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PAPER SERIES 2004-01-0782

Evaluation of a Multi-Leaf Hybrid Springs for

Automotive Suspensions
Gary Leevy and Khoa Cao
Visteon Corporation

Reprinted From: CAD/CAM/CAE Technology and Design Tools


2004 SAE World Congress

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March 8-11, 2004

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Evaluation of a Multi-Leaf Hybrid Springs for Automotive

Gary Leevy and Khoa Cao
Visteon Corporation

Copyright © 2004 SAE International


The fundamentals of multi-leaf spring design as BASIC THEORY

determined through beam theory offers a general
perspective on how finite element analysis works. Although, finite element analysis will determine the
Additionally, the fundamentals of combining dissimilar behaviors of contact verse non-contact, it is important to
materials require a basic knowledge of how the capture the basic fundamentals. Multi-leaf spring
combined equivalent modulus affects the overall analysis relies on basic beam theory, where each leaf in
stiffness characteristics of multi-leaf design. By the system can be idealized into a diamond shape
capturing these basic fundamentals into finite element relative to the leaf spring width and length as shown in
modeling, an analysis of a steel-composite multi-leaf Figure 1.0. The theory ties load to displacement relative
contact model relative to an idealized steel-composite to the elastic stiffness of the spring system [1].
multi-leaf model shows the importance of contact
modeling. The results demonstrate the important
differences between an idealized non-contact model
relative to a complete contact model.


Typically, leaf spring designs find their greatest

application within the automotive industry. Most leaf
spring applications are comprised of a multi-leaf system
found primarily in rear suspensions. Since the stiffness-
to-strength relationship within a multi-leaf system, along
with weight are important considerations in spring
design, then leaf springs made of different materials
such as composite materials will offer significant
advantages. In particular a hybrid spring that utilizes a
steel-composite combination addresses the weight
criteria while maximizing stiffness-to-strength. However,
evaluating a multi-leaf system requires understanding
the effects of more than one material type (such as
composite epoxy-glass and steel), along with the Figure 1.0 Leaf Spring Idealized Diamond Form
behavior of more than one leaf. Through finite element
modeling, an analysis of a hybrid steel-composite multi-
leaf spring system (i.e., comprised of one steel primary Deflection
leaf and one tapered composite epoxy-glass support
leaf) will demonstrate the importance of contact The resulting deflection from simple beam theory, R =
modeling verses idealized non-contact modeling (i.e., a EI/M for leaf springs [1]:
single finite model where each leaf makes up one single
leaf). The results will reflect spring rate, stresses, and 3PL3
strains. δ = (1.0)
8Enbt 3
where, Eeq = Equivalent Modulus
E = Elastic Modulus
δ = Deflection I = Inertia
P = Load
L = Length When the width remains constant then the equivalent
E = Elastic Modulus modulus becomes,
n = Number of leafs
b = Width of leaf
t = Thickness Eeq =
∑ Et 3
∑t 3

Spring Rate
If load is written in terms of the function of deflection,
P = f(δ) then the slope of the curve defines the spring Eeq = Equivalent Modulus
rate: E = Elastic Modulus
t = Thickness
Ks = (2.0)
δ The proposed finite element model consists of one steel
primary leaf and one composite epoxy-glass tapered
leaf. The following solution demonstrates the significance
where, of an equivalent modulus. Since the finite element
model will have the same width, then equation (5.0)
Ks = Spring Rate applies for this example. The geometric and material
P = Load properties for each leaf are as follows:
δ = Deflection
Material Modulus:
Steel Modulus = 203000 MPa
In a finite element analysis, combining different materials Composite Epoxy-Glass Modulus = 43000 MPa
becomes transparent within the stiffness matrix of the
solution. Typically, the elastic modulus of a leaf spring Geometry:
system will be constant. However, for designs with
dissimilar elastic properties, an equivalent elastic Steel Primary Leaf Thickness = 7.5 mm
modulus can be derived. This equivalent modulus can Epoxy-Glass Tapered Leaf Average Thickness = 9.144
be used to approximate the displacement and load of a mm
hybrid design. Therefore, to understand material
combinations, the following discussion looks at general Solution:

Eeq =
∑ Et 3
((203000(7.5) ) + (43000(9.144) ))
3 3
Equivalent Modulus
∑t 3
(7.5 3
+ 9.144 3 )
For the axial load case, the equivalent modulus is [1],
resulting in an equivalent modulus of Eeq = 99893 MPa.
Eeq =
∑ EA (3.0)

The basic beam theory approach can yield reasonable

where, results for springs that comprise uniform thickness and
uniform widths. However, to tackle complex leaf
Eeq = Equivalent Modulus systems, such as a hybrid steel-composite multi-leaf
E = Elastic Modulus transverse design, where the supporting leaf tapers,
A= Area finite element analysis should be utilized. The hybrid
design shown in Figure 2.0 (i.e., comprised of one steel
Likewise, for the bending case, the equivalent modulus primary leaf and one tapered composite epoxy-glass
becomes, support leaf) combines a transverse steel-composite leaf
design into a multi-leaf system. In order to demonstrate
Eeq =
∑ EI (4.0)
the significance of non-contact modeling verses contact

modeling, two approaches will be presented:

Figure 2.0 Transverse Multi-Leaf Spring Assembly Figure 3.0 Transverse Multi-Leaf Finite Element Model

