Mechanics of Wire Rope

Mordica Lecture—Interwire 2003 Wire Association International Atlanta, Georgia—May 12, 2003

George A. Costello
Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Abstract.—This presentation on the mechanics of wire rope will be divided into two parts: a theory for the static and dynamic response of wire rope, and practical examples in the form of consulting problems with which I have been associated.

It is indeed an honor to be selected as one of the Mordica lecturers for the Wire Association International’s 2003 Interwire conference. The subject of my talk is the mechanics of wire rope. However, before I talk about wire rope, I’d like to point out the importance of mechanics in solving a wide class of problems in engineering. A student came in to see me the other day; he had a problem outlined, and he wanted to work on a thesis in the area of mechanics. I suggested some ways of looking at the problem, but he replied, “How do I do that?” I said, “Well, that’s the problem.” People underestimate, or are often unaware of, the power of mechanics. Consider the application illustrated in Fig. 1, which shows a scale model of a lunar tractor. The date is about a year before we put a man on the moon. Engineers at one of the major subcontractors were worried about the tractor sinking into the lunar soil. At the time, it was not clear what was on the moon. And the engineers at this company didn’t know what all the effects of gravity were, so they came up with a laboratory study. The picture of the experimental data they obtained looked like somebody had hit it with a shotgun. The basic question was, how do you account for the difference between the gravity on Earth and that on the moon? How should their experiments be designed? I got a phone call from a relative. After listening to the problems they were having, I asked if they were using dimensional analysis. Nobody had heard of that area, although most students in fluid mechanics would have come across dimensional analysis in their course work. It turns out that you can get the effect of gravity in a particular problem by using it in a dimensionless variable. By incorporating gravity in this fashion, they were able to improve their experimental design significantly. Dimensional analysis, I should point out, is just one of the tools that people in mechanics can use to solve engineering problems.


Theory of Wire Rope
In this lecture, I’ll indicate how mechanics is used to solve some interesting problems in wire rope. We’ll start out with the theory for a single wire, then progress to strands made of multiple wires, and finally consider ropes, which consist of multiple strands. A single wire In Fig. 2, we show the undeformed and deformed configurations of a single wire. The wire is unloaded in its initial state; then it is deformed to another shape under the action of loads. Figure 3 shows an undeformed wire with a rectangular wire cross section, in the shape of a helical spring. To calculate what we call the twist and the components of curvature, you can move with a unit velocity along the wire centerline. As you move, the orientations A, B, C— imagine that one of your legs is in the A direction, the other leg in the B direction, and your torso from your stomach to your head in the r direction—will change. These changes in orientation C give rise to an angular rotation vector, ω . The projections, or components, of this vector in the A, B, and C directions give you the twist τ and the normal and binormal components of curvature κ and κ ′ , respectively. Figure 4 illustrates the most general case of loading of a wire. On a given cross section, you have three components of force: the two components of shear force N and N ′ , and the tension T. You also have three couples: the two components of bending moment G and G ′ , and the torsion H. In addition to the forces and moments on a given cross section, you can also have distributed forces, such as contact forces, and distributed moments that act on the outer surface of the wire. These distributed forces and moments are denoted as X, Y, Z, and K, K ′ , and Θ , respectively. Now we want the equations of equilibrium of a rod. If you sum forces in the three directions, you obtain the differential equations dN − N ′τ + Tκ ′ + X = 0 , ds dN ′ − Tκ + Nτ + Y = 0 , ds dT − Nκ ′ + N ′κ + Z = 0 , ds


where s is the arc length along the wire axis. There are also three equations of equilibrium for moments: dG − G ′τ + Hκ ′ − N ′ + K = 0 , ds dG ′ − Hκ + Gτ + N + K ′ = 0 , ds dH − Gκ ′ + G ′κ + Θ = 0 . ds



