Stress Concentration

What is Stress Concentration and How to Reduce

Stress concentration refers to the accumulation of stress in specific regions of a material or structure due to the presence of geometric irregularities, material discontinuities, or external loads. These irregularities can include sharp corners, notches, holes, fillets, changes in cross-sectional area, or any other feature that disrupts the uniformity of stress distribution. When stress concentration occurs, the stress levels in these localized areas can become significantly higher than the applied stress, leading to potential failure. Therefore, understanding and mitigating stress concentration is an important consideration in engineering design.

In this article, we will delve into the concept of stress concentration, explore its causes, discuss its effects on materials and main applications, highlight the importance of avoiding stress concentration, and provide insights into mitigating its detrimental effects.

What is Stress Concentration?

Stress concentration, also called a stress raiser, or a stress riser, or notch sensitivity, is a location in an object where the stress is substantially higher than in the surrounding area. They arise from irregularities in the geometry or material of a structural component that interrupt the flow of stress. Such irregularities include holes, grooves, notches, fillets, and accidental damage like nicks and scratches. 

The degree of stress concentration caused by a discontinuity under tensile loads can be defined as a dimensionless stress concentration factor Kt. Kt refers to the ratio of the highest stress to the nominal far-field stress. For example, a circular hole in an infinite plate has a stress concentration factor of 3, which is Kt=3. Note that the stress concentration factor differs from the stress intensity factor. The stress intensity factor is used to define the effect of a crack on the stresses in the region around a crack tip.

In ductile materials under high loads, localized plastic deformation typically first occurs at stress concentrations, redistributing stress and allowing continued loading. Brittle materials usually fail at stress concentrations. However, even ductile materials can fail from fatigue cracks that initiate and slowly grow from repeated low-level loading at a stress concentration. Since fatigue cracks always start at stress raisers, removing such defects increases fatigue strength.

What Causes Stress Concentration?

The stress concentration in materials is not random but rather is induced by particular conditions and characteristics. Some principal causes include:

Geometric Irregularities

Geometric irregularities result in localized stress increases in an object. Stress concentrations can arise from various shapes, including sharp internal corners, holes, sudden changes in cross-sectional area, as well as unintended damage like nicks, scratches, and cracks. High localized stress can lead to faster object failure, so engineers often design geometry to minimize stress concentrations.

stress concentration in hole 1

Material Discontinuities

Material discontinuities, like inclusions within metals, can also concentrate stress. Inclusions present on the surface of a component may fracture during manufacturing processes, resulting in the formation of microcracks that grow from cyclic loading during service. Internally, the failure of interfaces surrounding inclusions under loading conditions can result in static failure through microvoid coalescence.

External Loads

Applied loads, such as tension, compression, bending, or torsion, can induce stress concentration. Notably, these loads can exacerbate stress concentration in the presence of geometric irregularities or material discontinuities.

Thermal Stress

Temperature variations can cause differences in thermal expansion and contraction within a structure. This produces internal stresses that result in stress concentration.

Effects Of Stress Concentration on Material

Stress concentration refers to the localized increase in stress levels within a material, caused by the presence of geometric features. The effects of stress concentration on materials can be detrimental and include the following:

Increased Stress Levels: Stress concentration amplifies the stress levels in localized areas, which can exceed the material’s yield strength. This can lead to plastic deformation, crack initiation, or even catastrophic failure.

Reduced Strength: Stress concentration can cause a significant decrease in the strength of a material. The localized increase in stress can exceed the material’s yield strength or ultimate tensile strength, leading to localized deformation or failure.

Fatigue Failure: Stress concentration can accelerate the initiation and propagation of fatigue cracks in materials subjected to cyclic loading. The elevated stress levels at stress concentration sites promote crack nucleation, which can lead to premature failure under repeated loading.

fatigue failure at stress concentration point

Brittle Fracture: Materials that are prone to brittle fracture, such as certain ceramics and cast iron, can experience catastrophic failure due to stress concentration. The high stress concentration can cause crack propagation without significant plastic deformation, resulting in a sudden and complete fracture.

