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Bearing strength is a term used to describe the maximum amount of weight or pressure or some other variable that a structure can hold before collapsing. Bearing strength is roughly defined as the maximum bearing load that can be placed on a structure before it will fail, divided by the area that is bearing the weight. This calculation is regularly used in the engineering field for a variety of applications, typically in construction of buildings, walls, and foundations, as well as in the construction and operation of aircraft or other transportation vehicles.
For example, say a 10 foot (3 m) by 10 foot (3 m) wall has an effective bearing load of 10,000 pounds (4,536 kg). Divide the bearing load by the area. In this case, you get 1,000 pounds per square foot (504 kg per square meter) of bearing strength for the wall.
There are a number of cases where bearing strength must be considered. Most of these cases are in construction of buildings and other structures, because one has to be able to calculate the amount of weight a wall, supporting beam or cross member will have to hold once the building is finished. This weight calculation not only involves the weight of the materials themselves, but also the extra materials used in finishing the building, such as carpeting and furniture. Getting the calculation correct is crucial to prevent unnecessary stress on the load-bearing portions of the structure that could fail under normal use.
Bearing strength is also a term used with regards to the design and construction of aircraft. A variety of pressures and forces are exerted on an aircraft’s air frame during the processes of taking off, flying, gaining altitude, landing, and other operational maneuvers. The bearing strength of the various surfaces, such as the wings, rivets holding portions of the air frame together, and the landing gear, must all be considered carefully as an aircraft is designed. This attention avoids problems later on when the aircraft is actually operated. Bearing strength calculations are typically done by the construction or engineering firms designing a building or aircraft, although they are occasionally used prior to a design when the item being designed is still in the theoretical phase.