Contact Stress: Allowable, Permissible, Nominal, Calculated, Fatigue Limit.

Cams wear, like bearings and gears. The cam's surface is subject to contact stress as the cam-follower passes over it.

If the cam's metallurgy is identical at all depths, then the cam would usually 'fail' at the point on the cam's surface that experiences the maximum contact-stress as the cam passes beneath the cam-follower. Failure would be due to 'rolling contact fatigue'. Like any machine part, the challenge is to make sure that the cam does not fail before the intended life of the machine.

Allowable Contact Stress, σHLim [Also Allowable Contact Number]

Allowable Contact Stress is the limit of rolling contact stress that the cam steel can sustain for N-cycles, with a reliability of 99%, without failure by pitting. The term 'failure' from pitting fatigue is subjective and a source of considerable disagreement. One observer’s 'failure' may be another observer’s 'wearing-in'.

For most cam materials, N-cycles is considered to be the beginning of the endurance strength range at the 'lower knee' of the σ - N curve[S-N curve].

The contact-force and the cam's radius-of-curvature continually change around the cam. Thus, each point on the cam will experience a different contact stress. The stress will due to the contact conditions that prevail at that point.

We would assume the cam would fail at the point at which the contact is the most arduous and the contact-stress is a maximum. The point at which the contact-stress is a maximum is not necessarily at the point of maximum contact-force, because the cam's radius is also a factor.

Of course, we calculate the Contact Stress at all Point on the Cam.

Steels: Hardness and Allowable Stress

The table below - from ISO 6336 Part 5 - shows a 'first estimation' of the Allowable Contact Stress, for 5x107 cycles for different classes of steel and surface treatments, or for nitriding steels, 2×106 cycles.

The reliability is taken as 99%. That is to say, 99% of cams will not fail if subjected to a contact-stress equal to the stress in the table.

You can see that the Endurance Strength/Limit is a function of the material type, quality and importantly its surface hardness. Depth of Hardness is also important because the maximum shear=stress occurs below the surface [when coefficient of friction is less than 0.3].

The lubrication mode is 'mixed', and the lubricant is 'clean'.


Material Type









Contact Stress Endurance Limit MPa

99%, Rel

5x107 cycles

Hardness Range


Normalized Low Carbon Steels & Cast Steels

Wrought, normalized, Low Carbon Steels




1.000×HB + 190

1.520×HB + 250

110 - 210 HB

110 - 210 HB

St50.2, 1.0050, E295
St60-2, 1.0060, E335
St70-2, 1.0070, E360

Cast Steels




0.986×HB + 131

1.143×HB + 237

140 - 210 HB

110 - 210 HB

GE200, 1.0420
GE240, 1.0446
GE300, 1.0558

Cast Irons

Black Malleable Cast Iron [pearlitic structure]




1.371×HB + 143

135 - 250 HB

EN-GJMB-350-10 : HB 150
EN-GJMB-500-5 :  HB 165-215
EN-GJMB-600-2 : HB 195-245
EN-GJMB-700-2 : HB 240-290


1.333×HB + 267

175 - 250 HB

Nodular Spheroidal Pearlitic Bainitic Ferritic  Cast Iron



1.434×HB + 211

175 - 300 HB

EN-GJS-400-15 : HB 135-180
EN-GJS-500-14 : HB 170-215
EN-GJS-600-10 : HB 190-230
EN-GJS-700-2 : HB 210-305
EN-GJS-800-2 : HB 240-335


1.500×HB + 250

200 - 300 HB


Cast Irons




1.033×HB + 132

150 - 240 HB

EN-GJL-200, GG20
EN-GJL-300, GG30
EN-GJL-350, GG35
EN-GJL-400, GG40

1.465×HB + 122

175 - 275 HB

Through-Hardened Wrought Steels

Nominally >0.2%c.

Carbon Steels









135 - 210 HV

135 - 210 HV

135 - 210 HV

C40E, 1.1186
C45E, 1.1191, 1045,



Alloy Steels








200 - 360 HV

200 - 360 HV

200 - 390 HV

42CrMo5, 1.7225

Through-Hardened Cast Steels

Nominally > 0.2%C

Carbon Steels

(Low to Medium)






130 - 215 HV

130 - 215 HV


Alloy Steels






200 - 360 HV

200 - 360 HV

G42CrMo4 :1.7231

Case Hardened Wrought Steels

Less than 0.25% Carbon







600 - 800 HV

660 - 800 HV

660 - 800 HV



17Cr3 [1.7016, AISI 5115]

16MnCr5 [1.7131], 5115, 8620


20MnCr5 [1.7147]

15NiCr13 [1.5752]

17CrNi6-6 [1.5918]

18CrNiMo7-6 [1.6587]





EN36 - 1.5752 - 14NiCr4, SAE8620,

14NiCrMo13-4, AISI 9310, 1.6657 655M13

100CrMnSi6-4 [CarboNitriding]


