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Acta 13, 639-643 (1974) I

From the Hungarian Institute for Building Science, Budapest (Hungary)

Failure process of concrete under fatigue loading

By L. B e r e s
With 5 figures

1. Subject of paper
The paper deals with the behaviour of concrete under
cyclically repeated central pressure. It presents, on the
basis of experimental results, the character of physical
changes in the macrostructure of the concrete, due to
fatigue loading, as weil as the most important feature of
the investigated phenomenon: the mechanism of the
concrete fatigue. On the basis of the testing method it
discusses also both the changes of strain properties and
strength of the concrete, as a function of the number of
load cycles.
2. Basic hypothesis and investigation method
It is weil known that concrete (alike other solid
materials) deteriorates also under a stress lower
than its initial strength, as a result of a eertain
number of cyclic loadings. This phenomenon
is called concrete fatigue. The basic hypothesis
(to be verified later) of the investigation is that:
1. Concrete fatigue is not a sudden qualitative
change of the material, but the gradual destruction of the concrete structure. Parallel with this
process, as a consequence, both the strain properties and the strength of concrete change.
2. The speed of the fatigue process is determined by the intensity of the repeated loading
and the number of load-cycles.
On the basis of theories of failure of brittle
materials it can be stated that the starting point,
the source of the fatigue failure is always to be
attributed to the inhomogeneity, structural
defects of the material.
The majority of results obtained so far in connection with fatigue phenomena is founded on
the testing of metals. So the most acceptable and
most complete explanation of fatigue was given
so far by the dislocation theory.
Concrete is, however, in view of its structure,
much more inhomogeneous than metals. The
fundamental reason for this inhomogeneity is
the concrete being a conglomerate of materials
of different features. The character of the in-

(Received October 27, 1973)

homogeneity and hence also the types of defect

sources differ essentially in respect of various
(macroscopic, microscopic and submicroscopic)
' depths" of the concrete structure investigations.
The basic hypothesis of our research work is
that the fatigue deterioration of concrete is determined fundamentally by macroscopic sources
of defects. The connection between coarse aggregate and cement mortar, and mainly discontinuities of this connection, as weil as in a smaller
degree the shrinkage cracks of cement mortar
play here an important part. [This assumption
is based on our (1, 2) and other authors' expermental results (3, 4, 5), related to concrete deterioration induced by short-time loading.] Fro'm
the above basic hypothesis a testing method
can be obviously derived for the indication of the
degree of structural deteriorations (damages).
The macroscopic deterioration of concrete
appears namely in every case as a discontinuity
at critical points, or rather as a development
of the earlier cracks, i. e. as an increase of the
holes found in the structure. The task is to
determine the volume of holes in the concrete
specimen subjected to fatigue loading. Measuring the surface deformations, interrupting from
time to time the cyclic loading, and determining
from this the volumetric changes, we obtain the
quantity sought for: the permanent changes of
hole volume.
The other testing method adopted during our
research work is based on the assumption of a
close correlation between state of internal
structure and strength. The main point of this
method is to load concrete bodies with a given
intensity by various numbers of load cycles:
hereupon their strength is determined. These
strength values, related to the initial condition
(without pre-loading) characterize weil the degree
of changes in the concrete structure.



Rheolo9ica Acta, I/ol. 13, No. 3 (1974)

3. Tests based




A series of tests has been carried out to investigate older (about 1 year old) specimens of
10 cm x 10 cm x 40 cm size in order to preclude
the influence of afterhardening. The concrete
has been composed using 372 kg/m 3 Portlandcement and Danubian sand-gravel of max. 20 mm
size. The value of the water/cement ratio
amounted to 0.50. The short-time strength of
the concrete prisms was at the beginning of fatigue
testing between 410 and 455 kg/cm 2.
During fatigue testing the minimum concrete
stress induced by load cycles was 30 kg/cm 2 for
every specimen. The maximum stress varied for
the individual specimens between 43 and 93%
of the short-time strength. The frequency of the
loading apparatus was 500 cycles/min. Specimen
deformations have been measured by 6cm
long electric strain gauges.
Characteristic types of diagrams, indicating
the relations between volumetric changes belonging to minimum stress and the number of load
cycles are shown in fig. 1. Here the curves 1 - 4
correspond to the parameter of a 1 > a 2 >
aa > a4 stress maxima.
By means of the investigation of individual
curves we also obtained an answer regarding
character and reasons of changes, induced by
fatigue loading.
volume chenge
0 = at"2trons


83 min

)me 6~.


