Composite design marries some of steel and concrete’s best attributes together for an efficient structural system. Let’s start by thinking about a structural system that isn’t composite design. Structural steel beams placed at 4′ on center with a steel deck spanning perpendicular which will have 4″ of concrete placed on top of the steel deck is not a composite system. That means the steel beams will carry their own weight, the weight of the steel deck and concrete above and whatever live load gets applied. The steel deck and the concrete must carry their own weight and the live load spanning from steel beam to steel beam. Another way to state the proposition: the steel beam acts on its own structurally and the steel deck and concrete act on their own structurally.
A composite system ties together that steel beam and concrete floor and forces them to act as a single structural unit. Some connector on top of the steel beam makes the steel and concrete act as one unit. The steel beam can’t slide independently of the concrete slab, the two are bonded together. Since the concrete is strong in compression, the composite system can be quite efficient structurally. The figure below illustrates the concept.
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