Flame or Induction Hardened

Wrought or Cast Steels

>0.25% Carbon








485 - 615 HV

500 - 615 HV

500 - 615 HV

34Cr4 [1.7033] [530M32]

41Cr4, 34CrNiMo6


Nitrided Wrought steels


Through Hardened,


Nitriding Steels








650 - 900 HV

650 - 900 HV

650 - 900 HV

EN40B, EN41B, Nitralloy, N135M

31CrMo12, 42CrMoV12, 38CrAlMo

31CrMoV9. 905M39

Through Hardening Steel








450 - 650 HV

450 - 650 HV

450 - 650 HV

32CrMoV13 [Quench And Hardened]

Wrought Steels


Through Hardening Steels




HV (nitro-carb)

0.000×HV + 650

1.167×HV + 425

0.000×HV + 950

300 - 650 HV

300 - 450 HV

450 - 650 HV

ML  - limited demands on the material quality and on the material heat treatment process during gear manufacture.

MQ - requirements met by experienced manufacturers at moderate cost.

ME - requirements realized when a high degree of operating reliability is required.




Normalized low carbon steels

Structural Steels whose Ultimate Strength, σU < 800MPa

Wrought normalized,

low carbon steels


Cast Steels

St [cast]

Cast iron materials

Black malleable cast iron

[pearlitic structure]

GTS [perl]

Nodular cast iron

(pearlitic,  bainitic, ferritic structure)

GGG [perl., bai., ferr.]

Grey Cast Iron


Through-hardened wrought steels

Steels, Through Hardened and Quench and Tempered, whose  σU ≥ 800MPa

Carbon Steels,

Alloy Steel

Heat-Treatable Steels, Carbon ≥0.2%]


Through-hardened cast steels

Carbon Steels, Alloy Steels

V [cast]

Case-hardened wrought steels

Case Hardening Steels


Flame or induction hardened

Wrought Alloy STEELS

CAST steel [C0.4%+]


Nitrided wrought steels / nitriding steels / through-hardening steels, nitrided

Nitriding Steels

NT [nitr.]

Through hardening steels

NV [nitr.]


Through hardening steels

NV [nitrocar.]

St  = Structural Steel σU < 800MPa [Mild Steel];

Normalised Structural Steel,
Cast Structural Steel;
Cast Alloy Steel
Cast Carbon Steel

V   = Through-hardening steel, through-hardened, Quench and Tempered,  σU ≥ 800MPa

Alloy Steel (Carbon ≥ 0.2%)
Carbon Steel (Carbon ≥ 0.2%)

GG = Grey Cast Iron

GGG = Spheroidal (Pearlitic, Bainitic, Ferritic) Cast Iron

GTS [perl] = Black malleable Cast Iron [pearlitic structure]

Eh = Carburized Case-Hardening Steel. Case Hardened

Core Hardness ≥ 30HRC
Core Hardness ≥ 25HRC ,Jominy < 28HRC
Core Hardness ≥ 25HRC ,Jominy ≥ 28HRC

IF = Steel and  GGG, Flame or Induction Hardened

NT (nitr)= Gas Nitriding Steel

NV (nitr) = Through-hardening, nitrided

NV (nitro-carb) = Through-hardening and case-hardening steel, nitro-carburized

σU  <  ultimate tensile strength, approximately 3.4×BHN MPa.

Modification Factors:

The permissible contact-stress is often modified - in the same way as the cam-follower life is modified - with modification factors.


The allowable stress numbers are a function of melting, casting, forging and heat treating practice. Hardness, tensile strength, microstructure and cleanliness are some criteria for determining allowable stress numbers. Allowable stress numbers in this standard are based on 107 cycles, 99 percent reliability and unidirectional loading.


Any material having a case-core relationship is likely to have residual stresses. If properly managed, these stresses should be compressive at the surface and should enhance performance of the cam. Shot peening, case carburizing, nitriding, and induction hardening are common methods of inducing compressive pre--stress in the surface. Grinding after heat treatment may reduce the residual compressive stresses. Care must be taken to prevent excessive reduction in hardness and changes in microstructure during the grinding process.

Life Factor

Because the Endurance Limit in the table above is for a life of 5x107 cycles, a 'Life Factor' is applied to modify the permissible stress if you want to use the cam for a shorter or longer period.

The values below show the values for 10,000,000 ;100,000, and 1000 cycles, there are also other break-points given by the S-N Curve below.

[@ 5×107 cycles]

[@ 105 cycles]

[@ 103cycles]

Alloyed case hardened steels (surface hardness 58-63 HRC):




- of specially approved high grade:




- of normal grade:




Nitrided steel, gas nitrided - surface hardness 700-800 HV


1.3 × σHLim

1.3 × σHLim

Alloyed Quenched and Tempered steel, bath or gas nitrided -surface hardness 500-700HV


1.3 × σHLim

1.3 × σHLim

Alloyed flame or induction hardened steel -

surface hardness 500 - 650 HV

0.75×HV + 750

1.6 × σHLim

4.5 × HV

Alloyed quenched and tempered steel:

1.4×HV + 350

1.6 × σHLim

4.5 × HV

Carbon Steel:

1.5×HV + 250

1.6 × σHLim

1.6 × σHLim

These values refer to wrought steels :hot rolled or forged. For cast steel the values for σHLim are to be reduced by 15%.


