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Thin-Walled Structures 3 (1985) 145-162

Analysis and Design Guidance for the Lateral Stiffness

of Bellows Expansion Joints

N. W. Snedden
UEN/131, Shell UK Expro, Shell-MexHouse, Strand, London, UK


Thin-walled bellows expansion joints are frequently applied in piping

systems for absorbing thermal and mechanical movement. There have
been several failures in service due to the lateral buckling of bellows under
pressure, the most notable case being the Flixborough disaster in 1974.
The problem of bellows squirming, as the phenomenon is more
commonly termed, was first investigated by the Dutch engineer J. A.
Haringx in 1952. In the intervening years there has been little additional
research carried out and consequently there is a paucity of experimental
data and practical theories on the subject. The present paper offers
guidance to avoid bellows squirming and provides the design engineer
with simple procedures for evaluating the stability of a pressurised
bellows subject to either small or large lateral displacements. Formulae
are also presented in order to determine the strength of bellows supports
which limit and control the amount of bellows movement in service.


E1 Equivalent bending stiffness.

F Lateral force.
h Wall thickness.
Ka Elastic axial stiffness.
Ke Elastic lateral stiffness.
C o n v o l u t e d length.
M Bending moment.
n N u m b e r of convolutions, coefficient.
Thin-Walled Structures 0263-82311851503.30 Elsevier Appfied Science Publishers Ltd,
England, 1985. Printed in Great Britain
146 N. W. Snedden

p Internal pressure.
p' Elastic buckling pressure.
P Equivalent axial load.
-~ Mean radius.
x, y Cartesian coordinates.
a Angle of tilt (from vertical) of convolution.
8 Lateral deflection.
A Equivalent axial displacement of convolution.
0 Angle of rotation of convolution.


Bellows expansion joints are widely used in piping systems to absorb

differential thermal expansion whilst containing the system pressure and
flow. They are installed in oil refineries, chemical plants, eom'cnP.onal
and nuclear power plants, and heating and cooling systems. Bellows are
constructed from relatively thin gauge material (normally stainless steel)
and are convoluted in order to provide the necessary flexibility needed to
absorb mechanical and thermal movements expected in service.
There are many categories of bellows joints: for example, universal,
hinged, gimbal, pressure-balanced, etc. In addition, there are a variety of
convolution shapes: S-shaped, C-shaped, and U-shaped (see Fig. 1). The
latter configuration is by far the most popular. Such joints are manu-
factured in a variety of ways; roller formi,,.g, h y ~ a u ! i c and pneumatic
tube forming are among the most common r n a n u f a ~ g techniques
It has long been established from research and practice that under
certain conditions a bellows under internal pressure can become unstable
and 'squirm' laterally (see Fig. 2). The phenomenon of squirming was first
demonstrated by Haringx in 19521 who showed that pressure buckling of a
bellows was analogous to buekting of an Ederstnrt~: F I e ~ a ~k~t..#e
relationship for the elastic buckling pressure, viz:
p' - 7~2 (1)

where p' = internal buckling pressure, E 1 = bellows equivalent bending

stiffness* ,-~ = bellows mean radius, and ~e = bellows convoluted length.
*Haringx'sformula for bendingstiffnessis givenin Appendix 1.
Lateral su'ffness of bellows expansion joints 147




~g. 1. Typical bellows convolutions.

l~g. 2. Squirmed bellows.