for the rotational strain and the axial strain. when you pull on the cross section. a twisting moment M t . and ξ is the axial wire strain. as indicated in the figure. Besides these equations of equilibrium. and a bending moment M b . the outer wires do not touch each other. all the wires shorten transversely due to the Poisson effect. 4 πR 4 E (κ ′ − κ ′ ) . A is the cross-sectional area. Equations (1)–(2) simplify drastically for a helical wire. you need the constitutive relations. can also be considered in a similar manner. where E is the modulus of elasticity of the wire material. For a wire with a circular cross section of radius R. Also. and you’d like to have a solution of these in terms of s for a given wire. (3) G = G′ = H = πR 4 E (κ − κ 0 ) . 7. (1)–(4) also hold for strands within a rope. you have an axial force F. You can actually calculate what the velocity should be. Wire Association International Notice if you will that the equations are nonlinear because of the products of certain unknowns. where the strand consists of many wires. twist. 0 H = C( τ − τ 0 ) . One way to reduce the stresses and make the strand more flexible is to leave a little gap between each of the wires. to cause zero contact force. G ′ = EI y (κ ′ − κ ′ ) . It’s very difficult to compress one of these and put it into a shape like that in a static machine. so that when you pull on the cross section. and elongation: G = EI x (κ − κ 0 ) . the relations between the generalized forces and the components of curvature. Treating the strand. I can’t go into all the detail in the theory. then the rotation and axial strain as a function of time may combine to form a critical condition where the contact forces go to zero. 3 . C is the torsional rigidity. T = EAξ .2003 Mordica Lecture. 4(1 + ν) 4 (4) T = πR 2 Eξ . A strand Figure 5 shows a front view and the cross section of a simple straight strand. Strands are often subjected to bending and torsion. however. as illustrated in Fig. I x and I y are the cross-sectional moments of inertia. but notice that the six outside wires appear oval in shape. A detrimental effect that ropes sometimes experience is that of bird-caging (Fig. 0 4 πR E (τ − τ 0 ) . 6). What you can show is that if a rope is loaded dynamically. On each cross section. You have six equations. A typical strand consists of a straight center wire and six helical outer wires wrapped around the center wire. Generalized forms of Eqns. that is.

whereas if you pull on the spring. Figure 8 shows a 3-wire stranded spring that is subjected to an axial force. So. Disk drive head cable Figure 11(a) shows a cable used to transmit signals to and from the read/write head of disk drive. 9. This is one of the smallest strands you can find. I would kindly refer the reader to my book [1] for the details of the theory I am presenting here. there it is. for the same diameter. the strain would be uniform and the stresses involved would be smaller. then surrounding that by 6 wires that are a little smaller. The first question that I asked was. you get a certain axial stiffness. each of which is a strand made of wires only 0. which has relatively high inertia? (The strand has an outer diameter of only 0. there’s a wave that goes up and down the spring. and so forth. which was flexing back and forth. for example. strands. and ropes. You can make a rope like this with only 4 different diameters of wire. Now what happens with this case is that you have a kink in the load–deformation diagram at the origin. The manufacturer had problems with fatigue of this wire rope. but tests show that a 7x7x7 made with graduated wire sizes gives it better fatigue behavior. 4 . A wire rope Here’s a typical rope. for example. in the medical and dental professions. why were these strands covered with such thick polypropylene insulation. and additional distributed forces and moments on the rope where it passes over the sheave. you could make this rope with wires of equal diameter. 11(b)) shows the three strands. but it’s worth it. and better strength.006 inches. The theory for wire rope has actually been extended to the general case of axial loading and bending around a sheave. but also called a 7x7x7. the largest diameter being the center wire. If you neglect the mass of the spring. 10. labeled 6x49 IWRC in Fig. COSTELLO Strands can also be formed in the shape of a helical spring. Of course. as shown in Fig. Applications As you already know. each surrounded by polypropylene insulation. the strands tighten up. I’ll start with small-diameter strands and ropes and work up to larger and larger diameters. If you push on this spring.GEORGE A. The example I looked at was originally used in a car. which you can compute. compared with ropes made with single-diameter wires. which has certain restrictions on its size and its strength. if you want a difference in mechanical response in tension and compression. The stresses are greater if you include the mass of the cable. but there are other applications for smalldiameter wires. If you compress this spring. there are many applications for wire rope. Besides the axial force F.002 inches in diameter. You get a different stiffness in tension. the wires tend to separate. The cable has three conductors. there must be an axial torsional moment M t to keep the straight sections of the rope in equilibrium. A cross section of the cable (Fig. I would like to present just a few applications that I’ve worked on. It probably costs a little more.) If you look at a wire spring being impacted.

