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SPOT-WELDED LAP JOINTS

J. A. Nrvx:N and N. E. DoviiNc

Engineering Science and Mechanics, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA

AbstractFatigue behaviour of spot-welded lap joints is modelled as a single-degree-of-freedom crack

growth problem. Although such a model involves simplication of a complicated problem, predictions

are in good agreement with experimental results. The model developed here allows a design engineer to

analyse the fatigue behaviour of spot-welded steel sheets, which are commonly used in structures, without

knowledge of metallurgical and ne geometric details of spot-welds. Only fatigue properties of the sheet

metal are needed, so no laboratory facilities are required to generate fatigue data specic to spot-welds

or weld metal.

KeywordsSpot-weld; Fatigue; Stress ratio; Crack growth; Lap joint; Mixed-mode; Stress intensity factors.

NOMENCLATURE

a=crack length

a

f

=crack length at failure

C=constant for crack growth relation

d=tip diameter of spot-weld electrode

da/dN=crack growth rate

D=overall diameter of spot-weld electrode

F=spot-weld electrode force

HAZ=heat-aected-zone

k

f

=fatigue notch factor

K

I

=initial mode I stress intensity

K

II

=initial mode II stress intensity

K

Ieq

=equivalent mode I stress intensity

K

max=

maximum stress intensity

m=constant for crack growth relation

N

f

=total fatigue life

N

I

=crack initiation phase

N

II

=crack propagation phase

N

III

=large crack growth phase

P=applied load

P

max=

maximum applied load

r=spot-weld radius

R=load ratio, P

min

/P

max

t=sheet thickness

b=constant quantifying interaction of K

I

and K

II

DK=local stress intensity range (mode I)

DK

I

=initial mode I stress intensity range

DK

II

=initial mode II stress intensity range

DK=eective zero-to-max DK

DP=eective zero-to-max DP

c=constant for crack growth relation

h

o=

angle of crack growth

w=tip angle of spot-weld electrode

INTRODUCTION

Modern automobiles contain hundreds, or even thousands, of spot-welds. Spot-welding is an

inexpensive and eective way to join sheets of metal. Unfortunately, fatigue cracks tend to occur

1998 Blackwell Science Ltd 1123

1124 J. A. Nrvx:N and N. E. DoviiNc

around these welds, in the heat-aected-zone (HAZ), resulting in a loss of structural integrity and

eventual failure of the component in question. The study of spot-weld fatigue is complicated by

three-dimensional crack growth, residual stresses created by welding, and a complex metallurgical

structure produced during the welding process. The most common life prediction methods found

in the literature are briey introduced in this paper, followed by development of a simple model

that is shown to eectively estimate the fatigue lives of spot-welds. This simple model is intended

to be used by design engineers who might not understand intimate details of spot-weld fatigue,

but wish to make use of spot-welds in fatigue applications.

Four basic categories of life prediction methods have been discussed in the literature: reference

strain approach, local strain-based approach, stress intensity factor approach and crack growth

approach. These are briey described below.

Reference strain approach

In this approach, the strain at one or more particular locations, usually on the outer surface

near the edges of spot-welds, are monitored and used as reference values. Fatigue data, obtained

from small coupon specimens in a laboratory environment, and plotted in terms of this reference

strain amplitude, may then be used to monitor or predict the lives of spot-welds in structures

[13]. This method must be used with care because strain changes rapidly near spot-welds. Exact

placement of strain gauges, as well as the size of the strain gauges used, is critical and needs to be

standardized. Also, it is not clear if multiaxial loading eects can be completely characterized by

only one or two strain gauges.

L ocal strain-based approach

In this method, the edges of spot-welds, where fatigue cracks occur, are considered to be

geometric notches with some notch radius at the root [48]. Analysis is similar to the strain-

based approach used elsewhere [9], where the stressstrain and strainlife curves, for the given

material, are used with Neubers rule. Since no well-dened notch exists, the fatigue notch factor,

k

f

, must be obtained by empirical means. The total life of a given spot-welded specimen is divided

into three phases: crack initiation, crack propagation through the sheet metal to the free surface,

and large crack growth resulting in structural failure. The number of cycles dedicated to each

phase are N

I

, N

II

and N

III

, respectively. The total life is the sum of these three phases, as shown

in Eq. ( 1).