Localized Deformation: Stress concentration can induce localized plastic deformation in a material. This deformation can lead to permanent changes in the material’s shape, such as necking or deformation around notches, which can affect the overall performance and integrity of the structure.

Reduced Fatigue Life: Stress concentration can significantly reduce the fatigue life of a material. The presence of stress raisers can initiate cracks at lower stress levels and accelerate their growth, leading to premature failure under cyclic loading conditions.

Increased Sensitivity to Environmental Factors: Stress concentration sites can be more susceptible to the effects of environmental factors such as corrosion, oxidation, or temperature changes. The elevated stress levels can promote the initiation and propagation of corrosion or oxidation, further compromising the material’s integrity.

Why Stress Concentration Should Be Avoided?

Stress concentration should be avoided because it can significantly weaken a material and lead to premature failure. When a structural component or material undergoes loading, stress is distributed throughout its body. However, the presence of geometric irregularities, such as sharp corners, holes, or sudden changes in cross-section, can cause stress to become concentrated in those areas.

Stress concentration occurs because the irregularities disrupt the smooth flow of stress, creating localized areas of high stress. These high-stress regions can exceed the material’s strength and lead to crack initiation and propagation. Even if the material is initially strong enough to withstand the applied load, stress concentration can reduce its fatigue life and make it more susceptible to failure over time.

research stress concentration

There are several reasons why stress concentration should be avoided:

  1. Prevent Failure

By removing discontinuities and minimizing stress concentrations, the risk of failure by plastic deformation, fracture, fatigue, or creep can be significantly reduced. This improves safety and reliability.

  1. Improve Performance

Mitigating stress concentrations allows for better distribution of stresses through the part. This decreases the likelihood of localized yielding and allows for better utilization of the material’s full strength.

  1. Reduce Costs

Failures related to stress concentrations like fracture or fatigue cracking often necessitate expensive repairs or part replacements. Minimizing concentration can therefore help decrease operating and maintenance costs over time.

  1. Achieve Longer Service Life

Since fatigue life is tied to the severity of stress concentrations, reducing concentration can substantially extend the usable life of components. This is especially important for parts that experience cyclic stresses.

  1. Maintain Structural Integrity

Stress concentration can compromise the structural integrity of materials, leading to deformation, distortion, or even collapse. By eliminating stress concentration, structural integrity can be preserved.

  1. Ensuring Safety

Stress concentration can compromise the safety of structures, machinery, or equipment. Eliminating stress concentration points is essential to prevent accidents, injuries, or costly damages.

How to Mitigate Stress Concentration Effects?

Mitigating the effects of stress concentration is crucial to maintaining the integrity and reliability of materials and structures. Here are some effective strategies to minimize stress concentration:

  1. Include Gradual Transitions in the Design

Stress concentrations frequently result from sudden geometric changes or abrupt shape transitions. To address this issue, designers should incorporate targeted design measures such as fillet radii or tapers to facilitate a smooth transition between different shapes. By smoothing out critical areas in the design, the flow of stress can be influenced, effectively avoiding the accumulation of stress in localized regions.

  1. Use Relief Notches

Designers have the option to reduce stress concentrations by eliminating material around notches, resulting in the creation of an extra groove known as a relief notch. Despite the fact that relief notches introduce some additional geometric elements into the design, they can be utilized by designers to manage the stress lines within a component.

Reduce Stress Concentration Around a Notch

  1. Choose Several Small Relief Notches as Opposed to a Single Long One

When holes and notches are necessary, using numerous small relief notches is optimal. Unlike the prior method of using a single groove to correct any irregularities, this technique requires making multiple smaller notches around each intentional notch to mitigate possible stress concentrations. Engineers can take away extra material to make miniature notches while keeping the original notch intact.