People are always looking at different configurations. It turns out 5 .2003 Mordica Lecture. There are people up in the center of that little house. The question was. Maybe he made them too good—they would withstand a tornado—but anybody can do that. In this case. the tendency is to buckle all the poles due to the weight of the cable. You can get considerable efficiency by bracing every 10th or 15th structure. It’s located in Puerto Rico and is operated by Cornell University for the National Science Foundation. if you hang a cable from several poles in a row. which increases significantly both the dead weight loading and the wind loads (due to the increased cross-sectional area). where the accident occurred. However. The design I looked at had a radius of 45 meters. which is the world’s largest radio telescope. beads. It’s now possible to use strain-energy principles to generate finite elements that you can use to solve for the stresses in a tire. The detail of the loading on a section of rope is shown in Fig. and so forth. The design of a tower is a classical problem of optimization: a designer I knew was proud of the fact that his towers never came down. and when one collapsed. Many supports are needed around the periphery to keep the rope from breaking. 14(b). there is a current running through the rope that tends to push the rope out radially. However. and it turns out that we pressed the columns right through the wooden bases—the columns didn’t buckle even under severe weight. In Fig. how can you prevent that? From a mechanics point of view. which are usually strands. Radio telescope Also I got involved with the Arecibo Radio Telescope (Fig. 13. In this device. and the question was. perhaps the first of its kind. Wire Association International Radial tire Figure 12 shows the cross section of a radial tire. 14. Sometimes the beads consist of circular wires that are arranged in a rectangular array. which one is me? This was in my youth—we were testing power lines. 15). about 70 miles of these towers collapsed. In Wisconsin. It’s a question of satisfying the code and building the structure in the most economical fashion. in which case you have an enormous radial force per unit length. they kept popping in domino fashion. Power lines and guy wires You might ask in Fig. we see a tower subject to ice buildup. Many towers like this are stiffened by means of guy “wires”. So you have two counteracting effects. The ends of the cable were fixed. with the various components—plies. how much load could these things take? We made a model. It’s also important to have an estimator who can predict the cost quickly. in our tests. we had only about 15 free-standing poles. Superconducting magnetic energy storage Figure 14(a) shows a sketch of a superconducting magnetic energy-storage rope. That would increase the total load acting on the poles. and what I was able to show was that the buckling load decreases as the number of free-standing poles increases. the cable also restrains the lateral movement of the poles. hundreds of poles were involved. In Wisconsin. but he wasn’t selling them to anyone. a compound rope consisting of an inner core for strength and superconducting outer strands is needed—you can calculate what the cross sections of the wire rope strands should be.

New York: Springer-Verlag. COSTELLO there’s enough light going through the dish that the plants underneath the dish can grow. The question was. 6 . When they attempted to lift the platform from the barge. You don’t want them washing out in a rainfall. If you pull on a sling like this. should they replace the strands? All the people who had been involved in the calculations had all retired. It was going to cost $1. Prof. Figure 18 shows the steel rope. Offshore oil rig lift Here’s an interesting application of an offshore oil rig lift. 1997. I recommended that they replace the strands. For this kind of rope. I asked who braided that rope—it must have been King Kong. Conclusions There are many applications of wire rope of all sizes and construction. if one wire starts breaking. is built on the ground (Fig. Acknowledgment I would like to thank my colleague. 17). the main hook broke. and the sling will unwind.5 to 2 million to take out and replace the strands. Costello. with a right-hand lay in one portion and a left-hand lay in the other. Phillips. 2nd ed. and at the time it was 48 inches. they would tend to keep breaking. There’s a part of the hook smashed into the roof of the deck. The question was. but I looked up in the Guinness Book of World Records what was the world’s largest rope. 19). Theory of Wire Rope. including those associated with wire rope. It turns out that they had a cameraman. so they had to splice the ropes. so there was no way to find out how they were originally designed. which was a foot in diameter. which is correct. Which was the first? It turns out that if you looked at the properties of the hook. In this case the barge was towed out to the Gulf of Mexico. but the fourth sling was made from a left-lay rope in series with a right-lay rope (Fig. 16). the coupling is going to rotate. This is the largest rope I’ve examined.GEORGE A. they were not as good as they should be. and the wires were starting to break. Also. so that. the twist angle was small. three of the four spliced slings used same-handed segments. but he was changing the film. The platform. Then a barge is put in and the structure is lifted up and put on the barge (Fig. whose fault was this? First there could be different ways of failure. James W. and lifted up to put on pods. A. leading to uneven loading between the slings. which weighs about 8 million pounds. Mechanics principles can be used to treat a broad class of problems. They didn’t have enough length in the slings to lift the platform. and that’s when the hook broke. The telescope had broken wires in the supporting strands—there were five strands coming off each tower. Reference [1] G. for assistance in preparing this manuscript.