N

f

=N

I

+N

II

+N

III

(1)

Sharply notched members in general are observed to have their fatigue lives dominated by crack

growth [1013]. Spot weld connections are a form of a sharply notched member, and also have

behaviour dominated by crack growth, with crack initiation lives appearing to be short or non-

existent [14]. However, a strain-based approach is based on strains that occur locally at the tip

of a notch having a denite radius, and so seems inappropriate for situations dominated by

crack growth.

Stress intensity factor approach

An alternative means of applying fracture mechanics is to use stress intensity factors to charac-

terize the loading. The stress intensity factors for spot-welds in the lap shear geometry have been

calculated [15], and both mode I and II stress intensities exist initially at the location of failure,

point A in Fig. 1. Due to symmetry, a crack can form on either side of a given spot-weld; however,

failure almost always results from a single large crack, as shown. Both sides of a spot-welded

Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, 21, 11231132 1998 Blackwell Science Ltd

Life prediction of spot-welded lap joints 1125

(a) (b)

Fig. 1. Geometry of a lap-shear spot-weld specimen and typical angled thumbnail crack. (a) Side view

(centreline). ( b) Front view (outer surface).

specimen need monitoring as a result of this observation. An equivalent mode I stress intensity

factor, K

Ieq

, is dened, typically in the form of Eq. (2), where b is a constant quantifying the

interaction between K

I

and K

II

[1618].

K

Ieq

=

K2

I

+bK2

II

(2)

This parameter, K

Ieq

, may be plotted versus fatigue life and serves as an empirical life prediction

method. This method is used to consolidate data from various geometric and loading congurations

of spot-welds.

Crack growth approach

Since the crack initiation phase in spot-welds is a small portion of total fatigue life, if it exists

at all, a more accurate way to describe the fatigue process in spot-welds is by using a crack growth

approach. A great deal of literature exists that supports the belief that spot-weld edges behave as

sharp cracks [14,1926]. Recall that stress intensity factors for a lap joint conguration are known

and an equivalent mode I stress intensity, K

Ieq

, can be calculated. A crack growth model may be

employed using a da/dN versus DK relation to predict life. Sheppard derived such a model where

only mode I stress intensities, initially acting at the location of failure, were considered [27]. The

approach taken in this paper is more closely related to the crack growth portion of Ref. [27] than

to any of the other various approaches found in the published literature.

MODEL DEVELOPMENT

The purpose of this work is to develop a simple single-degree-of-freedom model that a design

engineer can use to estimate fatigue lives of three-dimensional spot-welded lap joints when only

the crack growth behaviour of the base metal is known. A crack growth approach is used so the

initial spot-weld connection is treated as a sharp crack. Furthermore, failure is dened to occur

when a crack propagates completely through at least one steel sheet. In terms of Eq. (1), N

I

=0

and N

III

=0. Aside from the da/dN versus DK relation, no empirical means are used; however,

some simplifying assumptions are made. The stress state, created by both mode I and II stress

intensities at the failure location (point A in Fig. 1), is used to calculate an eective mode I stress

intensity factor and to predict the direction of crack propagation.

From numerical work done previously by Pook [15], the stress intensity factors for a three-

dimensional spot-welded lap joint conguration are known. Since a lap joint always fails at the

Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, 21, 11231132 1998 Blackwell Science Ltd

1126 J. A. Nrvx:N and N. E. DoviiNc

same location, the stress intensities are usually only given for this point, specically point A in

Fig. 1. At point A, only mode I and II stress intensities exist, and are given as Eqs (3) and (4),

where r is the radius of the weld, t is the thickness of the steel sheets (assumed to be of equal

thickness), and P is the force applied to the lap joint. These equations apply for specimens at least

ve spot-weld radii wide (w5r) and average stress on the weld nugget no more than 80% of the

yield stress.