Method 1: Nonlinear Static FEM

A nonlinear static finite element model of a hybrid multi-

leaf as shown in Figure 3.0 is modeled. This system
models the multi-leafs as one leaf by combining each
leaf at coincident nodes. The composite support leaf is
modeled as shell elements with epoxy-glass composite
material properties as shown in Figure 4.0. The steel
primary leaf is modeled as solid hex8 elements with
surface shell elements as shown in Figure 5.0. The
model boundary conditions are fixed at one spring end
and at each spring mount. A force displacement value
75mm describes the approximate displacement at the
free spring end. The model solution will be based on
ABAQUS [2] nonlinear static algorithm. The one
possible advantage to this solution should be
computation time. However, an important disadvantage Figure 4.0 Transverse Composite Support Leaf Finite
to this solution will be the simple beam effect. Element Plate Model

Method 2: Nonlinear Contact FEM

A nonlinear contact finite element model of a hybrid

multi-leaf is modeled similar to Method 1 except for
contact surface elements. The clearance interface
between the support leaf shown in Figure 4.0 and the
primary leaf shown in Figure 5.0 is modeled using the
surface-to-surface contact algorithm of ABAQUS [2].
The boundary conditions remain the same as Method 1.
The expected advantage to the surface-to-surface
algorithm will be the accuracy of the solution, reflecting
the mechanics of a multi-leaf system, capturing the
deflection characteristics as described by equation (1.0)
and the equivalent modulus defined by equation (5.0).
Moreover, the only possible disadvantage to this solution
will be the computational time required.
Figure 5.0 Transverse Steel Primary Multi-Leaf Finite
Element Solid Model

The following reflect the results of the Method 1 and

Method 2 finite element analyses, which include max
Von Mises, normal stresses, strains, and load vs.
displacement curves as shown in Figures 6.0 through
15.0 and summarized in Table 1.0.
In particular, the following results show the stress plots of
the steel primary leaf for Method 1 and Method 2: Figure
6.0 shows Method 1 von Mises stresses of the primary
steel leaf. Figure 7.0 shows Method 1 normal stresses
of the primary steel leaf. Figure 8.0 shows Method 2 von
Mises of the primary steel leaf. Figure 9.0 shows
Method 2 normal stresses of the primary steel leaf.

Additionally, the following results show the strain tensor

marker plots of the composite epoxy-glass tapered leaf
for Method and Method 2: Figure 10.0 shows Method 1
max strain tensor of the composite epoxy-glass tapered
leaf. Figure 11.0 shows Method 1 min strain tensor of
the composite epoxy-glass tapered leaf. Figure 12.0
shows Method 2 max strain tensor of the composite
epoxy-glass tapered leaf. Figure 13.0 shows Method 2 Figure 8.0 Nonlinear Contact FEM –Primary Leaf Spring
min strain tensor of the composite epoxy-glass tapered (Steel) Von Mises Stress

Finally, the following results show the load verses

displacement plots of Method 1 and Method 2: Figure
14.0 shows Method 1 load verses displacement. Figure
15.0 shows Method 2 load verses displacement.

Figure 9.0 Nonlinear Contact FEM –Primary Leaf Spring

(Steel) Normal Stress

Figure 6.0 Nonlinear Static FEM –Primary Leaf Spring

(Steel) Von Mises Stress

Figure 10.0 Nonlinear Static FEM – Support Leaf

(Composite) Max Microstrain

Figure 7.0 Nonlinear Static FEM –Primary Leaf Spring

(Steel) Normal Stress
Figure 11.0 Nonlinear Static FEM – Support Leaf Figure 14.0 Nonlinear Static FEM Load vs Displacement
(Composite) Min Microstrain

Figure 12.0 Nonlinear Contact FEM – Support Leaf

(Composite) Max Microstrain
Figure 15.0 Nonlinear Contact FEM Load vs

Table 1.0 Summary

Nonlinear Nonlinear
Static FEM Contact FEM
Units Results Figure Results Figure
Spring Rate N/mm 31.25 14.0 21.74 15.0
Max Strain microstrain 2213 10.0 4029 12.0
Min Strain microstrain -5790 11.0 -4070 13.0
Normal Stress
(Compression) MPa -211 7.0 -260 9.0
Figure 13.0 Nonlinear Contact FEM – Support Leaf Normal Stress
(Composite) Min Microstrain (Tension) MPa 395 7.0 314 9.0
VM Stress MPa 403 6.0 321 8.0
CONCLUSION Method 2. More importantly, the results in Table 1.0
show a uniform distribution of stresses and strains for
Comparing the results of Method 1 to Method 2, the Method 2 when compared to Method 1. This difference
spring rate shown in Table 1.0 (calculated from the load- shown in Table 1.0 amplifies the importance of contact
displacement curves using equation 2.0) reveals modeling over idealizing a multi-leaf system. The
significantly different rates. This difference points modeling technique significantly affects the expected
directly to the effect of including the contact behavior. spring performance.
The finite element model described in Method 1 acts
more like a solid beam as opposed to the finite element REFERENCES
model described in Method 2. As a result, the same
displacement applied to each model results in different 1. Hearn, EJ. Mechanics of Materials 1. Third Edition.
spring loads as shown in the load displacement curves Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann. 1997.
Figure 14.0 and Figure 15.0, affecting the overall spring
rate. 2. ABAQUS User's manual, Version 5.8, H.K.S. Inc,
Furthermore, the difference in spring rate affects the
stress/strain results described in Table 1.0. In particular,
the steel primary leaf experiences higher stresses in
Method 1 than Method 2. Likewise, the composite
support leaf results in higher strains in Method 1 than