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4.7 Nodal Supports

General description

Supports are used to transfer loads applied on a structural system into the foundations. Without any supports, all nodes would be free and could be displaced or rotated unhindered. If you want a node to act as a support, at least one of its degrees of freedom must be restricted by a spring or blocked. In addition, the node must be part of a surface or member. The boundary conditions of members must be considered as well, in order to exclude double releases on the supported nodes.

Nodal supports are required in order to apply imposed deformations.

It is possible to provide nodal supports with nonlinear properties (failure criteria for tensile or compressive forces, working and stiffness diagrams).

Figure 4.89 New Nodal Support dialog box
Figure 4.90 Table 1.7 Nodal Supports

To open the following dialog box, go to the menu and select Insert → Model Data → Nodal Supports → Graphically or use the toolbar button shown on the left.

Figure 4.91 New Nodal Support dialog box

The following support types are predefined and can be selected from the list:

    • Hinged (YYY NNY)
    • Rigid (YYY YYY)
    • Sliding in X' (NYY NNY)
    • Sliding in Y' (YNY NNY)

After clicking [OK], you can assign the selected support type to nodes in the graphic.

Use the [New] button to create another type of support. The dialog box shown in Figure 4.89 is displayed.

On Nodes No.

Singular supports can only be defined on nodes. Enter the node number into the table column or the text box of the dialog box, or select it graphically.

Support rotation
Shortcut menu of nodal support
Shortcut menu of nodal support

Each nodal support has a local coordinate system. It is oriented parallel to the global axes X, Y, and Z by default. You can use the shortcut menu of a nodal support to display the support coordinate systems.

Use the User-defined axis system option to rotate the support's local axis system. Different options are available in the list.

Figure 4.92 Axis systems for supports

It is possible to rotate the support about the support axes X', Y', and Z', to refer to a user-defined coordinate system or to certain nodes. In addition, you can align the support according to the position of a member or a line. In each case, it it possible to define the objects graphically in the work window by using .

Figure 4.93 Edit User-Defined Axis System dialog box

The support rotation is displayed in the dynamic dialog graphic.

When the calculation is complete, you can evaluate the support reactions of a rotated nodal support in relation to the global as well as the local axis system.

Column in Z

Often, real structural conditions are inaccurately represented by a nodal support, for example when the support zone has large dimensions. Such support conditions can be represented in RFEM by special column macro elements considering material and geometry of the column. RFEM calculates the spring stiffnesses and adjusts the support conditions. Due to the realistic modeling, you can avoid singularities that would be produced in a single FE node when a rigid support is defined.

Figure 4.94 Edit Column dialog box

Define the column cross-section in the Column Type dialog section.

    • When modeling as an Elastic surface foundation, a surface is cut out internally in the column dimensions and supported elastically. The foundation coefficients are calculated from the column's geometry and material data.
    • The Elastic node support also represents an internal subsurface but is only supported at one node. Diese wird jedoch punktförmig gelagert. The support is modeled by means of translational and rotational springs, which are calculated from the column geometry and its material. Internally, the surface thickness is duplicated to account for higher bending rigidity within the column area.
    • The Node support with adapted FE mesh corresponds to the elastic nodal support, but no springs are applied to the punctiform supports.

In the RF-CONCRETE Surfaces and RF-LAMINATE add-on modules, cut-out surfaces cannot be designed for any of these model options. The internal forces at the column's boundary lines are used instead.

If you select "Elastic surface foundation" or "Elastic node support", you have to enter additional data for the column. Die Geometrie des Stützenkopfes kann Rechteckig oder Kreisrund beschrieben werden. Liegt ein Stahlprofil als Stützenquerschnitt vor, so kann der Querschnitt nach dem Aktivieren des Kontrollfeldes der zweiten Zeile in der [Bibliothek] festgelegt werden.

If you consider the shear stiffness of the column, it also affects the constants of the Support Springs Due to Column, which are displayed in the dialog section to the right.
If you consider the shear stiffness of the column, it also affects the constants of the Support Springs Due to Column, which are displayed in the dialog section to the right.

Das Stützenmaterial lässt sich in der Liste der definierten Materialien auswählen oder [Neu] anlegen (siehe Kapitel 4.3). Auch die Stützenhöhe H übt einen Einfluss auf die Konstanten der Senk- und Drehfedern aus. To determine the spring stiffnesses, specifications of the Support conditions at column head or column base are required.