148 N. W. Snedden

It was the investigation into the cause of buckling of bellows which also
prompted Haringx to study the problem of elastic stability, of thin-walled
cylinders subjected to internal pressure and to explain the buckling of
drill pipes. 2
Newland 3extended Haringx's theory to the more complicated case of a
universal expansion joint, i.e. two bellows interconnected by a straight
length of pipe. The principal conclusion of his work was that, by providing
a correctly designed supporting structure, the critical buckling pressure
could be increased by up to four times the value for the same system with
no supports.
Seide 4 also investigated the effect of pressure on the stability of a
hinged bellows, i.e. a bellows which is only permitted to rotate about a
fixed pivot-point. He showed that the bending characteristics of the
system varied considerably with changes in pressure and pivot-point
location, and that instability of the bellows could occur at both internal
and external pressure. The analytical results of this work were compared
with experimental data from bellows tests conducted by Fitzgibbon. 5The
agreement found between theory and experiment for small bellows (4.5 in
dia.) under external pressure was relatively good. However, for the large
bellows (13 in dia.) under internal pressure correlation was poor and
believed to be due to friction between the convolution plies.
In all of the aforementioned papers only elastic instability was
At the present time there is no British Standard for the design of
bellows expansion joints. There is, however, a code of practice for the
installation of metallic bellows: BS61296 and the Standards of the
Expansion Joint Manufacturers Association 7 (commonly referred to as
the E J M A standard). This latter document, published by a group of US
and Canadian companies, recommends standards relating to the manu-
facture, design, safety and installation of bellows expansion joints for
application in piping systems.
Design rules for bellows are also given in Section III (Nuclear Power
Plant Components) of the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Cod&
where it is stated that bellows expansion joints are allowable in nuclear
piping systems conforming to ASME Class 2t and Class 3 standards and in
metal containment vessels. According to subarticle NB-3649.1, bellows

tASME Code Classes are related to SafetyClassesdefinedin ANS-5l. 1/N18.2-1973.9

Lateral stiffne~ of bellows expansion joints 149

greater than 1 in nominal diameter are not permissible in Class 1

construction. Reference is made to the fact that design rules for Class 1
components are currently under development. Nevertheless, there is an
interesting and lengthy ASME Code Case (N-290-1, approved April
1983) which details rules for materials, design, fabrication and instal-
lation, testing, etc. of bellows for service in Section III, Division 1, Class
1, liquid metal piping.
Despite the wealth of advice available in the abovementioned codes
and standards, there is a paucity of design guidance given on the
important problem of lateral instability of bellows. In the EJMA
standard, for example, the entry on bellows squirming is limited to a few
cautionary paragraphs on the phenomenon and a formula for evaluating
the elastic buckling pressure of a bellows, the ends of which are rigidly
supported. The ASME Code is also relatively weak in this area, and the
Code Case cited earlier states that the bellows design is only acceptable
against instability if the defined pressure testing requirements are met,
i.e. the bellows must be capable of satisfying the maximum squirming
pressure fixed by the applicable ASME Design Service Limits.
That there have been several failures of bellows in service due to
squirming cannot be wholly attributed to the lack of suitable design
guidance. In the case of the Flixborough disaster in 1974, ~the cause of
the explosion was traced to a temporary by-pass assembly consisting of a
dog-leg pipe connected by bellows expansion joints to reactor vessels at
the ends. The official inquiry showed that, as a result of gross human
error, the assembly had collapsed by a combination of bellows squirming
and jack-knifing of the mitred pipe joints. It was the subsequent release of
cyclohexane that led to the explosion and, tragically, the deaths of 28
people. Many reports have been produced explaining the cause of the
disaster; among the more interesting contributions are papers by
Newlandll and Webster. 12
In view of the shortage of design information available, in the present
paper limited guidance in the form of simple design formulae is offered
for assessing the stability of a pressurised bellows subject to an initial
lateral deflection and for evaluating the strength of bellows lateral
supports. The effect of plasticity in the convolutions on the non-linear
lateral stiffness of bellows is highlighted. It is the author's intention that
the design recommendations given should be of practical use to pipework
and project engineers alike.
150 N. W. Snedden


2.1 Small deflection analysis

There are numerous formulae in the literature for calculating the elastic
axial stiffness of a bellows. 13 However, there are only a few published
theories on the problem of bellows bending stiffness: Haringx's I analysis
m a d e use of the theory of unsymmetrical bending of circular plates and
was confined to the mathematically more simple case of bellows with
rectangular-shaped convolutions; H a m a d a e t al. 14examined the bending
flexibility of U-shaped convolutions and produced simple design charts
for a range of bellows dimensions.
In addition to the above theories, there is an elementary formula
relating bellows bending stiffness and axial stiffness, viz:

EI = ~Kar- (2)

w h e r e Ka = bellows elastic axial stiffness. The derivation of this rela-

tionship is discussed by Newland 3 and Seide. 4
Seide 4 points out that the circumferential flexural stiffness of a bellows
is considerably greater than the meridional stiffness and that for small
deflections the bellows cross-section will remain undistorted after
loading. Assuming then that elementary beam theory is valid, the
differential equation for the lateral deflection of a bellows is (see Fig. 3)
EI-~ = - Py - Fx + M (3)

The solution of this equation is

M Fx
y = Acosnx+Bsinnx~ P P (4)

w h e r e A and B are unknown constants, M, P and F the bending m o m e n t ,

axial and lateral forces, respectively, on the bellows, and

n = (5)

p = p~.~2 (6)

where p = internal pressure.

Lateralstiffne~ of bellowsexpansionjoints 151

P :/" '/- El I
' :J

x J
v ,

Fig. 3. Simple beam model for bellows.

T h e b o u n d a r y conditions for the model shown in Fig. 3 are

dy _ 0 at x = 0 (7a)
y= 6 atx= ~ (7b)
and from equilibrium of the bellows
F~ + P6
M - - - (8)
Substituting eqn (4) into eqns (7a) and (7b) and using eqn (8) yields the
following solution for the lateral deflection between the ends of the

F [ g ( 1 - c o s n g ) + 2sinn---------~- 2g ]
6 = n (9)
P(1 + cosng
This relationship can be re-written as
F = Ke6 (10)

w h e r e Ke = bellows elastic lateral (shear) stiffness

Ke = [ g ( l - c o s n ta) + 2sinngn
- - - 2~ ] (11)
152 N. W. Snedden

Using a Maclaurin series to expand the sine and cosine terms it can be
shown, by truncation, that eqn (11) simplifies to
12EI 6P E1
Ke - ~ - -~- for e < < (---7 (12)

It is also possible to derive this result from Haringx's theory. The

condition for instability of the bellows is given by

Ke = 0 at p =p' (13)

and from simple beam theory

Ke - (3 at p = 0 (14)

It follows from the work of Haringx that


Substituting f o r p a n d p ' from eqns (1) and (6), respectively, into eqn (15)
finally gives

12El 12P
Ke- ~ zr2( (16)

2.2 Large deflection analysis

The results obtained for the lateral stiffness in eqns (12) and (16) are only
relevant to bellows undergoing small elastic deformations. In service,
however, bellows are subject to much larger displacements and are often
stressed beyond the elastic limit. In this situation a more elaborate theory
is required to predict the bellows behaviour.
It has been observed from full-scale buckling experiments carried out
by the author 15 that the assumption of undistorted cross-sections is
sufficiently accurate for bellows subject to gross shear deformation (e.g.
8 = ?/4) and relatively low internal pressure. (In addition to the type of
squirming discussed here, which is sometimes termed column instability,
in-plane instability can occur if the bellows intemal pressure is high.
When this happens the convolutions buckle in a local manner and distort
Lateral stiffness of bellows expansionjoints 153

such that they are no longer perpendicular to the bellows neutral axis. 7)
By maintaining this assumption it is possible to establish a simple
procedure for investigating the non-linear lateral stiffness of a bellows.
The mathematical model which will be utilised is similar to the one
considered by Newland 3 where the bellows was represented as a strut
made up of a number of rigid links joined by linear spring hinges, each

~ ~idIink2s

Fig. 4. Large displacementmodel.

simulating the rotational stiffness of a single convolution. In the new

model postulated here (see Fig. 4) the hinges are replaced by non-linear
springs which each rotate through an angle defined by

ON =f(MN) (17)
where Ms = bending moment applied to convolution N


and N = convolution number (N = I corresponds to convolution at end

of bellows see Fig. 4).
The deformation of a bellows subject to combined internal pressure
and lateral loading is asymmetric, viz. the overall shape of the deformed
structure possesses 180 rotational symmetry about the mid-point of the
neutral axis. Thus by analysis of the geometry shown in Fig. 4 the
equation for the lateral displacement between the ends of the bellows is

./2 tar ]
~=,nl_ T 1
154 N. W. Snedden

where a s = vertical tilt (in radians) of convolution

N 1
~N = Z OM (2o)

and n = number of convolutions in bellows.

Provided the elasto-plastic moment/angular deflection relationship of
eqn (17) is known for a single convolution, eqn (19) can be readily solved
using an iterative procedure by assuming an initial value of 8.

