Metal cylindrical storage structures of significant size, such as silos and vertical-axis tanks, are almost always constructed from many short cylindrical shells of different thickness as the stress resultants on the wall progressively increase towards the base. The resulting increases in thickness are always made in step changes using metal sheets of uniform thickness because of the availability of such source materials. The result is a shell with a stepped wall with multiple discrete steps in thickness. Such shells are very susceptible to buckling under external pressure when empty or partially filled, but the buckling mode may involve only part of the shell height due to the changes in shell thickness. These changes must therefore be accounted for within the design process. A new method of determining the critical buckling resistance of such shells was recently developed, and although it has been shown to be valid, the methodology for its application in practical design has not been set out or shown. This paper therefore briefly describes the new method and demonstrates the manner in which it can be used to produce rapid, safe assessments of cylindrical shells with a wide range of patterns of wall thickness changes. The results are then suitable for direct introduction into such documents as the European standard on metal shells  and the ECCS Recommendations .
- Cylindrical shells
- External pressure
- Stepwise variable wall thickness