Steel Design


S.F. Stiemer


An overview of the fatigue process and behaviour of fatigue loading is given. Bolted connections in both tension and shear are discussed in detail with emphasis placed on the location of failure, fatigue design curves, influence of preloading, joint stiffness, and contact area. Anchor bolts are also briefly discussed. Design requirements as per CSA S16.199 and AISC LRFD-1999 are given. Various methods on how to minimize fatigue problems are presented.



Under certain conditions a material may fail due to the repeated application of loads that are not large enough to cause failure in a single application. This phenomenon is referred to as fatigue failure. The existence of fatigue failure implies that, under repeated stresses, materials undergo some internal progressive, permanent structural changes. Fatigue failures are often more dangerous than other typical failures because they generally occur suddenly, without significant prior deformations. Figure 1 shows a fatigue induced fracture surface. Fatigue failure in bolted connections is generally caused by repeated cycles of tension loading. Although failures under repeated cyclic compression loads are know, these are rare and will be ignored in this discussion.

Figure 1. Fracture surface of a typical paper clip broken by 6 cycles of repeated bending (80x).1



Fatigue failure will only occur if the following essential conditions are present: cyclic tensile loads, stress levels above a threshold value, fatigue susceptible material, and a flaw in the material. If these conditions are present, then the following events can occur, leading to fatigue failure (Figure 2): 1. Crack initiation 2. Crack growth 3. Crack propagation 4. Final rupture


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at which time a sudden failure occurs. depending on the characteristics of the material. The process of crack growth is repeated until the crack reaches some critical length. alloy content. in either a ductile or brittle manner.2 CRACK GROWTH As the part is subjected to cyclic tensile loads.1 2. These will act as the starting point of the crack.1 CRACK INITIATION Generally. a tool mark. or any point at which there is a sharp change in size or shape of the material. It would be safe to say that no connection is entirely free from defects of this type. Stiemer crack to propagate into the still undamaged material ahead of it. Micrograph of fatigue fracture. Slip occurs by the movement of dislocation – displacement of the atomic matrix. making it difficult to accurately determine. very high stresses occur at the crack tip (due to the stress concentrating effect of the sharp crack).F. corrosion. (3) propagation. Figure 2. location and magnitude of external tension loads. there is a lot of scatter in the fatigue life of a bolted connection. 2 2. The crack only propagates a finite distance in each loading cycle. with characteristic beach marks. but will eventually change direction until it is growing in a plane perpendicular to the principle tensile stress. Therefore. initial preload. This may often be due to a preexisting flaw in the material.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. and (4) rupture. 2. fatigue cracks will originate on a free surface at a point of high stress concentration in the material. The fatigue life of a bolt and connection depends a great deal on the location and magnitude of the initial crack. such as the root of a thread.3 CRACK PROPAGATION Fatigue cracks will propagate under shear and tensile loads. PAGE 2 OF 12 . this advance may by as much as 25 µ m/cycle. causing the 3/1/2011 Figure 3. as shown in Figure 3. the material around the stress concentrations undergoes a slip mechanism. During each tensile loading cycle. or perhaps a human made discontinuity.4 FINAL RUPTURE The crack grows more rapidly as stress levels increase. Fatigue sequence .1 The back stresses exerted on the material during unloading cause deformation markings often called striations or beach marks. but not under compressive loading since these cracks will close rather than open. 2. (2) growth. reverse slip on adjacent slip planes may lead to the formation of extrusions and intrusions at the surface. Initially the crack will grow along the slip plane.the stages of failure are: (1) initiation. Under cyclic loading. but more importantly on factors such as bolt and joint stiffness. heat treatment. etc.