Model of lunar vehicle. 1.Fig. .

2.GEORGE A. Curved wire in undeformed and deformed configuration. 8 . COSTELLO x3 B P A Undeformed C Deformed y P’ x z x2 x1 Fig. x3 ω0 C A B r0 α0 x1 x2 Fig. Undeformed helical wire with rectangular cross section. 3.

x2 Mt F R1(1−νξ1) A A r2 R2(1−νξ2) Section A A F Mt Fig. Loads acting on a thin wire.2003 Mordica Lecture. Straight strand subjected to an axial force and twisting moment. 5. 9 . Wire Association International x3 x G N s X Y Z K K’ Θ G’ N’ y z H T x1 Fig. 4.

Straight strand subjected to an axial force. COSTELLO Fig. 10 . a bending moment. Condition for bird-caging in a strand. and a twisting moment. 7.GEORGE A. 6. q F MT MB p F MT MB d ρ Fig.

Stranded-wire compression spring. 8.2003 Mordica Lecture. 11 . Wire Association International (a) Before deformation (b) Pulled in tension Fig.

COSTELLO Strand 1 Strand 2 Strand 3 0.0040'' 0.0035'' 0.0045'' 0.0030'' Fig. 12 . 9.GEORGE A. Cross section of a 6x49 internal-wire-rope-core rope. or 7x7x7 rope.

Wire Association International q p D d Wire rope F MT F MT Fig. 13 .2003 Mordica Lecture. Rope pulled and bent over a sheave. 10.

Disk drive head cable. 11. Strand 0.GEORGE A.006" OD 14 .002" OD (b) Cross section Fig.063" OD Insulation 0.020" OD Wire 0. COSTELLO (a) Detail of strands Jacket 0.

2003 Mordica Lecture. Wire Association International Fig. 15 . Cross section of a radial tire. 12.

13. COSTELLO Fig. Model of power lines (with G. 16 . Costello on the right).GEORGE A. A.

13.2003 Mordica Lecture. Ice buildup on a transmission tower. Wire Association International Fig. 17 .

Superconducting magnetic energy-storage rope. 14.GEORGE A. 18 . COSTELLO Superconducting wire rope strands Superconducting wire rope Electromagnetic force Stainless steel wire rope core (a) Rope and cross section R β /2 ρ p φ r Wire rope (b) Detail of rope segment Fig.

15. Wire Association International Fig.2003 Mordica Lecture. Puerto Rico. 19 . The Arecibo Radio Telescope.

COSTELLO Fig. Oil platform under construction.GEORGE A. 20 . 16.

Oil platform on barge. 21 . Wire Association International Fig. 17.2003 Mordica Lecture.

18. COSTELLO Fig. Part of broken hook and slings after hook failure. 22 .GEORGE A.

23 .2003 Mordica Lecture. 19. Wire Association International Fig. Compound sling made from a left-lay rope (foreground) and a right-lay rope (background).


