Stress analysis forms a critical foundation of structural design across civil, mechanical and aerospace engineering disciplines. Determining the state of stress on structural components enables predicting failure and fracture risks.

When any structural component experiences complex multi-axial loading scenarios, the stress state at a given point must be simplified into principal directions to enable accurate strength and failure prediction theories.

Step-by-step sections cover core concepts like deriving principal stresses from tensor transformations; graphical approaches leveraging Mohr’s circle; implementing equations for common elements like beams, composites and piping systems

Failure predictions using maximum shear stress, Von Mises or Tresca criteria and numerical modeling techniques in Solidworks Simulation.

With strong fundamental knowledge, engineers can accurately calculate principal stresses in structural components to optimize analysis and prevent overdesign or under design.


Principal stresses are the maximum and minimum normal stresses acting on a material at a given point.

More specifically Principal stresses represent the stresses acting on the planes where the shear stresses are zero. They are denoted as σ1, σ2, and σ3 and are defined as:

σ1 = Maximum principal (normal) stress
σ2 = Intermediate principal (normal) stress
σ3 = Minimum principal (normal) stress


By convention, the principal stresses are arranged in order of decreasing magnitude:

σ1 ≥ σ2 ≥ σ3

The concept of principal stresses is extremely important in failure analysis and mechanical design as many failure theories and yield criteria for materials are expressed in terms of these principal stresses.

Some key points about principal stresses:

  • They allow the state of stress at a point to be simplified into only normal stress components acting on mutually perpendicular planes.
  • They are calculated from the stress transformation equations by finding the eigenvalues/eigenvectors of the stress tensor.
  • Their directions are orthogonal and indicate the planes in the material where normal stress is maximized or minimized.
  • Accurately determining principal stress directions and magnitudes is key for predicting yielding or fracture using common failure criteria.

In summary, the three principal stresses fully describe the state of normal and shear stresses on the elemental planes passing through a point in a material under load. They enable simplified stress analysis tied closely to failure prediction.

Maximum Principal Stress

The maximum principal stress, also known as the major principal stress, represents the highest magnitude of normal stress exerted on one of the principal planes, with zero shear stress present.

Minimum Principal Stress

The minimum principal stress, also referred to as the minor principal stress, denotes the lowest magnitude of principal stress experienced on one of the principal planes, where shear stress has a value of zero.

image 6

Calculating Principal Stresses in Beams

The first principal stress, denoted σ1, is the maximum normal stress acting on a material. For structural beams undergoing bending, σ1 occurs on surfaces aligned parallel to the applied bending moment. Using principles of elastic beam theory, σ1 can be calculated as:

σ1 = My/I

Where M is the bending moment, y is the distance from the neutral axis, and I is the beam’s moment of inertia.

The sign convention dictates that σ1 is positive on surfaces in tension, and negative under compression.

All three principal stresses can be determined by superimposing axial and shear effects.

Principal Stress Tensor Derivation
The state of stress at a point is fully described by the Cauchy stress tensor.

The eigenvectors and eigenvalues of this tensor represent the principal stress directions and magnitudes per the principal stress transformation equations.

The derivation involves diagonalizing the stress tensor matrix through coordinate transformations and matrix operations.

This yields the maximum (σ1), intermediate (σ2) and minimum (σ3) principal stresses.

Maximum Shear Stress Theory for Principal Stresses
The maximum shear stress theory utilizes the principal stresses from Mohr’s circle to predict failure due to stresses exceeding the material strength.

The maximum shear stress is defined as half the difference between the maximum (σ1) and minimum (σ3) principal stresses:

τmax = (σ1 – σ3)/2

For the common case of biaxial normal stresses and no shear, failure is predicted when τmax exceeds the shear strength.

This criterion depends wholly on the principal stresses, making their accurate determination vital.

Principal Stresses in Laminated Composites
Composite laminates often experience high biaxial or triaxial stress states requiring principal stress analysis.

Stress transformations following Classical Lamination Theory provide the ply stresses which are input into the 3D stress transformation equations.

This determines the ply principal stresses, which indicate failure per Tsai-Hill or Tsai-Wu criteria.

Accurate calculation is key to predicting composite laminate strength.

Principal Stress Transformation Equations
The principal stresses are calculated by finding the eigenvalues of the following tensor transformation:

σx τxy τxz
τxy σy τyz = λ1 0 0
0 λ2 0
0 0 λ3

Where λ1, λ2, λ3 are the principal stresses denoted by convention as:

σ1 ≥ σ2 ≥ σ3

Solving the determinant |σij – λδij| = 0 gives the algebraic formulas for all principal stress magnitudes aligned with the material coordinates.

Principal Stress Failure Criteria
Common failure theories using principal stresses include the maximum shear stress theory for brittle materials, and Von Mises and Tresca criteria for ductile materials.

These assume failure when:

τmax = (σ1 – σ3)/2 ≥ τult (Shear Stress Theory)

σe = √((σ1-σ2)2 + (σ2-σ3)2 + (σ3-σ1)2)/2 ≥ σy (Von Mises)

σ1 – σ3 ≥ σy (Tresca)

Where τult is shear strength, σy is yield strength in simple tension, and σe is the effective stress.

Accurate principal stresses prevent over or under conservative predictions.

Principal Stress Analysis in Solidworks Simulation
The Solidworks Simulation FEA package readily outputs principal stress values for each element.

The maximum principal stress plot visually indicates regions at highest risk of failure.

principal stress analysis in solid works

This allows optimizing designs to minimize σ1. Solid works also plots the principal material directions, which indicate potential crack paths and failure planes per maximum shear stress theory.

Mohr’s Circle Examples for Principal Stresses
Mohr’s circle provides a graphical tool to visualize the state of two-dimensional stress at a point and derive the principal stresses.

By convention, σ1 and σ3 are the stresses acting on planes perpendicular to the element with orientations angled at θ=0° and 90° respectively.

Multiple Mohr’s circle examples demonstrate the utility of finding principal stresses for materials strength analysis.

Ranking Principal Stresses by Magnitude
Since by definition σ1 ≥ σ2 ≥ σ3, logically ranking the principal stress magnitudes is trivial.

However, care must be taken when analyzing combined loading scenarios or multi-axial stress states.

In some cases, the principal angle rotations may lead to scenarios where:

σ2 ≥ σ1 ≥ σ3

Thorough checks of the principal stress transformations prevent unintended swapping and yielding incorrect maximum values.

Principal Axial Stress in Piping Bends
Elbows and bends in piping systems experience significant bending loads which translate to high axial stresses.

Applying the thick-walled pipe stress equations provides hoop and radial stresses.

Transformation into principal directions provides the maximum axial principal stress value to compare against failure criteria.

This technique verifies integrity against excessive loads.

In summary, thorough understanding of principal stress analysis methods is vital for calculating and predicting failure in structural components.

Accurately determining the maximum principal stress and orientations enables designing components with adequate strength margins.

Expert analysis prevents costly overdesign as well as dangerous under designs.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *