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Thermal Strain

Most solid materials expand upon heating and contract when cooled. The change in length
with temperature for a solid material may be expressed as follows:

l f − lo Δl
= α l (T f − To ) or = α l ΔT ⇒ Δl = α l l o ΔT (2.2)
lo lo

where lo and lf represent, respectively, initial and final lengths with the temperature change
from To to Tf.

Δl /lo in Equation 2.2 is the linear strain caused by temperature changes and is called thermal
strain. Thermal strain is therefore given by:

ε= = α l ΔT (2.3)

The constant αl in Equations 2.2 and 2.3 is called the linear coefficient of thermal expansion
and has units of reciprocal temperature [oC-1 or K-1]. It is a material property that is indicative
of the extent to which a material expands upon heating.

Of course, heating and cooling affects all the dimensions of a body, with a resultant change in
volume. Volume changes with temperature may be computed from:

= α v ΔT (2.4)
where ΔV and Vo are the volume change and original volume, respectively, and αv
symbolizes the volume coefficient of thermal expansion. For materials in which the thermal
expansion is isotropic, αv is approximately 3αl

Thermal Stress

Thermal stresses are stresses induced in a body as a result of changes in temperature. An

understanding of the origins and nature of thermal stresses is important as an excessive stress
can lead to fracture or undesirable plastic deformation.

Stresses resulting from restrained thermal expansion and contraction

Consider a homogeneous and isotropic solid rod that is heated or cooled uniformly; that is, no
temperature gradient are imposed. For free expansion or contraction, the rod will be stress
free. If however, axial motion of the rod is constrained by rigid end supports, a stress is
induced in the material. This is called thermal stress. The magnitude of the stress σ resulting
from temperature change from To to Tf is:

σ = ε E = Eα l (To − T f ) = Eα l ΔT (2.5)
Upon heating (Tf >To), the stress is compressive (σ <0) since the rod expansion has been
constrained. If the rod is cooled a tensile stress will be imposed. The stress in Equation 2.5
can be considered as the same stress as that required to elastically compress (or elongate) the
rod back to its original length after it had been allowed to freely expand or contract with the
temperature change.

For example: A 100mm long carbon steel specimen is heated from 20 to 104 oC. The thermal
expansion coefficient of the steel is 12x10-6 /oC and then thermal expansion of the specimen
Δl = ε lo = α ΔT lo = 12x10-6 x (104-20) x100 = 0.1mm

There is no stress to occur if the specimen is allowed to expand fully. However if the
expansion is prevented or partially prevented, a thermal stress will be induced. When thermal
expansion is completely prevented, the magnitude of the thermal stress induced is equal to
the stress required to push the specimen back to its original length. Take Young’s modulus
E=200GPa, the stress is:

σ = εE = α ΔT E=12x10-6 x (104-20) x200x109 = 200 x106Nm-2.

So the thermal stress caused by preventing the specimen from expanding is 200MNm-2,
which is compressive stress.

For large temperature changes, α and E vary with the temperature, in that case, the thermal
stress calculated from Equation (2.5) can only provide an estimate.

Both the thermal strain εT and elastic strain εσ may exist together. The total strain ε is the sum
of the two strains, thus:
ε = ε T + ε σ = α ΔT + (2.6)

Worked example

A steel bar 40mm diameter and 4 m long is heated up from 20oC to 80oC and then its end are
firmly secured. After cooling to 20oC again, the length of the bar is found to be 1.2mm less
than that at 80oC. Determine the stress occurred within the cold bar and the total pull force
exerted by the cold bar. E = 200GNm-2 and α =11x10-6 K-1.


The thermal expansion of the bar heated from 20oC to 80oC:

Δl = εT x lo = α ΔT x lo = 11x10-6 x (80-20) x4= 6.6x10-3 x 4 = 2.64x10-3 m

2.64x10-3 m is also maximum (free) contraction when the bar is cooled. However, the
contraction is partially prevented by fixed ends. This results in thermal stress within the bar.

Prevented contraction = 2.64x10-3 – 1.2x10-3 =1.44 x10-3 m

Stress within the cold bar:

1.44 x10 −3
σ T = εE = ( ) × 200 × 10 9 = 72 × 10 6 Nm − 2 = 72 MNm − 2
π 3.14
Total pull force exerted by the cold bar: F = σA = σ d 2 = 72 × 10 6 ×
× 0.04 2 = 90.4 kN
4 4
The stress occurred within the cooled bar is 72 MPa and the total pull force exerted by the bar
is 90.4kN

Stresses resulting from temperature gradients

In many cases, when a body is heated or cooled, the internal temperature distribution within
the body is not uniform, particularly when rapid heating and cooling, large size and
complicated body shape are involved. Thermal stresses may be established as a result of the
temperature gradients. For example, upon heating a large component, the exterior of a
specimen is hotter and, therefore, will have expanded more than interior regions. Hence
compressive surface stresses are induced and are balanced by tensile interior stresses. The
interior-exterior stress conditions are reversed for rapid cooling, in latter case, the surface is
under tension and interior is under compression.

