Decrypting Cold-Formed Steel Connection Design

As published in STRUCTURE magazine, September 2016. Written by Randy Daudet, P.E., S.E., Product Manager at Simpson Strong-Tie.  Re-posted with permission. 

One of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries of our time lies in a courtyard outside of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It’s a sculpture called Kryptos, and although it’s been partially solved, it contains an inscription that has puzzled the most renowned cryptanalysts since being erected in 1990. Meanwhile, in another part of the DC Beltway about 15 miles to the southeast, another great mystery is being deciphered at the American and Iron Institute (AISI) headquarters. The mystery, structural behavior of cold-formed steel (CFS) clip angles, has puzzled engineers since the great George Winter helped AISI publish its first Specification in 1946. In particular, engineers have struggled with how thin-plate buckling behavior influences CFS clip angle strength under shear and compression loads. Additionally, there has been considerable debate within the AISI Specification Committee concerning anchor pull-over strength of CFS clip angles subject to tension.


The primary problem has been the lack of test data to explain clip angle structural behavior. Even with modern Finite Element Analysis (FEA) tools, without test data to help establish initial deformations and boundary conditions, FEA models have proven inaccurate. Fortunately, joint funding provided by AISI, the Steel Framing Industry Association (SFIA), and the Steel Stud Manufactures Association (SSMA) has provided the much-needed testing that has culminated in AISI Research Report RP15-2, Load Bearing Clip Angle Design, that summarizes phase one of a multi-year research study. The report summarizes the structural behavior and preliminary design provisions for CFS load bearing clip angles and is based on testing that was carried out in 2014 and 2015 under the direction of Cheng Yu, Ph.D. at the University of North Texas. Yu’s team performed 33 tests for shear, 36 tests for compression, and 38 tests for pull-over due to tension. Clip angles ranged in thickness from 33 mils (20 ga.) to 97 mils (12 ga.), with leg dimensions that are common to the CFS framing industry. All of the test set-ups were designed so that clip angle failure would preclude fastener failure.

For shear, it was found that clips with smaller aspect ratios (L/B < 0.8) failed due to local buckling, while clips with larger aspect ratios failed due to lateral-torsional buckling. Shear test results were compared to the AISC Design Manual for coped beam flanges, but no correlation was found. Instead, a solution based on the Direct Strength Method (DSM) was employed that utilized FEA to develop a buckling coefficient for the standard critical elastic plate-buckling equation. Simplified methods were also developed to limit shear deformations to 1/8 inch. For compression, it was found that flexural buckling was the primary failure mode. Test results were compared to the gusset plate design provisions of AISI S214, North American Standard for Cold-Formed Steel Framing – Truss Design, and the axial compression member design provisions and web crippling design provisions of AISI S100, North American Specification for the Design of Cold-Formed Steel Structural Members, but no good agreement was found. Therefore, an alternate solution was developed that utilized column theory in conjunction with a Whitmore Section approach that yielded good agreement with test results. It was further found that using a buckling coefficient of 0.9 in the critical elastic buckling stress equation will produce conservative results. Finally, for pull-over due to tension, it was found that clip angle specimens exhibited significant deformation before pulling over the fastener heads (essentially the clip turns into a strap before pull-over occurs). However, regardless of this behavior, tested pull-over strength results were essentially half of AISI S100 pull-over equation E4.4.2-1.

Thanks to AISI Research Report RP15-2, there is a clearer understanding of the CFS clip angle structural behavior mysteries that have puzzled engineers for many years. However, just as the CIA’s Kryptos remains only partially solved, some aspects of clip angle behavior remain a mystery. For instance, how are the test results influenced by the fastener pattern? All of the test data to date has used a single line of symmetrically placed screws. This is something that does not occur for many practical CFS framing situations and will need additional research. Another glaring research hole is the load versus deflection behavior of clip angles under tension. As briefly mentioned above, the existing pull-over testing has demonstrated that excessive deflections can be expected before pull-over actually occurs. Obviously, most practical situations will dictate a deflection limit of something like 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch, but today we don’t have the test data to develop a solution. Fortunately, AISI in conjunction with its CFS industry partners continues to fund research on CFS clip angle behavior that will answer these questions, and possibly many more.

New Moment-Resisting Post Base

Jhakak Vasavada

Jhalak Vasavada is currently a Research & Development Engineer for Simpson Strong-Tie. She has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Maharaja Sayajirao (M.S.) University of Baroda, Gujarat, India, and a master’s degree in structural engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL. After graduation, she worked for an environmental consulting firm called TriHydro Corporation and as a structural engineer with Sargent & Lundy, LLC, based in Chicago, IL. She worked on the design of power plant structures such as chimney foundations, boiler building and turbine building steel design and design of flue gas ductwork. She is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Michigan.