n u m b e r of cycles

Fig. 1 vide text


The specimen, subjected to maximum stress,

shows from the first load cycles on an intensive
volume increase (structural loosening), and so the
deterioration results very quickly, after some
(or several hundred) cycles of load.
In the initial phase Of the loading pr0cess, at
lower stress maxima a volume decrease
(structural compaction) can always be observed.
With the reduction of stress level, however, the
ratio of the compaction period to the entire
useful life time gradually increases. For curve 3,
however, although the loosening process has
begun, there is no possibility at all for full
deterioration, in consequence of the technical
upper limit of the highest number of cycles
(1-2 millions), i.e. the stopping of the investigation.
Independently of this, curves 2 and 3 show
processes of identical character, developing,
however, during different periods of time (numbers of load cycles).
For curve 4 of volumetric change, resulting
under minimum stress, only the phase of volume
reduction (compaction) can be indicated. It
is presumable that in the case of certain not too
low stress level maxima intensive loosening
begins with the increase of the number of loadcycles, followed by real deterioration. In this case
it becomes obvious that the character of the
curve is identical with curves 2 and 3. On the
basis of test data obtained till now, however, it
is not possible to state whether a real stress level
actually exists, at which structural deterioration,
inducing rupture of the concrete specimen do
not come into being, not even in the case of a
theoretically infinite large number of load cycles.
So the individual curves fundamentally differ
from one another regarding the place of their
minima. This point can be called the beginning
of the intensive structural decomposition. The
beginning of the intensive structural loosening
and the state of full deterioration of the specimen
- on the basis of above explanation - can be given
as the function of stress maximum of fatigue load
and the number of load cycles.
Fig. 2 shows the approximative presentation
of this relationship. Assuming a linear relation
between the maximum stress level, pertaining to
the beginning of loosening, resp. to that of deterioration, and the logarithm of the number of
load cycles, the straight lines have been determined on the basis of the minimum meansquare error from our test data.

Bres, Failure process o f concrete under fatigue loadin 9


Potsson's ratio

maximum stress-level


~ _


~ i

B stress-level

fatigue limit




I- 4

]s o.63



O.,o., ~~,~~1~~~~



,i ........:


10 2

10 ~


I0 ~


~! = ~

I0 6

I0 ~

n u m b e r of cycles

oT --[ . . . . .


F- q-~

tO 2

I0 ~

7-~I0 ~
I s


of cycles

Fig. 3 vide text


Fig. 2 vide text

We may obtain very useful information also
through the investigation of the quotient of
transversal and longitudinal strains, i.e. of
Poisson's ratio of cyclic load (v), resulting from
repeated loading (see fig. 3). By the initial
value of about 0.35 v it has been proved that
strains due to fatigue load effects are mainly of
viscous character. The corresponding 0.5 value
decreases in consequence of delayed elastic
strains and initial structure compaction to the
measured value. The increase of Poisson's ratio

beyond a certain number of cycles, depending

on the load intensity, refers to structure
loosening. It can be attributed to this that prior
to the rupture much greater values of the
Poisson's ratio than 0.5 can also be found.
4. Tests based on the investigation of strength
Specimens and testing conditions corresponded to those described above. Only the
quality of the concrete was different from the
lormer one. (Cement content 200 kg/m3; water/
cement ratio: 0.73.)

relofive strength
R ~







oo:, ooo







?= S~,r2

,=Ar',g~- ]

Fig. 4 vide text


Rheologica Acta, Vol. 13, No. 3 (1974)


In the course of the investigation about 100

specimens have been subjected to cyclic fatigue
loads of various intensities. Each group of specimens has been loated up to a number of cycles
of 15000, 100000, and 700000 and then static
short-time strength of the specimens has been
The quotient of the strength of specimens
(specific change of strength: r=R/Ro), preloaded to various cycle numbers (R) and that of
specimens without pre-loading (Ro) has been
plotted in fig. 4, as a function of stress level I-i.e.
the quotient s = O'max/Ro)of the stress m a x i m u m
of cyclic load and the strength of specimens
without pre-loading]. The diagram also shows
the curves of approximate polynomes describing the strength changes of the specimens preloaded to the same number of cycles.
According to these curves the cyclic load
results in an increase of strength in the lower
stress ranges and mainly at low cycle numbers.
This can be explained by the initial compaction
of the concrete structure. With the increase of
the number of load cycles, however, the stress
range inducing strength increase will be gradually
In higher stress ranges, however, a reduction
of strength can be observed after relatively few
load cycles already, indicating a very early
beginning of deterioration of the concrete
Fig. 5 shows the effective strength change of
concrete due to cyclic load, with contour lines,
on the basis ofour tests, as function o ~ h e logarithm
moximurn stress-leve[



fotigue limit

# - -


,/~/ r =O.7


_r=l.05 "

~x r=0.95

= r~a~

r = 1.01

I0 ~


Fig. 5 vide text


IO s

number of cycles

106 n

of the cycle number of preloading (lgn), as well

as of the stress level (max/R0).

