Materials selection is one of the most crucial aspects of spring design, particularly when thermal conditions come into play. In this article, we will delve into the thermal expansion characteristics of different spring materials, providing a comprehensive comparison and insights on how to optimize your spring selection based on your thermal requirements.

Introduction to Thermal Expansion

Thermal expansion is the phenomenon where a material changes in size due to a change in temperature. The extent of this size change is quantified by the material's coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), typically denoted by the Greek letter alpha (α). The standard unit of thermal expansion is 1/(degree), but it is often expressed in parts per million per degree (ppm/°C or ppm/K).

ΔL = α × L_initial × ΔT 


It is important to note that the CTE is not constant, but varies with temperature, and its value for a particular material needs to be determined experimentally.

Spring Materials

Different spring materials exhibit varying rates of thermal expansion. The most commonly used materials for spring manufacturing are discussed below.


Standard carbon steel, such as AISI 1060 or 1070, is often used in spring manufacturing due to its high strength, low cost, and availability. However, it has a relatively high CTE (11.7 ppm/°C), which makes it more susceptible to changes in dimensions under thermal loads.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel, especially AISI 302, 304 and 316, is a popular choice for spring manufacturing, especially in environments requiring corrosion resistance. It has a somewhat lower CTE (17.3 ppm/°C) than carbon steel, offering improved stability under thermal loads.


Copper-based alloys, such as beryllium copper and phosphor bronze, are commonly used in electrical applications due to their excellent conductivity. Their CTEs range from 16 to 18.8 ppm/°C, which is slightly higher than that of stainless steel but still acceptable for many applications.


Inconel is a group of austenitic nickel-chromium-based superalloys known for their resistance to oxidation and corrosion, particularly in high-temperature environments. Inconel springs are especially suitable for applications where both high temperature and corrosive conditions are prevalent. The CTE for Inconel 718 is around 13 ppm/°C.


Titanium and its alloys, such as Ti-6Al-4V, are known for their exceptional strength-to-weight ratios. Titanium is more thermally stable than steel, with a CTE of about 8.6 ppm/°C. This, combined with its excellent corrosion resistance, makes it suitable for high-performance and aerospace applications.

Comparison of Thermal Expansion Coefficients

Here's a tabulated comparison

of the thermal expansion coefficients for the aforementioned materials:

Material CTE (ppm/°C)
Steel 11.7
Stainless Steel 17.3
Copper 16-18.8
Inconel 13
Titanium 8.6

Implications for Spring Design

Given the CTE values, it's evident that materials selection is an important aspect in spring design for thermal environments. Thermal expansion can affect spring stiffness, operational frequency, fatigue life, and overall performance. While a lower CTE is desirable in high-temperature applications, factors like cost, availability, strength, and environmental resistance also play a critical role in material selection.

For example, if a spring is required to function in a corrosive but high-temperature environment, stainless steel might seem a fitting choice due to its corrosion resistance. But one could also consider Inconel, despite its higher cost, as it has a lower CTE and superior high-temperature performance.

Another consideration could be dimensional stability. For instance, a spring made from titanium might be less prone to changes in dimensions under thermal loads compared to one made from steel, owing to its lower CTE.


Understanding the thermal expansion behavior of different spring materials is crucial for optimal spring design. This knowledge allows for informed decision-making in material selection, based on the thermal performance required by the specific application.

The variety of spring materials available today, each with its unique set of properties, provides engineers with several options to balance thermal performance, cost-effectiveness, and other design criteria. This article has shed light on the thermal expansion properties of some of these materials, making the job of selecting the right material for a specific application easier.

While CTE is an important property, remember to consider other factors like the operating environment, mechanical properties, corrosion resistance, and cost. The goal is to select a material that will offer reliable performance and longevity while meeting the application requirements and staying within budget.

In conclusion, material selection for springs is an iterative process that needs to consider a host of factors, with thermal expansion being a critical one. A well-thought-out choice will lead to an optimal design, reducing the need for frequent replacements and thereby increasing the efficiency of the system.

Remember, the success of a spring doesn't lie solely in its design, but also in the right choice of material.