K

I

=

P

r3/2 C

0.341

A

2r

t B

0.397

D

(3)

K

II

=

P

r3/2 C

0.282+0.162

A

2r

t B

0.710

D

(4)

It is assumed that a crack in a spot-weld, at the failure location, can be modelled as a planar

crack. This approximation becomes valid as the ratio t/r is decreased. For the welds tested in this

paper, t/r#0.28, which is typical of well-designed spot-welds. Cracks grow from the interface of

the two steel sheets at the edge of the weld, in a shape similar to a semi-ellipse, but curved slightly

out of plane to give it a thumbnail shape (Fig. 1). If the weld radius is large compared to the

sheet thickness, this thumbnail crack is nearly planar. Although not truly two-dimensional, this

crack can be described by a single degree of freedom, a. Thus, Eqs (3) and (4) are used for this

single-degree-of-freedom model.

Now that this spot-weld model has been reduced to a single degree of freedom, fatigue life is

modelled as starting from a two-dimensional crack, which exists initially under both mode I and

II loading. If we assume that the crack propagates perpendicular to the direction of the maximum

principal normal stress at the crack tip, it will initially grow at an angle h

o

, as shown in Fig. 2.

This angle satises Eq. (5), where K

I

and K

II

are the stress intensity factors initially acting at point

A in Fig. 1 before crack growth occurs [15]. This equation is obtained by combining well-known

crack-tip singularity stress eld equations for modes I and II, and nding the principal stress

directions [28]. Note that Eq. ( 5) is valid only in the case where K

III

is zero.

K

I

sin h

o

=K

II

(3 cos h

o

1) (5)

It has been noted in the literature that the crack growth rate in spot-welds remains nearly constant

as the test proceeds for constant amplitude loading and for a small ratio of t/r [24]. This suggests

that the stress intensity factor also remains nearly constant. These assumptions are not valid for

thick sheets and/or small welds, which are of reduced interest, since such welds are generally

inferior in both static and fatigue loading [25,26].

Fig. 2. Geometry of a propagating crack. Fig. 3. Geometry of lap-shear spot-weld specimens, as

tested.

Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, 21, 11231132 1998 Blackwell Science Ltd

Life prediction of spot-welded lap joints 1127

Since the stress intensity factor is assumed to be constant, h

o

also remains constant throughout

the test, which is consistent with experimental observations. After solving for h

o

, an eective mode I

stress intensity factor needs to be calculated. This was obtained using equations for stress around

large two-dimensional cracks subject to mode I and II loading with an innitesimally small kinked

crack growing from the original crack tip at an angle [29,30]. The innitesimal kink is assumed

not to disturb the original stress eld. The small kink grows in principal stress directions, so no

local mode II loading exists at the kinked crack tip. The local mode I stress intensity factor, acting

on the innitesimal kinked crack, is given in Eq. (6), and is obtained by examining the principal

normal stresses acting on this new kinked crack tip [28]. This is the formulation for eective

mode I stress intensity used for this model.

DK=

DK

I

4 C

3 cos

h

o

2

+cos

3h

o

2 D

DK

II

4 C

3 sin

h

o

2

+3 sin

3h

o

2 D

(6)

A Paris crack growth relation, with an adjustment for the R-ratio eect as suggested by Walker

[31], is assumed to describe crack growth, as in Eq. (7). With C, m and c as material constants

from fatigue test data of the base metal, this relation is intended only for pure mode I loading.

da

dN

=C

C

DK

(1R)(1c)D

m

(7)

Since no mode II or III loading is present at the small kinked crack of length a, Eq. (7) can be

used in this model. With reference to Fig. 2, the crack grows a distance a

f

=t/sin h

o

before

penetrating the outer surface of the plate, which is considered failure in this study. In the case of

constant crack growth, Eq. (7) can be integrated to obtain an equation for fatigue life, Eq. (8).