F. fatigue failure will occur under highcycle loading. however. the material undergoes a definite fatigue limit. S-N Curve for varying magnitude of altering stress. Magnitude of stress excursions or variations. That is. the head-shank transition is also a stress concentration. However. 4. Other conditions such as corrosive environments and extreme temperatures also can affect the fatigue performance. At locations where two threads meet the stress concentrations can be even higher. at the runout of the thread and where the thread and nut first engages the thread of the bolt. In most well designed bolted joints.2 As Figure 4 shows. Shape of the connection. of a material refers to the number of repeated cycles of loading (N) that a material will undergo before it fails. the fewer number of loading cycles are required to cause failure. Stiemer 3 BEHAVIOUR OF FATIGUE LOADING The fatigue life.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. or endurance. 2. Fatigue data is most commonly presented in terms of S-N curves (maximum stress versus the number of cycles).e. 3. 1. Mean stress level. Figure 4. it is important to recognize that if the fastener is subjected to some other form of stress as well as tension. 3 4. Bolted connection loaded in tension. as shown in Figure 4. the general rule of thumb is that the higher the fatigue stress levels. its fatigue life will be adversely affected. Shear stress for example. 4 BOLTED CONNECTIONS LOADED IN TENSION A typical bolted connection loaded in tension is shown in Figure 5.1 LOCATION OF FAILURE The tread in a bolt acts as a notch and therefore a high stress concentration is caused at the root of the tread. PAGE 3 OF 12 3/1/2011 . would make it more susceptible to fatigue. Choice of material. i. as long as the applied stress is less than the fatigue limit. each resulting in a different S-N curve. The major factors in order of importance that affect fatigue life are: Figure 5. In addition. it may withstand infinite cycles of loading without failing. Although S-N curves are often produced based on tension loading along the axis of the fastener. There are many factors that will affect the fatigue life. N will depend on the particular set of loading conditions.

and thus no contact force on the facing surfaces of the flanges. and can be 2 to 4 times the mean value. there will be a variation of the force in the bolts and a corresponding displacement between the opposing flanges. The magnitude of the load excursion (∆ Fb) depends on: 1. has three possible fatigue crack initiation locations: a. ∆ Fb. applied to the joint. is illustrated for a flange connection in Figures 7 and 8. Stiemer A bolt and nut loaded axially. Also. The contacting thread faces of the bolt and nut will give rise to extra bending stresses in the threads. Runout of thread c. with the stresses being higher at the first thread of engagement. where there is tensile loading on the bolted connection. Therefore. Figure 7. (Figure 7). Normally. This will depend on the thread form. Flange connection with preloaded bolts.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. 3 This is due to the load transfer from nut to bolt. Figure 6.2 THE INFLUENCE OF PRELOAD AND JOINT STIFFNESS A bolt in a connection will see a portion of any external load. Axially loaded bolt with possible fatigue crack locations.F. Head-shank transition b. The connection can be considered to act as a two-spring system. as shown in Figure 6. 3 Where there is no preload. and differences in Young’s modulus where different materials are used. if fatigue cracks occur. The magnitude of the mean load on the bolt depends on the preload of the bolt. Whether or not the external tension load exceeds the critical load required to separate the joint (depends on the magnitude of the initial preload). Figure 8. the radius at the bolt-head shank transition is usually large enough to prevent fatigue cracks at this point. the external tensile force Ft applied on the connection will be transferred directly to the bolts. The magnitude of the external tension load. The bolt-to-joint stiffness ratio (Kb/Kj). 3 In standard bolts. Flange connection with non-preloaded bolts. 4. Thread at nut 3. The load transfer can become more uniform by plastic deformation of the bolt. 3/1/2011 PAGE 4 OF 12 . Fb. The effect of preloading. pitch. the load is unevenly distributed between the contacting faces of the bolt and nut. The thickness of the flange is assumed to be large enough to neglect bending flexibility and possible prying forces. 3 2. they will be located at the first engagement of the threads of the bolt and nut (point c in Figure 6).