2.3 Proposed solution

There are a number of ways in which the angular stiffness of the

convolution can be determined. For example, finite element theory may
be employed or tests conducted. However, the former option can prove
uneconomical if a non-linear analysis of a large model is essential.
Experiments too are costly and not always feasible to perform. Shell
theory is sufficiently advanced to enable the analysis of shells of
revolution subject to non-symmetric loading 16 but the governing
differential equations are complex and their solution is dependent on the
aid of a large digital computer. The application of such theories to bellows
expansion joints is formidable and beyond the scope of the present paper.
A n alternative and much simpler approach, based on experimental
observation, would be to describe the moment/rotation characteristic of
eqn (17) by means of a tri-linear function, such as shown in Fig. 5. This
figure indicates three distinct regions:
I--where the rotation of the bellows convolution is linearly
proportional to the applied bending moment
I I - - w h e r e localised plasticity occurs at the root and crown of the
convolution (by simple analogy with a beam subject to pure
bending, straining is greatest in the longitudinal fibres furthest
away from the neutral axis)
III where contact occurs between adjacent convolutions
These can be conveniently termed the elastic, elasto-plastic and contact
regions, respectively.
The unknown quantities which have to be estimated are the slopes and
Lateral stiffness of bellows expansion joints 155




4500 []




N 2500





I J i i i b

0.000 0,005 0.010 eI 0.015 0.020 0.025 O. 05O 0 2


l~g. 5. Plot of angular stiffness of bellows corrugation.

intercepts of the lines in each region. The gradient of the line in region I is
easily calculated since for a linear elastic bellows 3

0- nEl (21)

It may be safely assumed that in region II the deformation of the con-

volution is perfectly plastic and that at point 1 in Fig. 5 first yielding of the
material occurs. By using the EJMA design equations 7 or simple beam
theory together with the maximum shear stress theory (Tresca) to predict
156 N. W. Snedden

the maximum permissible equivalent axial displacement ~ of the

convolution, the limiting angle 01 can be estimated from

O1 ~ (22)

The intercept of the lines in regions II and III can be determined from the
assumption of undistorted cross-sections. It should be evident that the
convolutions come into contact when


where h = bellows wall thickness.

In region III adjacent convolutions of the bellows come into point
contact. As a result the angular stiffness of the convolution will be
significantly increased compared to the elastic bending stiffness. (A
similar effect occurs when an ordinary helical spring is fully compressed.)
For simplicity, it may be assumed that the slope of the line in region III is
infinity, viz. no further deformation can take place once the convolutions
touch. The validity of this assumption will be commented upon in Section


Experimental data for the elastic lateral stiffness of a bellows taken from
Ref. 15, together with the solution of eqn (11), are presented in Fig. 6.
The value of bellows equivalent bending stiffness used in the derivation of
the theoretical line shown was determined from the formula by Haringx
(see Appendix 1). Details of the relevant bellows geometry and materials
data are given in Appendix 2. As can be seen from Fig. 6 there is
sufficiently good correlation between theory and experiment to establish
that the simple bellows beam model (Fig. 3) is valid for small lateral
deflections. (n.b. The experimental results plotted are applicable to
0.040 in lateral deflection.) It is worth pointing out that the individual
solutions of eqns (11), (12) and (16) are indistinguishable at the scale
indicated in Fig. 6.
Lateral stiffnessof bellows expansion joints 157


i :i i;: I~o0~l~ili?ilIiiiii:ii~i:iiii~ili~li~i~]ii!ilii~i[i!ili~i~ i i!]i!iiiTiliiiiii~::i::i:::::~i~!!i ~iii i ~il ~t

: ::: :q: : : : : : ~.-.~:..:::::::: :::: -::: ========================== ~,~*.:~: :::: -::: :: ~::: :~q~:. : ~.-~ ~.~:~:: ~r:.::: -'--:::::t::-:~ !~ ~ - ~ ~ : :q-.-::-.
l ................. t ....... ~ .............. ~ ............. :. . . . . . - . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . --, :h~o ~ ............

.... ~ i ~ !L,.i ?:: t i

Fig. 6. Plot of bellows elastic lateral stiffness.

Typical experimental curves for the lateral stiffness of a bellows subject

to m u c h larger displacements are plotted in Fig. 7. This figure also shows
the theoretical predictions obtained using eqns (17) to (23) and the
tri-linear function for the angular stiffness of one convolution prescribed
earlier. Despite the relative crudeness of the analytical m e t h o d employed
the a g r e e m e n t up to about 1 in lateral deflection is very good between the
two sets of curves for p = 0 and 70 psig, respectively. B e y o n d this
deflection the discrepancy between theory and experiment can be mainly
attributed to the optimistic assumption for the bellows bending stiffness
once adjacent convolutions touch. It can be inferred from the test data
s h o w n in Fig. 7 that the convolutions continue to deform after initial
contact is made. Nevertheless, in the case where internal pressure is
applied the onset of instability is correctly predicted at 0.25 in lateral
deflection. Between this displacement and approximately 0.7 in the
bellows is shown to be unstable.
158 N. W. Snedden



~ Theory
4000 i'

- - 30DO
-[ M Experiment



// /
I000 /

I I i I I I I I I

0.0 0.~ 0,2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.? 0.8 0,9 1.0 1.1 2 Ii ~ !. 4 t.5

Fill. 7. Plot of bellows lateral stiffness curves.


The data plotted in Fig. 6 show that for the particular bellows tested the
elastic lateral stiffness decreases linearly with increasing internal
pressure. This result is also evident from the form of eqn (12). It is
possible to determine the bellows elastic buckling pressure either by
linear extrapolation of the experimental data or, as previously indicated,
from eqns (6), (12) and (13).
When subject to combined internal pressure and lateral movement the
Lateral stiffne~ of beUows expansion joints 159

expansion and compression of the convolutions as the bellows bends

produces a destabilising force. If displacements are small and the material
remains elastic this force is easily calculated from eqns (6), (12) and (14)
as follows

F, = ( K , ] - K,])8
p=0 p~p,

- 6"rr'r2p85e ifpo<p' or -12EI8.

7 - if Po = p, (24)

On the other hand, if the bellows convolutions undergo localised plastic

deformation the destabilising force due to pressure is simply

F~ = ( r ] - 4 ) (25)
p = 0 P=Po

where Fis computed from eqn (18) for a given lateral deflection 8.
If the bellows operating pressure is relatively low, instability, i.e.
uncontrolled movement, can be a temporary event impeded by the
increased bending stiffness due to contact between convolutions. The test
results shown in Fig. 7 corroborate this assertion. However, for high
internal pressure, gross buckling due to an excessively large destabilising
force, or plastic collapse, can lead to catastrophic failure of the bellows.


It is recommended that, if the bellows design stresses are within the elastic
limit, the bellows lateral stiffness should be determined using eqn (12) if
the bellows axial compressive load P < - 2 E I / g 2, or with eqn (11) if
P >- 2 E I / g 2. In either instance, the quantity E1 should be derived from
Haringx's formulae given in Appendix 1, or indirectly from eqn (2) using
either the measured value of bellows axial stiffness or the result for Ka
calculated from the EJMA standard. 7For the bellows to remain stable the
lateral stiffness Ke must exceed zero. In the event that the bellows design
stresses exceed yield, it is recommended that the lateral load/deflection
characteristic of the bellows should be verified by experiment or
calculated using eqns (17) through (23). An alternative function from that
used by the author may be employed to define eqn (17). However,
160 N. W. Snedden

e x t r e m e care should be taken in establishing this function so as not to

underestimate the lateral deflection at which instability initially occurs.
It is also firmly r e c o m m e n d e d that any bellows expansion joint whose
failure could be catastrophic should be adequately restrained to prevent
excessive deformation due to instability. If simple lateral supports are
e m p l o y e d these should be capable of sustaining at least the destabilising
force due to pressure predicted from eqn (24), if the bellows design
stresses are elastic, or from eqn (25), if the d e s ~ stresses are greater than
It is recognised that these design recommendations are based on
cx tremety limited data. H o w e v e r , ~--~'-
~u, u,~,
. . . .~^v"~,,~,,~'",
. . . - . . . . . . and-theoretical
w o r k should enable the recommendations to be substantiated and


1. Haringx, J. A., Instability of bellows subjected to internal pressure, Philips

Research Report, 7(3) (1952).
2. Haringx, J. A., Instability of thin-walled cylinders subjected to internal
pressure, Philips Research Report, 7(2) (1952).
3. Newland, D. E., Buckling of double bellows expansion joints under internal
pressure, Journal of Mechanical Engineering Science, 6(3) (1964).
4. Seide, P., The effect of pressure on the bending characteristics of an
actuator system, Journal of Applied Mechanics, 27(3) (1960).
5. Fitzgibbon, D. P., Experimental measurements of the stiffness of a bellows
system, Space Technology Laboratories, Report No. EM 8-20, October
6. BS6129, Code of Practice for the Selection and Application of Bellows
Expansion Joints for Use in Pressure Systems, Part l--Metallic Bellows
Expansion Joints, 1981.
7. Standards of the Expansion Joint Manufacturers Association, Inc., Fifth
Edition 1980, White Plains, New York.
8. ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, Section Ill--Division 1, Rules for
Construction of Nuclear Power Plant Components, 1983.
9. American National Standard Nuclear Safety Criteria for the Design of
Stationary Pressurised Water Reactor P/ants, ANS-51.1/N18.2-1973,
10. Department of Employment, The Flixborough Disaster--Report of the
Court of Inquiry, London, HMSO, 1975.
11. Newland, D. E., Buckling and rupture of the double bellows expansion
joint assembly at Flixborough, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London,
Ser. A, 351(1667) (1976).
12. Webster, G. A., An Investigation of the Stability of Double Bellows
Assemblies, Report to the Flixborough Court of Inquiry, London, 1974.
Lateral stiffness of bellows expansion joints 161

13. Matheny, J. D., Bellows spring rate for seven typical convolution shapes,
Machine Design, 34(1) (1962).
14. Hamada, M., Nakagawa, K., Miyata, K. and Nakade, K. Bending deform-
ation of U-shaped bellows, Bulletin of the JSME, 14(71) (1971).
15. Snedden, N. W., The strength and stability of corrugated bellows expansion
joints, PhD thesis, University of Cambridge, 1981.
16. Wan, F. Y. M., Laterally loaded elastic shells of revolution, lngenieur-
Archiv, 42(4) (1973).


Based u p o n the theory of symmetrical bending of fiat circular plates and

circular cylindrical shells, Haringx 1derived the following formulae for the
bending stiffness of a bellows

~.,Ex(h3r 3
E1 = zr(1 - v2)n(ro- r33 (A1.1)


7' - (A1.2)

~"- 2x (A1.3)

1[ (1+p2)(1-p) 3 ]
E = -~ 1-p2+(l+p2)lnpJ (A1.4)

(1 - p2)(1 -- p4 + 4p21np)
x = 4(1 - p2 + 2p In p ) (1 -- p2 _ 2p In p ) (A 1.5)

p - (A1.6)

X = 1 + 2c[(1 -p2+2p21np)2ho+p(1 -p2+21np)2h~] (A1.7)

ro(1 - p2) [(1 - p2)2 _ 4p2(ln p)2]
162 N. W. S n e d d e n

sinh 2/xc + sin 2/xc

k= (A1.8)
2/xc(cosh 2/~c + cos 2/xc)

I-t = 4 ,C-4n


The bellows test specimen employed to obtain the results presented in

Figs 6 and 7 was manufactured from type 321 stainless steel. Nominal
dimensions of the bellows and mechanical properties of the material for a
range of values of work hardening up to 50% reduction in section
thickness are given, respectively, in Tables A. 1 and A.2.

Bellows Dimensions

Inside radius 6.386 in

Outside radius 7.136 in
Convoluted length 7.680 in
Wall thickness 0.022 in
Number of convolutions 16
Number of plies 1

Properties of Type 321 Stainless Steel

% Reduction in thickness 0 12.2a 21.9 50-0

0-2% Proof stress (tonf/sq in) 13.9 29-9 42-3 73-8
Ultimate tensile strength (tonf/sq in) 37-2 43-6 51.3 76-4
Young's modulus (lbf/sq in) 28-0 E6
Poisson's ratio 0-3

aApproximate value of thinning at root and crown of convolution. Data under this column
have been applied in the large deflection analysis.