N

f

=

t

C sin h

o

C

DK

(1R)(1c)D

m

(8)

By substituting Eq. (6) into Eq. (8), we are now able to express fatigue life in closed form for a

known h

o

. Note that h

o

must be known a priori, and thus Eq. (5) must rst be solved for h

o

using

Eqs (3) and (4) for K

I

and K

II

. The resulting equation is the desired single-degree-of-freedom

approximation for fatigue life, and is given by Eq. (9).

N

f

=

t

C sin h

o

C

DK

I C

3 cos

h

o

2

+cos

3h

o

2 D

DK

II C

3 sin

h

o

2

+3 sin

3h

o

2 D

4(1R)(1c)

D

m

(9)

COMPARISONWITH EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS

Experimental method

Experimental data were generated using small coupon specimens with a single weld, as shown

in Fig. 3. Coupon specimens were made by spot-welding two strips of steel sheet metal together.

Each of the steel strips was 75 mm long, 25 mm wide and 1 mm thick. These strips were overlapped

by 25 mm and welded in the centre of the overlapped region with a weld #7 mm in diameter, so

that the overall length of a specimen was 125 mm. Fatigue tests were performed under constant

amplitude loading on closed loop servo-hydraulic testing machines operated at various frequencies

(130 Hz) and load amplitudes. No eect on fatigue life was observed to occur due to test frequency.

Three dierent load ratios, R=P

max

/P

min

, were tested; R=0.1, 0.5 and 0.75. Both ends of each

Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, 21, 11231132 1998 Blackwell Science Ltd

1128 J. A. Nrvx:N and N. E. DoviiNc

specimen had a spacer attached, so no initial bending occurred before testing. Each specimen end

was placed #20 mm deep into the grips of a testing machine. Again, failure was dened to occur

when a fatigue crack was observed to have penetrated one or both of the steel sheets. All cracks

were found to propagate from the spot-weld at point A in Fig. 1. All the tests were run in lab air

and at ambient temperature.

Data interpretation

The R-ratio adjustment suggested by Walker [31] allows an eective zero-to-maximum stress

intensity range to be dened, as given in Eq. (10). This allows the driving force on the crack to be

expressed in terms of both DK and R, and allows tests performed at dierent load ratios and load

amplitudes to be compared.

DK=

DK

(1R)(1c)

=K

max

(1R)c (10)

Since load and stress intensity are linearly related, as in Eqs (3) and (4), an eective zero-to-

maximum load can also be dened [29] and is given by Eq. (11). This allows fatigue life data for

dierent load ratios to be shown on the same plot.

DP=P

max

(1R)c (11)

Two base metals were used in this study, SAE 1010 and SAE 950X steels. The dierence in

fatigue performance between these two steels was small, and in light of this fact, the same constants

for Eq. (7) were used for both steels. Although some limited crack growth data exist in the literature

for the weld metal and the HAZ [32,33], where cracks around spot-welds propagate, such data

are rare. It has been shown that fatigue crack growth behaviour of HAZ metal is nearly identical

to that of the base metal for another steel [34]. It is assumed that this observation is typical of

weldable steels. Crack growth data for the base metal are used, instead of those for the HAZ,

because they are readily available for most engineering materials and deliver nearly identical

results. Crack growth data for the base metal are used because they are readily available for most

engineering materials. Due to the small quantity of the available material, no crack growth data

for the two base metals, SAE 1010 and SAE 950X steels, were generated in this study. Thus, the

constants C, m and c, were chosen from established data for similar ferritepearlite steels [35,36].

Values for the constant C were chosen so that they made upper and lower bounds on established

data within the Paris regime of fatigue crack growth, and were C=7109 and 2109,

respectively. Note that the units used are SI, specically, MPam for K and mm/cycle for da/dN.

The chosen value of m is typical for ferritepearlite steels [35], and c is estimated from the limited

R-ratio data on a steel similar to SAE 1010, specically ASTM A36 [S. J. Hudak (1979) unpublished

data]. The constants used were m=3 and c=0.75. Care was taken not to choose constants for

Eq. ( 7) to simply best t this spot-weld fatigue data and, thus, force this model to work, since

design engineers would likely not have the benet of such prejudices.