leading to possible detrimental effects. therefore. 4. the external load applied to the bolts will change very little. the load in the bolts will increase rapidly as soon as the contact surfaces separate due to the external force surpassing the preload force Fv. (Note that the initial preload is the same in each case). When this has occurred the situation is equivalent to the non-preloaded case. contact forces are induced on the connecting surface. Inserting gaskets between the flanges will make the flange assembly more flexible. 2 Figure 10.F. Stiemer In the case with a preload force Fv. this force will initially be in equilibrium with the contact force Fc on the contact area of the flanges. The location of the developed contact forces will affect the fatigue life of the connection. As long as the external load Ft is below the preload force Fv the situation can be considered as a threespring system. however. more susceptible to bending. Using more washers or using spring washers will increase the bolt’s length. the bolts are tightened to the same preload. while Figure 11 shows the measured bolt forces with respect to an external load. But.3 THE INFLUENCE OF THE LOCATION OF THE CONTACT AREA When the bolts of the connection are subjected to a preload force. otherwise the location on the contact forces may become critical. the less force variation it will undergo. Flange connection with different location of contact forces. (Figure 8). As shown in the diagram.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. The effect of varying Fb and Kb /Kj ratios. These two flanges act like one as long as the external load Ft is less than the preload Fv. Figures 10 and 11 shows an example where the flange thickness is much smaller than in Figures 7 and 8 and is. A schematic model of the relevant spring system is shown in Figure 10. Only the elastic deformation of the two flanges will cause change in the bolt load. In this figure. are relatively stiff compared to the bolt area and therefore this effect is minimal. the increase in the external force is compensated largely by a decrease of the contact force Fc and small increases in the forces in the bolt Fb. thereby making the bolt more flexible. The amount of variation of the forces in the bolts due to the variation in the external load is dependent on the stiffness ratio of the flange and bolt (Figure 9). The more flexible the bolt. The flanges. The flange thickness must also be adequate to reduce bending flexibility. introducing shims develops contact forces. Figure 9. In both cases. 3 3/1/2011 PAGE 5 OF 12 . As a result.

there is effectively a very stiff spring in the middle compared to the two flexible springs representing the flexible bolts and flange edges.2 Contact Area at the End of Flanges When the contact force is located near the edge of the flanges.F.1 LOAD TRANSFER AND STRESS CONCENTRATION Non-Preloaded Bolts In the case of non-preloaded bolts. 5. Figure 11. and the force in the bolt plotted with a solid line.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. as shown in Figure 11b. Figure 12. the applied force is transferred via bearing between the plates and the shank of the bolt. 3 4.1 Contact Area at the Centre When the contact force is located in the centre. Stiemer In general the most favourable condition with respect to the fatigue resistance is to have the contact area as close as possible to where the tensile force is acting. These types of connections are inadequate for variable loads that change sign as significant displacements will occur due to the clearance between the hole and bolt shank.3. load is transferred from one piece to the other via cover plates.1 5. 4. (Dashed line represents FT.3. 3 5 BOLTED CONNECTIONS LOADED IN SHEAR A typical bolted connection loaded in shear is shown in Figure 13. Figure 10a. Measured bolt forces with respect to an external load. Different locations of contact area: Going from (a) to (c) the bolts will experience more load variation with the same variation of the external forces. This is shown in Figure 11a. Load transfer of this type is very concentrated at the location were the shank bears against the holes. as indicated in Figure 13a. the stiffness of the bolts is relatively large compared to the outer flange. and the variation of magnitude in the bolts will not be too great if the preload force is not exceeded.1. with the applied external tension force plotted in a dashed line. 3/1/2011 PAGE 6 OF 12 . Figure 10b. solid line represents FB). In these types of connections. This situation is very similar to having a relatively high Kb /Kj ratio. This is shown in Figure 12. This situation is very similar to having a very low Kb /Kj ratio. and as a result the variation of the external force will cause variation of the bolt forces of nearly equal magnitude.

3 3/1/2011 PAGE 7 OF 12 . Fatigue cracks will usually develop in the gross section of the plate (see Figure 14b). This is due to the fact that the load has been transferred to an area around the hole.1. Figure 13. the applied force is transferred by friction between the plate surfaces.F. 5.1 LOCATION OF FAILURE Non-Preloaded Bolts The crack will occur at the hole due to the large stress concentration. the stress concentrations do not generally occur near the hole. 5. Stiemer In these connections the stress is concentrated around the hole. 5.2. it too will experience high stress concentrations. High Strength Friction Grip Bolts (HSFG) are used to obtain the necessary compressive stresses between the plates to enable the load to be transferred by friction. If this type of connection is used. These types of connections can be used when the variable load changes sign.2. (Figure 14a).Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. The load is transferred over a large area around the bolt (Figure 14b). The contact pressure decreases radially from the hole.2 Pre-Loaded Bolts In the case of non-preloaded bolts. were the contact pressure is not high enough to prevent slip.2 Preloaded Bolts When the bolts are preloaded. the threaded part of the bolt should not be located in the shear plane. as the notch effect could drastically reduce the fatigue resistance. Since the bolt shank is also loaded in bearing. Another potential failure location could be in the bolt as a result of the variable shear load applied to the shank at the shear plane. In fact the stresses may even be less than the nominal stresses. and therefore the load transfer is not as great as in the non-preloaded bolt case. For preloaded-bolts there are no stress concentration at the hole.2 5. Example of a bolted connection loaded in shear. (Figure 14a).

