur.

    Keep up the good work

    • Łukasz Skotny April 3, 2017 at 10:33 am - Reply

      Hey Larry!

      Thank you for the kind words and your remarks. I agree that imperfections are not an easy topic, there is a beautiful complexity here 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article
      Have a great day

  3. Larry April 8, 2017 at 4:04 am - Reply


    In case you haven’t seen this, you might be interested in the following paper:
    Deml, M. and W. Wunderlich, 1997, Direct Evaluation of the ‘Worst’ Imperfection Shape in Shell Buckling, Comput. Methods Appl. Mech. Engrg., pages 201-222.

    Have a great day

    • Łukasz Skotny April 8, 2017 at 9:24 am - Reply

      Hey Larry!

      Thank you for the reference – I will take a look. I’m aware of the method but I don’t think I have read this article.

      Have a great day!

  4. sara October 31, 2017 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    Dear Łukasz,
    this was really helpful,
    well i actually dont know how to apply Imperfection from nonlinear buckling in abaqus, i would appreciate it if you would help me.
    thank you

    • Łukasz Skotny October 31, 2017 at 9:16 pm - Reply

      Hey Sara!

      This was doable in Abaqus – I’m pretty certain I did this at the end of my PhD…
      You had to modify input files and add stuff there, simply because there was no way to “click this” in CAE. Maybe they changed it though – it was few years after all!

      I will try to search for old notes on how to do it – but it will take a while 😛

      All the best

      • sara November 1, 2017 at 2:08 pm - Reply

        i am really grateful and sorry if it is troubling you.

Leave A Comment