The investigations proved that fatigue deterioration
of compressed concrete is caused by the gradual destruction and loosening of the concrete structure.
It has been proved that changes induced by cyclic loading in the concrete structure can be well described qualitatively by means of the strains, resp. the volumetric
changes of specimens, as well as by means of its change
of strength.
In consequence of the fatigue load the concrete volume
initially decreases (structure compression), and then it
increases (structure loosening); the rupture occurs at a
volume greater than in unloaded condition (thus in
considerably loosened condition). The limit of the compaction and the loosened state may be given by the cycle number referring to the maximum of volumetric change. This
cycle number can be regarded asthe characteristic value
of the fatigue process.
The ratio of the duration of the compaction and the
loosening state within the entire useful life time varies
depending on the stress level. In extreme cases, hence
at lower stress (at least to the investigated cycle number)
only a compaction state, but at a stress level near to the
shorttime strength only a loosening state can be observed.
The value of Poisson's ratio, computed from transversal and longitudinal strains, induced by repeated
loading of concrete, is initiallyobetween 0.3-0.4. This
value indicates a viscous and slightly delayed elastic
character of the strain. This value may be reduced by
the initial compaction of the structure, but it is vigorously
increased by the loosening prior to failure.
The tests proved also that the strength for a given
cycle number of a concrete subjected to repeated
loading is in close correlation with the structural state
at a given point of time. The structural compaction,
regarding its tendency, is connected with the increase
of strength; its loosening, however, is connected with
the decrease of strength.
As a result of structural deterioration induced by cyclic
loading the actual fatigue (failure) limit is preceded by a
considerable range of reduced strength.

Die Untersuchungen zeigen, da der Ermdungsbruch des unter Druck stehenden Betons durch die
fortschreitende Zerstrung des Betongefges hervorgerufen wird.
Es wird bewiesen, da die im Betongerge unter dem
Einflu zyklischer Belastungen sich vollziehenden Vernderungen mit Hilfe der Deformationen bzw. der
Volumennderungen des Probekrpers sowie durch
seine Festigkeitsnderung qualitativ gut beschreibbar
Unter wiederholter Belastung nimmt das Betonvolumen zuerst ab (Gefgeverdichtung), anschlieend
aber wieder zu (Gefgeauflockerung), und der Bruch
erfolgt erst beim Erreichen eines Betonvolumens,
welches grer ist als im unbelasteten Zustand, d.h.
im Zustand einer starken Auflockerung. Der Grenzzustand zwischen Verdichtung und Auflockerung lt

Bres, Failure process of concrete under fati9ue loadin9

sich mit der zur maximalen Volumennderung gehrenden Zyklenzahl bestimmen. Diese kann als
Kennzahl fr den Ermdungsvorgang betrachtet werden.
Das Verhltnis der Zeitdauern von Verdichtungsund Aufloekerungsvorgang ist von der Intensitt der
Beanspruchung abhngig. In den Extremfllen, also
bei niedriger Belastung ist (wenigstens bis zur untersuchten Zyklenzahl) nur der Verdichtungsvorgang,
dagegen im Falle einer Beanspruchungsintensitt in
der Nhe der kurzfristigen Belastbarkeit nur der Auflockerungsvorgang beobachtbar.
Die Poisson-Zahl des Betons - berechnet aus den
durch die zyklischen Belastungen verursachten Querund Lngsdeformationen - liegt zu Anfang zwischen
0,3 und 0,4. Ein solcher Wert deutet darauf, da eine
viskose und nur wenig elastisch verzgerte Formnderung vorhanden ist. Dieser Wert kann durch die
erst erfolgende Verdichtung des Gefges vermindert,
durch die anschlieende Auflockerung des Gefges
vor dem Bruch dagegen wesentlich erhht werden.
Die Untersuchungen beweisen auch, da die Festigkeit des periodisch belasteten Betons bei einer bestimmten Zyklenzahl eng mit dem Gefgezustand zu dem
betreffenden Zeitpunkt korreliert ist. Als Tendenz ist
erkennbar, da die Verdichtung des Gefges mit einer
Festigkeitszunahme und seine Auflockerung mit einer
Festigkeitsabnahme verbunden ist.
Als Folge der Gefgezerstrung durch die zyklische
Belastung gibt es schon vor der effektiven Ermdungs-


grenze (Bruchgrenze) ein Bereich mit wesentlich verringerter Festigkeit.

1) Bres, L., RILEM Bulletin, New Series, No. 36,
pp. 185-190 (1967).
2) Bres, L., Relationship ofDeformational Processes
and Structure Changes in Concrete. Structure, Solid
Mechanics and Engineering Design. The Proceedings of
the Southampton 1969 Civil Engineering Materials Conference, pp. 6434551.
3) Bennet, E. W. and N. K. Raju, Cumulative Fatigue
Damage of Plain Concrete in Compression. Structure,
Solid Mechanics and Engineering Design. The Proceedings of the Southampton 1969 Civil Engineering Materials
Conference. pp. 1089-1102.
4) Shah, S. P. and S. Chandra, ACI Journal, Proceedings 67, No. 4, p. 816 (1970).
5) Antrim, J. D., The Mechanism of Fatigue in
Cement Paste and Plain Concrete. Highway Research
Record, No. 210, pp. 95-107 (1967).

Author's address:
Dr. L. Bres
Hungarian Institute for Building Science
David F. u. 6
Budapest XI (Hungary)

Fr die Schriftleitung verantwortlich: Dr. W. Meskat, 5090 Leverkusen, Mhlenweg 90 a

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