Another important factor that must be taken into account is the effect of prying action.F. This method is adopted in many design codes PAGE 8 OF 12 3/1/2011 . the fatigue lives were almost identical as normal bolts. Canadian and American design codes provide information for fatigue failure of gross plate crosssections. the gross section of the plate can be used for calculating fatigue stresses. 3 The way the bolt is formed also affects the fatigue resistance. but none is available for failure of a bolt shank in shear. Test results have shown that the bolt diameter and the thread size do not influence fatigue behaviour. 7 PREDICTING FATIGUE LIFE Figure 14. This is due to the residual compressive stresses that are formed when the bolt has been rolled. More nuts can substantially increase the connection’s resistance. Both should be checked against relevant design curves. since the failure does not occur near the holes. essentially they all involve the concept of the gradual accumulation of damage during the process of cyclic loading. The number of nuts also affects fatigue performance. The linear cumulative damage is based on specific S-N data for each particular specimen type. there are two possible failures – the shank of the bolts and the gross section of the plate. Anchor bolts with rolled threads perform better than those with cut threads. which acts as a potential point of stress concentration. which will increase the applied force. However. 3 There are several methods for predicting fatigue life.3 FATIGUE DESIGN CURVE FOR BOLTS IN SHEAR In the case of non-preloaded bolts. Stiemer 5. The two most common methods are based on linear cumulative damage. Also. In the case of preloaded bolts. cut threads leave a sharp notch at the location of thread termination.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. Stress and possible crack location of a bolted connection loaded in shear. and the Palmgren Miner’s Rule. the bolts themselves will not fail provided that the pre-load is sufficient to prevent slip in the connection. The plates fall into the same design category as in the non-preloaded case. 6 ANCHOR BOLTS Anchor bolts have some different fatigue resistance characteristics in comparison to the normal bolts that have been discussed thus far.

the designer only needs to consider regions that are subjected to tensile stresses or stress reversals. Figure 15 shows the allowable stress range versus the number of stress cycles for each category. only variable and impact loads contribute to the stress range. Further.1 CSA S16. The code states that fatigue is generally not a design consideration for buildings such as commercial or residential. Compressive stress regions may be ignored.1-94. including adjustment for the number of stress range cycles for each passage of load γ = fatigue life constant pertaining to the detail category [Table 4(a)] PAGE 9 OF 12      nN  γ 3/1/2011 .1-94 FATIGUE REQUIREMENTS4 Fatigue requirements are addressed in Section 14 of the CSA S16.0 the connection has not failed in fatigue. A formatted spreadsheet has also been developed to implement the fatigue requirements of these codes. for example may also be susceptible to fatigue. other structures such as amusement rides and sign supports. and added for each stress cycle. Figure 15. CSA fatigue resistances for categories A to E1 CSA S16. which are discussed in a later section. the existing number of stress cycles n i are divided by the allowed number of stress cycles Ni.1-94 The fatigue life of a detail is inversely proportional to the cube of the stress range for values above the constant threshold stress range. emphasis is placed on fatigue cracks that result from live load effects and those that result in local distortions. The detail is considered to be satisfactory in fatigue if the applied stress range is less than that corresponding to the expected number of cycles of loading for the design life of the structure. Stiemer including the Canadian CSA S16. such as crane girders. When carrying out the fatigue resistance analysis. as shown below. Fatigue design in this specification is based on experimental data in which various fatigue susceptible details were tested to develop corresponding S-N curves. The Palmgren Miner rule is used to determine the level of fatigue damage. If this total is less than 1. f sr ≥ F sr 1 3Fs r ≥ Fs rt 2 F sr fsr = calculated stress range at the detail due to the passage of the fatigue load Fsr = fatigue resistance. However.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S.1-94 and American AISC LRFD-1999. In the calculation procedure. It is also important to determine the number of cycles to which a detail may be subjected. for which fatigue is a design consideration. Details are assigned to one of eight stress range categories (A to E1). Appendix K illustrates various details and gives some guidance on how to assign a detail to a category.F. When looking at the fatigue limit state. Miner’s rule follows the expression: 7. industrial buildings may have members.

