Fatigue loading is the term used to describe repeated or variable loading in a spring. If ignored during design stages, such loading can slowly cause a spring to degrade and eventually break down. To illustrate, a spring in a mechanical watch endures countless compressions and releases daily, unlike a mattress spring that experiences more uniform pressure. These distinct uses influence their design and materials. This guide explores approaches to enhance spring resilience against fatigue loading, like using the Goodman method, which factors in both mean and alternating stresses. Additionally, the guide stresses the use of cycle testing as a tool to spot potential weak spots in your design and make necessary tweaks to improve the longevity of your springs and the overall operation of the device they are installed in.

Fatigue vs Static Failure

In spring loading, there are two distinct types of failure: fatigue and static. Static failure happens when the applied stress exceeds the yield strength of the material. This can occur due to incorrect installation, unexpected overload, or major design flaws. For example, consider a suspension spring in a car. If the spring is not installed correctly, it can create an imbalance that could lead to static failure when the car goes over a rough bump.

Unlike static failure, fatigue failure is a slow process that arises from continual stress cycles that are often below the material's yield strength. This type of loading is common in routine spring operations. Example: the spring in a wristwatch operates under continuous low-stress loads. Over a long period of use, the repeated loading can ultimately cause fatigue failure. This type of failure typically goes unnoticed until it becomes apparent, making maintenance more challenging and potentially affecting performance.

Knowing these types of failure assists in choosing materials and design specifications to address fatigue. Materials with a high endurance limit can help prevent fatigue failure, provided the repeated stress load remains under this limit. Thus, it is crucial to know the range of stress that can be expected during operation to ensure the spring lasts for its intended lifecycle.

Apart from choosing the right material, the design features of the spring, for example, its shape or coil pitch, can also affect how well it can handle repeated stress cycles. Both material choice and design, which should be tailored to the intended use and stress range, are important in reducing the risk of fatigue failure in spring design.

Goodman Failure

The Goodman failure criterion is a technique utilized in the analysis of fatigue loading, conceived by Mechanical Engineer J. Goodman. It employs a graphical method to quantify safety margins in materials exposed to unchanging as well as variable stresses.

To demonstrate, suppose there is a coil spring in an automobile's suspension system that is subject to both constant and fluctuating forces. The applied mean stress, which corresponds to the unchanging force on the spring when the vehicle is stationary, and the alternating stress, which describes variable loads present during motion, are both plotted on a Goodman plot. The intersection of these values on the plot provides insight into the fatigue characteristics of the material. This point is represented in a two-dimensional graph wherein the x-axis signifies the mean stress and the y-axis symbolizes the alternating stress.

If the resultant point on the Goodman plot is positioned below the Goodman line, this infers that the material is likely to withstand the stress variations and delay fatigue-related failure, leading to an extended service life for the suspension system. On the contrary, if the point is positioned above the line, it could indicate a possible failure, signifying a need for a design revision or additional analysis of the spring.

The Goodman Failure Criterion offers a method for assessing failure risks in recurrent stress situations but its precision can be influenced by specific factors, such as the characteristics of the material and operational conditions. For this reason, engineers should corroborate Goodman plot results with supplementary analyses and tests for accurate and dependable conclusions. This methodology aids in fatigue failure anticipation, comprehension, and prevention during the spring design process.

Cycle Testing

Cycle testing has a role in spring design, as it confirms theoretical principles using empirical data. The test simulates the cyclical stress a spring undergoes in its use. This method provides insight into the spring's fatigue resistance, which is useful in predicting lifespan under regular use.

Explaining this further, a spring is subjected to continuous cycles of loading and unloading at defined stress levels during cycle testing. The process continues until the spring's point of failure. The total successful cycles completed before this point indicates the spring's fatigue life. To better understand this, think about a valve spring in a car engine. This spring experiences numerous cycles of compression and release. Cycle testing can provide information about the likely lifespan of such a spring, in turn guiding potential improvement in its design and appropriate material selection.

Note that the data gathered from cycle testing depends entirely on the test conditions. Different variables like stress amplitude, mean stress, and frequency significantly affect the calculation of fatigue life. It's necessary to match the test conditions with the real conditions under which the spring is to function.

Consequently, including cycle testing in the spring design process is beneficial. The empirical data gathered helps in not only developing springs with greater longevity but also in improving their functionality in situations mirroring real-world conditions.


In summary, spring design for fatigue loading involves careful understanding and analysis of the different failure modes, as well as the judicious use of tools and cycle testing. Distinguishing between fatigue and static failure is crucial, as fatigue gradually affects the functioning of springs over time. Applying the Goodman failure criterion simplifies design decisions, steering engineers towards fitting solutions. Cycle testing is a key activity that verifies these solutions can endure real-world stress conditions. Therefore, when these aspects are factored into spring design, it may help prolong the operational life of the springs and consequently, of the mechanical devices they are integrated into.