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Blodgett's Basics

Don't Design with Yonp Heart


ll too often, engineers assutne

something must be true
underlying prineiples involved.
Deep down in their hearts, they
intuitively "know" something to be
true and. when this is the case, they
are unlikely to question the
assumption. After all, it is "obvious"
and '"true." That is what I call
"designing with your heart."
As a way of thinking about this
kind of situation, let's consider
a hypothetical example: the
cantilevered tubular assembly
shown in Figure I. To keep things
Figure 1
simple, we will state that the only
forces involved were those that
result from the weight of the tube.
The initial assembly was made of a low strength,
mild steel. When completed, the assembly deflected
excessively. A seemingly obvious solution might be
to make an identical replacement, but fabricate it
from a high strength, low alloy steel. However, if
we were to do this, we would fmd that the deflection
is identical. Why? Because the material property
that governs deflection is the modulus of elasticity
(E), and it is the same for alt steels, regardless of

A =


w ^ the weight per length ofthe tubtilar steeJ
L = length of the tube
E = modulus of elasticity of steel
(i.e., 30x10''psi)
I = moment of inertia.

The moment of inertia (I) for a circular section for

Since the weight of the tube is causing the
deflection, we might decide to try again, this time which the wall thickness is small can be found from
making the assembly out of the higher strength the following:
steel, but with a thinner wail thickness. We are
I - t7ir3
assuming that the decrease in thickness will reduce
the weight and accordingly reduce the deflection.
Alas, we will find that the results, again, are
essentially the same. Why? Because the resistance
t = the thickness ofthe tube wall
to deflection is governed by the properties of the
r = the radius ofthe tube.
cross section, the moment of inertia (I), which for
Finally, to get the weight per length of the tube,
the circular tube decreases simultaneously and
proportionally to the reduction in the wall thickness. the following relationship can be used:
Some simple engineering equations and
w = 2Tcrt5
mathematics could have helped us to cut through all
the emotion with cold, hard facts. We eould have
predicted the deflection of the tubular assembly
hefore anything was built by applying the following
5 = density of steel.


April 2007


Figure 2

Figure 3

Combining these relationships, one obtains the

A This simple calculation shows why all three
approaches would have had the same deflection (A).
With the density (5), length (L) and modulus (E) all
fixed, the only variable remaining is the tube radius
(r). Thus., the only way to limit the deflection is to
increase the diameter of the tube (i.e., increase the
radius "r"). Fortunately, since this term is squared, a
small increase in the radius will significantly reduce
the deflection.
Our hearts may tell us otherwise, but the cold hard
mathematical facts reveal the truth a truth that
eould and should be known before anything is
Now, for a real-life case example. Many years ago
when I was selling for Lincoln Electric, I called on a
company that made machines that were used to pack
salmon into cans. The machine operated at a high
speed and incorporated a pivoting lever that was
made of cast steel (see Figure 2). When the machine
was operating, the lever was subject to high forces
of inertia that caused the machine to hind. Slowing
the operating speed of the machine elitninated the

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binding but hampered production. On

the day I arrived, the designer was
modifying the pattern for the cast
steel part to permit the lever to be
made of lighter weight aluminum
When I asked the engineer to
explain the intent hehind the change
in material, he explained that the
machine was binding because the
lever was deflecting excessively due
to the forces of inertia. Those forces
were due to the rapid deceleration of
the lever, and he believed that
reducing the mass of the lever would
cause the forces to be reduced. Sinee
F = ma. and since the density of
aluminum is approximately one third
that of steel, the mass (m) would be
decreased, and the force (F) would also be reduced
to about one third of what was experienced with the
steel lever. In his heart, the engineer knew this
would solve the binding problem. Or, as 1 like to
say, the engineer was "madly in love with the low
density of aluminum."
Unfortunately, he had failed to recognize that with
the change to aluminum, another material property
was also being changed, namely the modulus of
elasticity (E). As we showed in the example of the
cantilevered beam, it is the modulus of elasticity
that stiffens a member. So while the driving force
would be reduced with an aluminum lever, the
resistance to the force would be proportionately
reduced as well. The ehange from cast steel to
aluminum would produce no benefit. Again,
engineering equations and mathematics provided the
cold., hard facts to challenge one's heart.
If the load caused by inertia is estimated to
increase linearly from zero at the pivot to a
maximum value at the end, and if L represents the
half length of the lever (i.e., the distance from the
pivot to the pinned end), then the deflection of the
lever can be estimated from the following



Blodgett's Basics


Density (5)

Modulus of
Elasticity (E)

Ratio of density
to modulus

Ratio of 6/E to
that of steel
















Table 1

where W is the total inertial force. Since W ^ (fL)/2

, and f ^ mA (where A is the cross-sectional area of
the lever), then the following estimate of deflection
due to deceleration is obtained:

Table 1 summarizes the material properties,

comparing those of the original cast steel lever to
those of the proposed ahiminum lever. Magnesium
has been added for comparison. The table shows
that 5/E is essentially the same for all three
materials. Thus, a change in material would not
A =
The only way to reduce the deflection of the lever
Since acceleration (a) and the length (L) are fixed, was to reduce A/l, or using the inverse, to maximize
then the deflection is proportional to the cross- I/A. The challenge therefore, was to reduce A more
sectional area (A) and the density (6), and inversely than 1 was reduced. As shown in Figure 3, holes
proportional to the modulus of elasticity (E) and the were created in the lever, reducing the cross
moment of inertia (I). Two of these are related to the sectional area A more than the moment of inertia I
section (A and I) and two are material related (5 and was reduced.
E). To reduce deflection due to inertial loads, either
So the moral of our story is: "Don't design with
5/E or A/I or both must be reduced.
your heart."


Omer W. Blodgett. ScD,, P.E.. senior design consultant with The Lincoln Electric Co.. struck hi.s first arc
on hi.\ grandfalher 's welder at the age often. He is the
author of Design of Welded Structures and Design of
Weldments, and an internationally recognized expert
in the field of weld design. In 1999. Blodgett was
named one of the "Top 125 People of the Past 125
Years " bv Engineering News Record. Blodgett may he
reached at (216) 383-2225.

April 2007