there are additional requirements given for bolts and threaded parts.F.1-94. FTH.9 x 108 (as for category E’). we can see that the code gives very little guidance on how to check a bolted connection for fatigue resistance. the maximum range of tensile stress on the net tensile area from applied axial load and moment plus load due to prying action shall not exceed the design stress range computed using the equation above. (Note all calculations shown are in SI units). the fatigue life of a detail is inversely proportional to the cube of the stress range for values above the constant threshold stress range. The detail is considered to be satisfactory on fatigue if the applied stress range is less than that corresponding to the expected number of cycles of loading for the design life of the structure. (MPa) Cf = Constant [Table A-K3.3. Although the AISC LFD does provide a little more guidance than the CSA S16. the maximum range of stress in the connected material at service loads shall not exceed the design stress computed using the equation given above. however. The considered stress range is defined as “the magnitude of the change in stress due to the application or removal of the unfactored live load.2 F SR ≥ F TH 1 3 F SR AISC LRFD-1999 FATIGUE REQUIREMENTS5 Fatigue requirements are addressed in Section K3 of the AISC LRFD1999. (MPa) FTH = threshold fatigue stress range. Stiemer n = number of stress range cycles at given detail passage of the moving load [Table 4(b)] N = number of passages of the moving load Fsrt = constant amplitude threshold stress range [Table 4(a)] For the fatigue resistance of high strength tension bolts. From reviewing the detail categories given in Appendix K. and threaded anchor bolts with cut.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S.” 5 No evaluation of fatigue resistance is required if the live load stress range is less than the threshold stress range. The net tensile area for metric bolts is given as: At π 4 P ( db − 0. common bolts. The AISC fatigue criteria are very similar to those found in CSA S16. maximum stress range for indefinite design life [Table A-K.1] N = number of stress range fluctuations in design life = number of stress range fluctuations per day x 365 x years of design life The AISC LRFD also has additional requirements for bolts and threaded parts. (mm/thread) db = nominal diameter (body or shank diameter). As in the CSA S16.1]. In the case of a stress reversal. or if the number of cycles of application of live load is less than 2 x 104. . The threshold stress. the designer must also consider any prying action and the relative stiffness of the connected parts. FSR = design stress range. (mm) When dealing with bolts and threaded parts. ground or rolled threads. Fth shall be taken as 48 MPa (as for category D). the stress range shall be computed as the numerical sum of maximum repeated tensile and compressive stresses or the numerical sum of maximum shearing stresses of opposite direction at the point of probable crack initiation. as shown below. For mechanically fastened connections loaded in shear.1-94. For high-strength bolts. the code requires that the bolts are tensioned to the required pre-load and that prying action is considered.1-94. it still does not adequately take into account all of the 3/1/2011 PAGE 10 OF 12 . 7. It is left up to the designer to use his/her judgement.9382 ) 2  C f ⋅ 327    N  P = pitch. The factor Cf shall be taken as 3.

