Thin-shell structures are also called plate and shell structures. They are lightweight constructions using shell elements. These elements, typically curved, are assembled to make large structures. Typical applications include aircraft fuselages, boat hulls, and the roofs of large buildings.
A thin shell is defined as a shell with a thickness which is small compared to its other dimensions and in which deformations are not large compared to thickness. A primary difference between a shell structure and a plate structure is that, in the unstressed state, the shell structure has curvature as opposed to the plates structure which is flat. Membrane action in a shell is primarily caused by in-plane forces (plane stress), but there may be secondary forces resulting from flexural deformations. Where a flat plate acts similar to a beam with bending and shear stresses, shells are analogous to a cable which resists loads through tensile stresses. The ideal thin shell must be capable of developing both tension and compression.