At Simpson Strong-Tie, we strive to make an engineer’s life easier by developing products that help with design efficiency. Our products are designed and tested to the highest standards, and that gives structural engineers the confidence that they’re using the best product for their application.

Installed MPBZ

Figure 1: Installed MPBZ

Having worked in the design industry for almost a decade, I can attest that having a catalog where you can select a product that solves an engineer’s design dilemma can be a huge time- and money-saving tool. Design engineers are always trying to create efficient designs, although cost and schedule are always constraints. Moment connections can be very efficient — provided they are designed and detailed correctly. With that in mind, we developed a moment post base connector that can resist moment in addition to download, uplift and lateral loads. In this post, I would like to talk about moment-resisting/fixed connections for post bases and also talk about the product design process.

Figure 2. MPB44Z Graphic

Figure 2. MPB44Z Graphic

Lateral forces from wind and seismic loads on a structure are typically resisted by a lateral-force-resisting system. There are three main systems used for ordinary rectangular structures: (a) braced frames, (b) moment frames and (c) shearwalls. Moment frames resist lateral forces through bending in the frame members. Moment frames allow for open frames by eliminating the need for vertical bracing or knee bracing. Moment resistance or fixity at the column base is achieved by providing translational and rotational resistance. The new patent-pending Simpson Strong-Tie® MPBZ moment post base is specifically designed to provide moment resistance for columns and posts. An innovative overlapping sleeve design encapsulates the post, helping to resist rotation at its base.

The allowable loads we publish have what I call “triple backup.” This backup consists of Finite Element Analysis (FEA), code-compliant calculations and test data. Here are descriptions of what I mean by that.

Finite Element Analysis Confirmation

Once a preliminary design for the product is developed, FEA is performed to confirm that the product behaves as we expect it to in different load conditions. Several iterations are run to come up with the most efficient design.

Figure 3. FEA Output of Preliminary MPB Conceptual Design

Figure 3. FEA Output of Preliminary MPB Conceptual Design

Code-Compliance Calculations

Load calculations are prepared in accordance with the latest industry standards. The connector limit states are calculated for the wood-post-to-MPBZ connection and for MPBZ anchorage in concrete. Steel tensile strength is determined in accordance with ICC-ES AC398 and AISI S100-07. Wood connection strength is determined in accordance with ICC-ES AC398 and AC13. Fastener design is analyzed as per NDS. SDS screw values are analyzed using known allowable values per code report ESR-2236. The available moment capacity of the post base fastened to the wood member is calculated in accordance with the applicable bearing capacity of the post and lateral design strength of the fasteners per the NDS or ESR values. Concrete anchorage pull-out strength is determined in accordance with AC398.

Test Data Verification

The moment post base is tested for anchorage in both cracked and uncracked concrete in accordance with ICC-ES AC398.

Figure 4. Uplift Test Setup

Figure 4. Uplift Test Setup

The moment post base assembly is tested for connection strength in accordance with ICC-ES AC13.

Figure 5: Moment (induced by lateral load application) Test Set Up

Figure 5: Moment (induced by lateral load application) Test Set Up

The assembly (post and MPBZ) is tested for various loading conditions: download, uplift and lateral load in both orthographic directions and moment. Applicable factor(s) of safety are applied, and the controlling load for each load condition is published in the Simpson Strong-Tie Wood Construction Connectors Catalog.

Now let’s take a look at a sign post base design example to see how the MPBZ data can be used.

Design Example:

Figure 6: Sign Post Base Design Example

Figure 6: Sign Post Base Design Example

The MPB44Z is used to support a 9ʹ-tall 4×4 post with a 2ʹ x 2ʹ sign mounted at the top. The wind load acting on the surface of the sign is determined to be 100 lb. The MPB44Z is installed into concrete that is assumed to be cracked.

  • The design lateral load due to wind at the MPB44Z is 100 lb.
  • The design moment due to wind at the MPB44Z is (100 lb.) x (8 ft.) = 800 ft.-lb.
  • The Allowable Loads for the MPB44Z are:
    • Lateral (F1) = 1,280 lb.
    • Moment (M) = 985 ft.-lb.
  • Simultaneous Load Check:
    • 800/985 + 100/1,280 = 0.89. This is less than 1.0 and is therefore acceptable.


We are very excited about our new MPBZ! We hope that this product will get you excited about your next open-structure design. Let us know your thoughts by providing comments here.