the fatigue life can be seriously affected.2 Anything that can be done to minimize corrosion will reduce the possibilities of crack initiation and/or crack growth and will. thereby helping to reduce the tensile load excursions. an elliptical fillet. Figure 16. for example. It has been suggested that a taper of 15o should be used to minimize stress concentrations at this critical point (Figure 17). which acts as a compressive preload. Some of these situations are shown in Figure 16. and at the thread run-out.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. stresses above an endurance limit. extend fatigue life. therefore. Stiemer effects. Rolling treads instead of cutting them provides a smother thread finish (fewer initial cracks). Many of these are incorporated in ‘fatigue resistant fasteners’.2 Bolts under tension see stress concentrations at the head-to-shank fillet. first threads to engage the nut. 3/1/2011 PAGE 11 OF 12 . 8 MINIMIZING FATIGUE PROBLEMS There are many steps that a designer can take to minimize fatigue related problems. is better than a circular one. The exact shape is also important. Thread run-out should be gradual.F.2 Increasing the radius of a circular fillet will also help If the face of the nut. 2 Figure 17. The rolling process induces a residual compressive stress in the bolts. 8.1 MINIMIZING STRESS LEVELS The following are just a few of the steps that a designer can take to minimize stress levels. the undersides of the bolt head. left to the designers to use their professional judgment. It is. which may influence the fatigue life of a bolted connection. Each of these is related to the conditions that are necessary for fatigue to occur: cyclic tensile loads. In general. a susceptible material. which are available from some fastener manufacturers. Anything that may impose additional loading to these regions will be detrimental. and/or joint surface are not perpendicular to the thread axis and the boltholes. A generous fillet between the head and shank will reduce stress concentrations.2 The thread run-out should be gradual rather than abrupt. most of the steps that we can take are intended to reduce stress levels (and concentrations) and/or to reduce the load excursion seen by the bolt. therefore. Joints should be designed so that maximum loads do not fall on stress concentration points of the fastener. and an initial flaw.

1997. duration of the varying load. Handbook of Steel as the failure happens suddenly without prior warning. the designer may make the connection less prone to fatigue failure.kuleuven. so that the load excursions and external loads will be seen by the joint and not the bolt will reduce fatigue problems. 3 Nothing can help extend the fatigue life of a bolt or joint more dramatically than a reduction in load variations. By minimizing stress levels or reducing load variations. This may be relatively accurate for normal steel members or welded connections. It will greatly help to correctly identify and apply the maximum safe preload that the joint can withstand. Chris Meisl for the CIVL510 course in 2003. 1999. determine if the applied stress range is within the desired limit for a required number of load cycles. Load and Resistance Factor Design Specification for Steel Buildings.F. fastener geometry. An Introduction to the Design and Behaviour of Bolted Joints. November 2003. Flanges. These codes provide a method that is based on experimental testing to American Institute of Steel Construction. 4 9 CONCLUSIONS Canadian Institute of Steel Construction. CISC. and undercut nut and bolt head used to improve stress distribution. 2nd Edition. REFERENCES Figure 18. CISC. 1998.1-94 and American AISC LRFD-1999 design codes.2 8. Gray R. relative stiffness of the bolt and joint and the contact area. 10 CREDITS The text above has been based on a term project done by Mr. The Science and Technology of Civil Engineering Materials. The fatigue life of the connection depends on many factors including: the magnitude of the varying applied load. which. 1990. dished. and Bentur A. however.htm. It occurs in areas were the applied stress is cyclic and tensile in nature. Mindess S. Bolted connections are commonly used in both tension and shear. Designing to withstand fatigue related failures are addressed in both the Canadian CSA S16. it does not adequately address bolted connections. 7nd Edition. 5 Fatigue failure of bolted connections is a serious problem in steel structures. Minimizing the bolt-to-joint stiffness ratio. can greatly reduce stress concentrations and. and where there is a stress concentration.. preloading of the bolt. each with varying fatigue characteristics. because of its geometry. 3/1/2011 PAGE 12 OF 12 . (as well as proper location of contact forces). Prentice Hall: 152-175. as there are numerous connection types that do not fall under a prescribed design category.Steel Design FATIGUE FAILURE OF BOLTED CONNECTIONS S. therefore increase the fatigue life of the connection. It is therefore up to the designers to use their judgment or undergo further rigorous analysis in order to determine if the connection is adequate to resist fatigue. Bickford J.2 REDUCING LOAD VARIATIONS 2 1 Young J. http://www. Stiemer Figure 18 shows a proposed fastener. Marcel Dekker: 467-494.