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topic 10417

Spring Failure Causes


We have stainless steel springs within our solenoids that fail within the first year in application. These solenoids have been in production for the past 4 years are this year we are experiencing broken springs in the solenoids. I understand spring failures can occur due to surface finish flaws. An outside laboratory has the position that the granular structure of the springs meets ASTM specification.

Can a spring meet ASTM specification and still contain flaws that would cause it to break early in application? What types of specific characteristics should be sought relative to spring failure?

Any and all suggestions are welcome.

Patricia Estorga
- El Paso, Texas

Spring Design & Manufacture
from Abe Books



What grade of stainless steel do you specify? What environment are the springs exposed to?

Bill Reynolds
Bill Reynolds
   consultant metallurgist
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
We sadly relate the news that Bill passed away on Jan. 29, 2010.


The spring wire is specified to ASTM A313 specification. In application, the springs may be exposed to fuel vapors. Again, these springs have been in service for 4 to 5 years and up to this year there has not been this problem of breakage. Any ideas?

Patricia Estorga
- El Paso, Texas


Have you seen the British Defense Standard on corrosion by organic vapours? BS 7195 Guide for Prevention of Corrosion of Metals Caused by Vapours from Organic Materials. Also see Defence Standard 03-29/Issue 2 22 August 1997 PROTECTION OF METALLIC SPRINGS AGAINST CORROSION.

tom pullizzi monitor
Tom Pullizzi
Falls Township,


If the springs have been in service for several years before failing, the failure mode may be fatigue fracture. Other possibilities include stress corrosion cracking or hydrogen embrittlement from the service environment. The ASTM A313 [link by ed. to spec at TechStreet] includes several alloys for spring wire, some of which will be more susceptible to SCC/HE than others.

The first thing that you need to determine is the specific failure mode. This should be very straightforward for a metallurgical laboratory with necessary equipment and expertise. Once the failure mode is known, then you can start to figure out the root cause and corrective action.

Good luck.

larry hanke
Larry Hanke
Minneapolis, Minnesota


Sounds like your problem is due to cycle life failure, you should consider shot peening for longer spring life.

Ignacio D. Fresas
- Chicago,Il USA


I am an amateur astronomer who has just built an unusual observatory whose roof mechanism is supported by two large stainless steel springs. I now find that I need to slightly exceed the design specification of the springs, but still feel I don't have a complete answer to my query from the manufacturer. Can someone help me out with an off-the-record commonsense answer, please? My question raises an interesting general point about handling what must be a tradeoff between the extent to which the elastic limit can be slightly exceeded if one requires a short cycle life (2000 rather than 100,000 cycles).

I am a numerate retired scientist but not an engineer. A quick internet search tells me that the elastic limit for most stainless steels is about 1/3 the tensile strength: would I be correct in thinking that even if my springs are the lower grade (see below) they WON'T in fact SNAP (as implied below) at 25" or even 26", but would probably acquire a set? How quickly is this likely to build up? I envisage perhaps 2000 (not 100,000) cycles over perhaps 20 years in which the springs spend 95% of their time at 16" or 17", and 5% at 25" or 26", depending on what extension I settle for.

The technician's last two responses include the following: "The maximum allowable extension of the spring depends [on the]tensile grade [which] we don't know. Our product standard clearly states that[they] must be made out of a 302 stainless steel [but] the tensile strength can be any where between 1200N/mm^2 and 2200N/mm^2 the design software rates the upper tensile as 1610N/mm^2. As the springs are pre-batch it [is not] possible to request a material certificate as there is no traceability. Based on the lower grade the maximum allowable extension of the spring is approximately 24.5". Based on the upper tensile the maximum extension is approximately 27". The fatigue life will be 100,000 cycles for both sets of loaded position [cycling between 17" and 25", and between 18" and 26"- J.K.] for the upper tensile grade but for the lower grade the life will be less than 100,000. This could mean it might fail [snap or acquire a set? - J.K.] on the first attempt or could last the 2000, cycles required."

John Kemp
- Whitstable, UK


Personally, as an engineer, but not a spring engineer, I just would not do it. Some springs acquire a set, as in a twisted Slinky or the retraction spring on a ball point pen. But you can't depend on that. Springs do break and it is much more dangerous than when many other things break because the recoil releases so much energy.

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Is the spring calculated according to meet the cycles requirements and the Goodman diagram is OK?

Lluis Callejón Font

September 30, 2009

There's an excellent spring calculator at
(no affiliation to me). Use the worst case strength values to design your spring. You can also run steel cables through the center of the springs and attach them securely at each end for safety - similar to the springs on most garage doors. Then if the spring breaks it won't become a projectile, and also your load will have some support.

Alan Kirkpatrick
- Shelburne, Vermont

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