As seen in Figs 4 and 5, fatigue data for the three load ratios tested, R=0.1, 0.5 and 0.75,

collapse such that a linear trend is seen on a loglog plot when Eq. (11) is used, allowing typical

scatter associated with fatigue data. The dashed and dotted lines on these loadlife plots are

predicted lines using the theoretical model previously outlined. The dashed lines are for

C=2109 and the dotted lines are for C=7109. Two solid horizontal lines also appear in

both Figs 4 and 5. The upper line corresponds to the average static strength of a specimen made

from the corresponding material. The lower horizontal line corresponds to an observed fatigue

threshold condition. The average static failure loads are 8000 N and 8800 N, and DK corresponding

Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, 21, 11231132 1998 Blackwell Science Ltd

Life prediction of spot-welded lap joints 1129

10

2

10

3

10

4

10

5

10

6

10

7

10

2

10

3

10

4

10

5

10

6

10

7

Fig. 4. Fatigue data for SAE 1010 lap-shear spot-welds. Fig. 5. Fatigue data for SAE 950X lap-shear spot-welds.

to the fatigue thresholds indicated in Figs 4 and 5 are 10.0 MPam and 7.6 MPam for SAE

1010 and SAE 950X steels, respectively.

DISCUSSION

In order to analyse three-dimensional behaviour as a single-degree-of-freedom model, several

simplifying assumptions have to be made. The assumptions made to develop this model are

as follows.

$ The weld is circular, the edge of which behaves as a sharp crack, so that no crack initiation

phase exists. The weld and specimen are symmetric.

$ The ratio t/r is small. This produces a nearly planar crack, and allows Eqs (3) and (4) to be

used for this single-degree-of-freedom model.

$ The rate of crack growth is nearly constant. This allows Eq. (7) to be integrated and makes

a closed form solution for fatigue life possible.

$ Equation (7) is a good descriptor of crack growth. This allows the fatigue lives to be calculated

and compared for various load ratios, R, and load amplitudes, DP.

$ The thickness of both steel sheets connected by the spot-weld are equal. Relations similar to

Eqs (3) and (4) are available for sheets of diering thickness, but are more complicated and

not used here.

$ The specimen is suciently wide, i.e. at least ve spot-weld radii, and the average stress on

the weld nugget does not exceed 80% of the yield stress [15]. These are restrictions placed

on Eqs (3) and (4).

For lives in the range of 103106 cycles, experimental data agree well with the predictions of this

model. Since the dashed and dotted lines in Figs 4 and 5 are bounds on the fatigue data (for the

base metal ), the predicted values are somewhat conservative, which is desirable from a design

standpoint. Deviations between experimental data and prediction occur at both high and low

applied load amplitudes. This model assumes that fatigue crack growth is described by Eq. (7),

but this description is not valid near the threshold or as P

max

approaches the average static strength

of the specimens. At lives less than 103 cycles, the peak load approaches the maximum loads

observed in static tests, as seen in Figs 4 and 5. In these large load amplitude tests, the spot-weld

nugget rotates a signicant amount and large deformations exist about the spot-weld. Large

Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, 21, 11231132 1998 Blackwell Science Ltd

1130 J. A. Nrvx:N and N. E. DoviiNc

deformations indicate that Eqs (3) and (4) may be invalid, because the average shear stress on the

spot-weld nugget may exceed 80% of the yield stress. For a design engineer, such behaviour would

likely be considered undesirable, avoided, and thus, is of limited interest. At long lives, greater

than 106 cycles, a threshold condition is observed where further reduction in load produces a

much longer life than predicted using this method. The fatigue threshold shown in Figs 4 and 5

was suggested by examination of spot-weld fatigue data and determining a value of DP below

which no crack growth was observed. The fatigue thresholds indicated correspond to 10.0 and

7.6 MPam for SAE 1010 and SAE 950X steels, respectively. For both materials, the observed

fatigue threshold is #40% larger than that found in similar steels for R=0 [33]. This model can

easily be programmed into a computer and modied to output parameters, e.g. K

max

and DK, to

gauge the validity of Eq. (7), as was done for this study. For the material and geometry tested,

this method has been shown to predict experimental data well, with a slight conservative bias.

