Excavator structural stress - hand calculations

B. Ravindra

Excavator design engineers need to be familiar with methods to calculate pivot forces arising out of the specific kinematics of excavator and structural stresses. Finite Element Analysis methods notwithstanding, doing calculations by hand provides engineers with a keen insight on the magnitude of forces at play and stresses that are set up in his structural designs. These are key inputs to avoid expensive FEA iterations. This document gives a method to compute section stresses once pivot forces are know. It is assumed that readers are familiar with basic strength of materials and applied mechanics concepts. Below is an image of an excavator dipper arm with bucket in maximum breakout force position. Just for the purposes of this sample calculation let’s assume the maximum breakout force is 45kN and acting at the corner of the bucket. Link lengths and position for maximum force are assumed to be known to arrive at forces in the links. Section dimensions of Arm structure are given in later images. Once the Breakout force vector is completely defined it is not necessary to calculate the link & pivot forces to get sectional stresses. It is given here only to let readers get a feel for the magnitude of the forces in links arising out of breakout force and the linkage system. A Breakout force of 4.5 Tons sets-up pin forces of 16.5 Tons in the Arm. That is what you get as a consequence of the excavator 4-bar mechanism. A similar feel for forces in boom pivots can rationally explain why an excavator boom is more generously dimensioned than the Arm. For sectional calculations, Arm is oriented with the horizontal axis passing through bucket pivot and the arm cylinder pivot (on the arm). A typical hand calculation of stresses would require about four to six sections analyzed and about ten sections analyzed in the boom. Sections in the arm are numbered from 1 to 4. There would be at least a couple more passing through the two end pivots. We would demonstrate the hand calculation in section 3-3. There is nothing sacrosanct about the orientation of the section. Sections can be taken any which ways but then interpretations of stresses become meaningless when section orientations results in plate thicknesses very different from actual. Also one is interested not just in stresses at one section but in a number of sections along the length of the structure and a non-uniform distribution of sections just doesn’t help.

LOAD CASE: MAX BREAKOUT FORCE of 45kN (Forces left of section 3-3)

Force at Pin joint F
Ff 16414 daN

Subtended angle w.r.t section 5-5
f 1.6 deg

Force at Pin joint J
Fj 13835 daN

Subtended angle w.r.t 5-5
j 87.9 deg

Width of bucket
Wb 710 mm

Half width of bucket
W hb Wb 2

Breakout force
Fbr 4500 daN

Subtended angle w.r.t section 5-5
br 54.2 deg

Section properties: 3-3 Sectional area
Acc 5369mm

Area moment of Inertia Y-Y




4 Area moment of Inertia X-X Ixx 52197335mm Area moment of Inertia, Polar Ip



Dimension to outer fiber of top plate (for stress due to bending about X axis) d bx


Dimension to outer fiber of side plate (for stress due to bending about Y axis of section)
d by 102.5mm 6 mm

Arm side plate thickness (for stress due to torsion & transverse shear stress) Torsion area = Area bounded by the center line of the wall cross-section
At ( 185


6) mm ( 254.4 6) mm

Section modulus X-X


Ixx dbx

Section modulus Y-Y


Iyy d by

Shear area Areas of side half plates
area1 727.2mm


1230 mm


First moment of areas for transverse shear stress along X-X
A sx 2 area1 60.6 mm area2 124.2mm

Resolution of forces & moments about axes 5-5 Horizontal component of forces
Ffh Ff cos f Fjh Fj cos j

Vertical component of forces


Ff sin f


Fj sin j

Horizontal component of Breakout force


Fbr cos


Vertical component of Breakout force


Fbr sin br

Vertical distances from 5-5 axis to section centroid (refer section dimensions above)
d fv 254.4 2 69.8 mm
d jv d fv 26.1 mm

Horizontal distances to section 3-3 centroid
d jh d fh 203.3mm

d fh

800 mm

Stress analysis at section 3-3

Bending moment at section 3-3 Stress due to bending along X-X at 3-3


Ffh d fv

Ffv d fh

Fjh d jv

Fjv d jh

Mbx bx Wx


Bending moment on Arm perpendicular to Axes 5-5 due to bucket corner loading Stress due to bending along Y-Y at 3-3
Mby by Wy Ffh d A cc
Fbrv W hb

M by

Fbrh W hb



Direct stress due to horizontal components







1.296 10 daN m


Torsional stress

f s 2 At ds
.s 24.283MPa

Transverse/horizontal shear stress due to varying bending moment along X-X
Fjv h Fbrv Ffv Asx
h 40.899MPa

Ixx2 ds


Maximum Principal stress

bx max

by 2



by 2

d s h


max 192.05MPa