Stresses in Composite Bars

Compound bar refers to a load–bearing member that consists of two or more members
rigidly fixed together. The members that form compound bars can be made up of two or more
different materials. The stresses developed within the compound bars can be due to applied
external load, temperature changes and the combination of both temperature change and
applied load.

Let consider a compound bar with the cross-sectional areas of the two materials be A1 and
A2, the Young’s modulus be E1 and E2 and the coefficient of thermal expansion be α1 and α2.
The ends of the bar is fixed.

Stresses due to applied external load

If the compound bar is subjected to an applied load of F at its end as shown below then:
(1) The sum of the load carried by each part is equal to the applied
load: A1,
E1 ,
F1 + F2 = F
(2.7) α1
σ 1 A1 + σ 2 A2 = F
(2) Due to fixed ends, the extension or contraction is the same for E2,
each material, that is: α2

Δl1 = Δl 2
σ1 σ2 (2.8)
ε 1l1 = ε 2 l 2 ⇒ l1 = l2
E1 E2
Using equations 2.7 and 2.8, the stresses σ1 and σ2 within the composite bars can be obtained.

Stresses due to temperature change

When the compound bar experiences temperature changes from To to Tf, the stresses can
develop within the compound bar if its thermal expansion is constrained.

(i) If there is no applied load (F = 0), then sum of the load carried by each part is equal to:
F1 + F2 = 0
σ 1 A1 + σ 2 A2 = 0

From Equation (2.6), the strain for each material can be calculated:
ε 1 = (ε σ + ε T )1 = + α 1 (T f − To )
ε 2 = (ε σ + ε T ) 2 =+ α 2 (T f − To )
Where εσ is strain due to mechanical stress and εT is the strain due to temperature change.

Fixed ends, the strain is the same for each material:

ε1 = ε 2
σ1 σ (2.10)
+ α 1 (T f − To )ε 2 = 2 + α 2 (T f − To )
E1 E2

Using equations 2.9 and 2.10, the stresses σ1 and σ2 within the composite bars can be

(ii) If the compound bar experiences both applied load F and temperature changes, the
Equation 2.9 changes to:
F1 + F2 = F (2.11)
σ 1 A1 + σ 2 A2 = F

Using equations 2.10 and 2.11, the stresses σ1 and σ2 within the composite bars can be

1. A railway is laid so that there is no stress in the rail at 20oC. (i) Calculate the stress in the
rails at -6oC if all contraction is prevented. Take E=206GNm-2 and α (the coefficient of linear
expansion) =12x10-6 oC-1. (ii) If however, there is 6mm allowance for contraction per rail,
what is the stress at -6oC? The length of the rail is 27m. (64.4MNm-2; 18.5MNm-2).

2. The bimetallic component consists of a steel rod are arranged concentrically and fixed
through rigid end plates. The properties of two components are:

E1 = 205GNm-2, A1 = 600mm2, α1=11x10-6/oC;

E2 = 115GNm-2, A2 = 1200mm2, α2=16x10-6/oC
E: Young’s modulus; A: cross-sectional area; α: the coefficient of linear expansion.

(a) The components are subjected to an applied compressive load of 40kN through rigid
end plats as shown below. Determine the axial stresses in component 1 and 2. (Answers: 31.5
MN/m2 compressive; 17.58 MN/m2compressive)

(b) The components are not subjected to any external load but its temperature change
from 20oC to 100 oC. Determine the axial stresses in component 1 and 2. (Answers: 43.4
MN/m2 (tensile); 21.7 MN/m2 (compressive)

3. A steel tie rod 25mm diameter is placed concentrically in a brass tube 60 mm outside
diameter and 54 mm inside diameter. Nuts and washers are fixed on the screwed ends of the
tie rod so that the ends of the tube may be enclosed by the washers. The nuts are tightened
initially to give a compressive stress of 30 MN/m2 in the brass tube. Find the final stresses in
the tie rod and in the tube if:

(a) an additional compressive load of 40 kN is applied to the tie rod,

(b) an additional compressive load of 40 kN is applied to the tie rod and it also
undergoes a temperature rise of 900C.

Take for steel Es = 207 GN/m2 and αs = 12 x 10-6/0C, for brass Eb = 102 GN/m2 and αb =
22 x 10-6/0C.

Answers fro question 3:

(a) 20.1 MN/m2 compressive

56.1 MN/m2 compressive

(b) 45.0 MN/m2 tensile

116.0 MN/m2 compressive