  1. Avoid Sharp Corners

It is generally advisable to avoid sharp corners, particularly when CNC machining internal part geometries. Additionally, if designers are concerned about the creation of stress concentrations, they should also steer clear of sharp corners. Even when design demands sharp corners, designers should incorporate a fillet radius at such sharp corners. This design factor guarantees a gradual decrease in the cross-sectional area instead of a sudden one, thereby promoting a more even distribution of stress throughout the part.

  1. Provide Small Holes Near a Big Hole

When an object has an internal hole, the intensity of stress is greater near that hole. To solve this situation, additional smaller holes can be made near the original hole. Creating these extra holes allows the stress to be distributed more uniformly than when there was only one hole.

  1. Decrease the Nominal Diameter of a Threaded Object and Make It Equal to the Core Diameter

Suppose we have a threaded object where the stress intensity at the threaded part is higher. The likelihood that the object may fail is also higher at the threaded part. To prevent this, we can reduce the nominal diameter of the shank and match it to the core diameter. By doing so, the stress distribution in the object with threads will become more uniform.

  1. Stress Relief

Apply stress relief techniques, such as heat treatment or shot peening, to alleviate residual stresses and minimize stress concentration.

  1. Material Selection

Choose materials with higher toughness and ductility to withstand stress concentration effects. Materials with good fracture toughness can absorb more energy and resist crack propagation.

Stress Concentration design

Applications of Stress Concentrations

Here are some key applications of stress concentrations:

– Fracture Mechanics – Stress concentrations play an important role in fracture initiation. Cracks often form at locations of high stress concentrations, especially under cyclic loading conditions. Fracture mechanics principles utilize stress concentration factors to predict crack initiation and growth.

– Fatigue Failure – Related to fracture, fatigue cracks commonly initiate at stress concentration sites on a part subjected to fluctuating stresses. Reducing stress concentrations via design changes can significantly improve fatigue life.

– Purposeful Failure Points – In some cases, stress concentrations are intentionally designed into a part to cause failure at a particular location. Examples include tension tabs on bolts and scored fracture points on glass.

– MEMS/NEMS – Microscale devices often utilize stress concentration effects to amplify the level of stress/strain for actuation and sensing purposes. 

– Adhesives – Stress concentrations can be useful for controlled separation of adhesively bonded parts. Higher localized stresses help initiate separation at the interface.


Stress concentrations pose a major risk for engineering components, often initiating failures and decreasing fatigue life. The localized increase in stresses occurs due to discontinuities like holes, notches, and corners which reduce the load-bearing area and disrupt stress flows. Concentrated stresses can lead to excessive deformation, fracture, accelerated fatigue damage, and creep issues. 

Engineers should aim to design parts to avoid geometric discontinuities where possible or use techniques like relief notches, improved materials, and compressive stresses to mitigate the detrimental effects of any unavoidable stress concentrations. With proper design and analysis, the risks of stress concentration can be managed, leading to safer, longer-lasting component designs.


Stress concentration – From Wikipedia


Yes, stress concentration can occur in all materials, including metals, polymers, ceramics, and composites. However, the severity and susceptibility to stress concentration may vary depending on the material's properties.

Not always. While some stress concentration points, such as sharp corners or notches, can be visually identified, others, like microcracks or material inclusions, may require advanced inspection techniques for detection.

It is challenging to completely eliminate stress concentration in design. However, through careful design considerations, material selection, and stress relief techniques, the detrimental effects of stress concentration can be significantly reduced.

Stress concentration can have varying effects on different materials. For example, in brittle materials, stress concentration can lead to rapid crack propagation and brittle fracture. In ductile materials, it may result in localized plastic deformation and reduced fatigue life.

Yes, stress concentration can occur in both structural and non-structural components. Any material subjected to external loads or geometric irregularities is susceptible to stress concentration, regardless of its application.

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