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M. Roy 1006 Tomkins. Fried.. A. in press (2002) Flow instabilities in a horizontal dendrite layer rotating about an inclined axis—Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A (submitted) Cure kinetics of ring-opening metathesis polymerization of dicyclopentadiene—Journal of Polymer Science A 40. Ji Physics of Solids (submitted) Costello. and D. A.. and R. Interwire 2003. A. and 175. White. 1003 Carlson. 2003 . J. 2002 Feb. Sottos. N.. and Burning rate of energetic materials with thermal expansion—Combustion D. E. Sottos Kuznetsov.. 998 Christensen. D. 1000 Kessler. K. R. and S. Wire Association International. 2003 Mar. E. and R. On internal constraints in continuum mechanics—Journal of and D. E.. and K. N. 2003 Feb. G. D. Adrian 1007 Riahi. Mechanics of wire rope—Mordica Lecture. 2002 June 2002 July 2002 Aug. Newton. C. Topological fluid mechanics of point vortex motions—Physica D M. 2002 Mar. White Brown. A. E. 2003 Mar. 2373–2383 (2002) Point defects in nematic gels: The case for hedgehogs—Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (submitted) Nonlinear steady convection in rotating mushy layers—Journal of Fluid Mechanics. and S. 1315– 1325 (2002). D. Stewart and Flame (submitted) Dolbow. 2002 Oct.. E. 2002 Oct. Mixed oscillatory and stationary modes of convection—Journal of Fluid Mechanics (submitted) Vortex crystals—Advances in Applied Mathematics 39. Fried. Chemically induced swelling of hydrogels—Journal of the Mechanics and and H.. R. in press (2002) Date Jan. D. D. K. E. 2002 997 Aref. 2003 Oct. Hsia 1011 1012 1013 1014 1015 1016 1017 1018 Effect of turbulence on the drag and lift of a particle—Physics of Fluids (submitted) Influence of surface morphology on the adhesive strength of aluminum/epoxy interfaces—Journal of Adhesion Science and Technology (submitted) Carlson. 2098–2106 (2002) Gravity-induced segregation of cohesionless granular mixtures— Lecture Notes in Mechanics. 69–95 (2002) H. 2002 Feb. E. H. Fried. D. see also Virtual Journal of Nanoscale Science and Technology. 2003 Mar. P. R. N. and Computational studies of the effect of rotation on convection D. in press (2003) The totality of soft-states in a neo-classical nematic elastomer— Proceedings of the Royal Society A (submitted) Normal-stress differences and the detection of disclinations in nematic elastomers—Journal of Polymer Science B: Polymer Physics 40. S. I. 1008 Aref. 2002 Mar. and S. R. E. N. White 1001 Dolbow.. E. 2002 Oct. Sellers 1004 Fried. Aref Bhattacharjee... 2002 Feb. R. and R. J. Adrian 999 Riahi. Tortorelli Elasticity (submitted) Boyland. R. In situ poly(urea-formaldehyde) microencapsulation of M. Atlanta. in press (2002) Spanwise structure and scale growth in turbulent boundary layers—Journal of Fluid Mechanics (submitted) On nonlinear convection in mushy layers: Part 2. P.List of Recent TAM Reports (cont’d) No. J. 2002 Jan.. L. E. Kessler. R. P. J. 2002 Sept. Riahi during protein crystallization—Journal of Crystal Growth (submitted) Brown. Panat. M.. Microcapsule induced toughening in a self-healing polymer composite— S. H. Q. Georgia. N. May 12. R. Stremler. J. Authors Title The development of chaotic advection—Physics of Fluids 14. Vainchtein 1009 Bagchi. T. 11 March 2002 The velocity and acceleration signatures of small-scale vortices in turbulent channel flow—Journal of Turbulence. Fried. P. T. dicyclopentadiene—Journal of Microencapsulation (submitted) N. N. L. Tokieda. Balachandar 1010 Zhang. E. and S. 2002 Feb. and B. E. Stremler. R.... Shen 1002 Riahi. 2002 Oct. S. Todres 1005 Fried. 2003 Feb. and Journal of Materials Science (submitted) N.. C.. and A.

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