Because this method is straightforward, and essentially only consists of Eq. (9), it is a potentially

useful and easy to use tool for design engineers that may have little detailed information about

fatigue behaviour specic to spot-welds.

Although this life prediction model has limitations, it overcomes problems of the other major

methods, e.g. reference strain approaches, local strain-based approaches, stress intensity factor

approaches, and even other crack growth approaches. The reference strain approach, although

easy to use because only outer surface measurements are required, is sensitive to placement and

dimensions of the strain gauge(s) used. Furthermore, empirical trends are used to predict fatigue

lives, which may be specic for the material and geometry tested. Local strain-based approaches

appear not to be good descriptors of actual behaviour. From a design standpoint, if crack initiation

lives are negligibly small, ignoring this would simplify fatigue analysis and lead to slightly conserva-

tive predictions. Stress intensity factor approaches are also based on empirical relations and do

not directly address questions about crack driving forces or the direction of crack growth. Even

with other crack growth approaches, such questions go unanswered.

This method denes the direction of crack propagation as well as the crack driving force in

terms of the mixed mode stress eld initially present at the edge of the spot-weld, modelled here

as a planar crack. No empirical relations are used, other than Eq. (7), and failure is predicted

based on the experimentally observed failure mechanism, fatigue crack growth. The manner in

which these details are treated is unique to this model.

CONCLUSIONS

In this study, a life prediction model for spot-welded lap joints was developed and veried with

experimental data. Although complicated three-dimensional behaviour is modelled as a single-

degree-of-freedom crack growth problem, good agreement with experimental data is obtained. The

major strength of this method is its simplicity. No specic knowledge regarding metallurgy or ne

geometry at the edge of a spot-weld is required. With only standard fatigue crack growth data for

the base metal, fatigue life estimations are possible. Thus, specic details of the weld metal and

additional laboratory facilities to generate crack growth data specic to weld metal, or HAZ, are

not needed. Furthermore, this method is mechanism based (fatigue crack growth) and does not

rely on empirical means for life prediction. The method outlined in this paper is intended for a

design engineer who needs to estimate fatigue lives of spot-welds.

AcknowledgementsPortions of this work were supported by Ford Motor Co., with Yuting Rui as technical monitor.

Specimens used in this study were provided by Ford. This support is appreciated.

Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, 21, 11231132 1998 Blackwell Science Ltd

Life prediction of spot-welded lap joints 1131

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Engineering Science and Mechanics Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,

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APPENDIX

Spot-welds are created when two electrodes, as shown in Fig. A1, compress two or more sheets of metal together, pass

an electrical current through the sheet metal to be welded, and hold the sheets together while the liqueed weld metal

quickly resolidies. These stages are called squeeze time, weld time and hold time, respectively. The electrical current melts

a portion of metal between the welding electrodes from all the sheets involved, which resolidies and joins the sheets

together. The current, electrode force, electrode dimensions and length of time for each stage of welding are carefully

prescribed for a given sheet thickness and type of metal. For both SAE 1010 and SAE 950X steels used in this study, the

electrode dimensions, as shown in Fig. A1, are as follows: D=15.75 mm, d=6.35 mm and w=45. All other information

regarding the welding schedule is shown in Table A1.

Table 1. Welding schedule

SAE 1010 steel SAE 950X steel

Electrode force, F (N) 3100 4300

Squeeze time (cycles) 6 6

Weld time (cycles) 10 13

Hold time (cycles) 7 7

Weld current (amperes) 12 500 10 000

Fig. A1. Geometry of spot-welding electrodes.

Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, 21, 11231132 1998 Blackwell Science Ltd

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