The Column height H also affects the constants of translational and rotational springs.

Support or Spring

To define a support, select the corresponding option in the dialog box or table. The check mark indicates that the corresponding degree of freedom is blocked and the node displacement in the corresponding direction is not possible.

If you do not want to define supports, clear the corresponding check box. Then, RFEM sets the constant of the translational spring to zero in the Nodal Support dialog box. It is always possible to modify the spring constant in order to display an elastic support of the node. In the table, enter the constant directly into the table column.

The spring stiffnesses have to be entered as design values.

Assigning nonlinear support properties is described below.

Restraint or Spring

Restraints are defined analogously to supports. The check mark indicates once again that the corresponding degree of freedom is blocked and the node displacement in the corresponding direction is not possible. In the same way, constants for rotational springs can be defined once the check box is cleared. In the table, enter the spring constant directly into the corresponding table column.

The New Nodal Support dialog box (see Figure 4.89) provides buttons for different support types, making the definition of degrees of freedom easier.

Figure 4.95 Buttons in the New Nodal Support dialog box

The following support properties are assigned to the buttons:

Table 4.3 Nodal support buttons
Button Support Type


Hinged with restraint about Z'

Sliding in X' and Y' with restraint about Z'

Sliding in X' with restraint about Z'

Sliding in Y' with restraint about Z'

Sliding in Z' and Y' with restraint about Z'



To control the transfer of internal forces in detail, it is possible to provide nodal supports with nonlinear properties. The list of nonlinearities includes the following options:

    • Failure of component if support force or moment is negative or positive
    • Complete failure of support if support force or moment is negative or positive
    • Partial activity
    • Diagram
    • Friction depending on remaining support forces

The nonlinear properties can be accessed in the dialog box and table via the list (see Figure 4.89 and Figure 4.90). For each support's degree of freedom, you can specify whether and which forces or moments are transferred at the supported node.

Nonlinear effective supports are displayed with a different color in the graphic. In the table, support elements with nonlinear properties are indicated by a blue check box.

Failure if support force/moment is negative or positive

Both options represent an easy way to control whether the support can only take positive or negative forces/moments: If the internal force (force or moment) acts in the forbidden direction, that particular component of the support fails. The remaining retentions and restraints stay effective.

The negative or positive directions refer to the forces or moments that are placed in the nodal support with regard to the respective axes (they do not refer to the reaction forces of the support). Thus, algebraic signs result from the direction of the global axes. If the global Z-axis is oriented downwards, the load case "Self-weight" results in a positive support force PZ.

Failure all if support force/moment is negative or positive

In contrast to the abovementioned failure of a single component, the support fails completely once the component is ineffective.

To access the following dialog boxes, use the [Edit Nonlinearity] button in the dialog box or in the table, which are to the right of the list.

Partial activity
Figure 4.96 Nonlinearity - Partial Activity dialog box

The support's effect can be defined separately for the Positive and Negative Zone. The sign convention is described in the previous paragraph. In addition to complete activity or complete failure, the support can be set to only be effective when it is displaced or rotated to a certain degree (in this case, a translational or rotational spring has to be defined in the Nodal Support dialog box beforehand). Furthermore, Tearing (failure of support when exceeding a certain force or moment) and Yielding (effective only until force or moment is reached) can be set in combination with a Slippage.

Look at the dynamic Activity Diagram to check the support properties.

Figure 4.97 Nonlinearity - Diagram dialog box

The support's effect can be defined separately for the Positive and Negative Zone. First, define the number of steps (i.e. definition points) for the working diagram. Then, enter the abscissa values of the displacements or rotations with corresponding support forces or moments into the list.

There are several options for the Diagram after last step: Tearing for support failure when exceeding, Yielding for restricting the transfer to a maximum allowable support force or moment, Continuous as in the last step, or Stop for restricting to a maximum allowable displacement or rotation followed by a rigid or restrained support activity.

Friction depending on support force

Use the four friction options to set the transferred support forces to be in relation to the compressive forces that act in a different direction. Depending on your selection, the friction depends on only one support force or on the total force of two simultaneously acting support forces.

Click the button to open a dialog box where you can define the Friction Coefficient μ.

Figure 4.98 Friction in μX' dialog box (partial view)

The following relation exists between axial force and friction force of the support:



For restraints about the axes X' and Y', there is the additional entry Scaffolding in the list. With this option, it is possible to model the structural behavior of support plates at scaffoldings or bracings. This function is described in the following technical article: