Applying dead loads to fatigue

I was recently asked how to apply a dead load in a fatigue study (a none varying load that is applied to a structure all of the time, as opposed to a live or dynamic load that generates an alternating stress).

The diagram below shows the definition of alternating stress (or stress amplitude) and mean stress, both of which are important in influencing the lifetime of a material.

image The normal inputs to a fatigue study are the stress amplitudes, but as you can see in the next picture, mean stresses also have an impact on the lifetime of a material. The higher the mean stress, the lower the predicted lifetime.

imageDead loads are not alternating but do contribute to the mean stress, so it is important that we can consider them in a fatigue study. But how do we do this?

Alternating load only case

In a normal fatigue study, the method takes the max stress, Smax from a static study loadcase and we use the loading ratio (R = Smin/Smax) to define Smin directly.


For example,

  • Picking ‘zero based’ means we define Smax but Smin = 0.
  • Picking ‘fully reversed’ means we define Smax and Smin = – Smax.
  • Picking ‘loading ratio’ means we can define any arbitrary Smin from the Smax value.

The fatigue setup simply allows us to pick the relevant static study and along with the loading ratio this provides our alternating stress values. These are then compared to the S-N curve to get the lifetime or damage plots.

Dead load case

Dead loads however are constant and therefore by definition not alternating. This means they only apply a non-zero mean stress, which must be considered for the reasons argued above, but cannot be applied in SolidWorks Simulation in the normal way.

The method we use therefore is the ‘Find cycle peaks’ method. This method takes the peaks of multiple loads to find the damage so we must build our static studies with the ‘peaks’ in mind.

Therefore if we had one alternating stress and one dead load, we would need two studies:

  • Static study 1 including Smax and the dead load.
  • Static study 2 including Smin and the dead load.

You can see here that we are not using one study for Smax and implying Smin from the loading ratio, rather we are doing two separate studies with Smax in one and Smin in the other. However both include the dead load.


Finally, in the fatigue study you reference both of these studies using the ‘Find cycle peaks’ method. This then takes both Smax + dead load and Smin + dead load extremes and combines them to find the worst case for fatigue.

Matthew West

SolidWorks alumnus. I like plate reverb, Rat pedals, Thai curry, New Weird fiction, my kids, Vespas, Jazzmasters, my wife & Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not necessarily in that order.