Reliability Factor:

because the Endurance Limit in the table above is for a reliability of 99%, then if you want more or less reliability, you must multiply the Allowable Contact Strength by the Reliability Factor.

Reliability Gears

Hardness Ratio: When the cam-follower is harder than cam, it is possible that the cam will be polished by the cam follower and have its life extended. Typically, the follower should be at least + 2HRC greater than the cam.

Surface Finish: The relative surface finish is important also.

Temperature Factor: If the cam operates in an environment that is quite hot, then the Endurance of the Materials must be reduced.

Typical Cam Material Classes and Heat Treatment

Cam Steels

There are many wrought steels, cast steels, and cast-irons that you can use to manufacture a cam. You must select the steel that can match the demands of your application.

The Allowable Contact STRESS of the steel is a function of:

The steel's chemical composition: carbon, chromium, nickel molybdenum, vanadium, aluminium...
Its manufacturing process: cast killed, wrought killed, continuously case, hot rolled, cold rolled, sintered, powder pressed, vacuum degassed, [VAR, ESR]
Its heat-treatment: through-hardening, quenched and tempering, carburising, nitriding, carbonitriding, ...
Its quality standard: kiln quality, consistency of chemical composition, 'density' of foreign-body inclusions: MX - excellent, ME - better, MQ - standard, ML - lower than average

The steels used for industrial cams are 'Wrought-Steels', 'Cast Iron and Cast Steels', 'Powder-Metallurgy [PM]' 'Tool Steels' and 'Maraging Steels'.

By far the most common are wrought-steels.


Wrought-Steel is the general term for a carbon and alloy steel that is mechanically worked into a bar, flat, or a forging. They are available in a wide range of sizes and grades. Wrought-Steels are either Through-Hardened [carbon content between 0.3 and 0.5%] or Surface-Hardened [carbon initially not exceeding 0.25%].

Surface-Hardened: steels have a relatively thin hard 'case', which results from processes such as 'carburizing', 'nitriding', 'carbonitriding'.

Through-Hardened: steels that be considered to have the same hardness through its depth. However, in reality, they will also have hardness gradient.

Cast Irons and Cast Steels

Cast Irons [more than 2% carbon] and Cast Steels are poured into a mould that is near to the final shape of the cams. High volume engine cam-shaft are most often made this way. Cast-Iron would normally be a 'chilled' cast-iron as this gives an extremely high surface hardness that will wear.

In the fast majority of cases, the cam is manufactured from a ferrous metal - iron and steel, cast and wrought.

There are a number of classes of ferrous metals with which we can manufacture the cam:

'Soft' or Hard' Cams

Cast Irons or Cast Steels that are not normalised and tempered.

They have hardnesses in the range of 100-360HB.

Surface Hardened Cams

These cams use 'Direct Hardening Steels'. The carbon content is the range of 0.3 to 0.45%, with and without alloying elements, typically Chromium, Nickel, Molybdenum, Vanadium and Aluminium.

Examples steels are: C45E (Ck45), 42CrMoV.

Direct Hardening is by Flame or Induction Heating, followed by Quenching and Tempering.

Hardnesses are in the range of 550-650HV.

Compared to case carburising, there is less distortion with flame and induction hardening.

Case Carburized Surface Hardened Cams

The carbon content of plain and alloy steels is increased by carbonisation at 850-950ºC, to achieve a carbon content of 0.7% to 0.9% in the outer case of the cam. After quenching and tempering, the surface hardness can be in the range of 650-750HV.

Case Hardening processes include Carburizing and Carbonitriding (not Nitriding)

Example steels are: 18CrNiMo7-6, 16MnCr5.

A minimum case depth will be a function of the size of the cam and the depth of maximum shear stress.

Nitrided Cams

Nitriding of plain carbon, alloy and nitriding steels is carried out at 500-550ºC with ammonia for gas nitriding to form hard carbides close to the surface. Because the temperature is low and there is no need for quenching, there is much less distortion, if any, of the cam. This may mean there is no need for grinding the surface after heat treatment.

The hard case, of up to 850HV, is relatively shallow.

Example Steels are: 32AlCrMo4, 34CrAl6, 31CrMoV9,

Nitrided surfaces are often have a lower friction than other surfaces and also there is some corrosion resistance.

Benefits of the different Heat-Treatment Processes


Hard, highly wear-resistant surface (medium case depths); excellent capacity for contact load; good bending fatigue strength; good resistance to seizure; excellent freedom from quench cracking; low-to-medium cost steels required; high capital investment required


Hard, highly wear-resistant surface (shallow case depths); fair capacity for contact load; good bending fatigue strength; good resistance to seizure; good dimensional control possible; excellent freedom from quench cracking; low-cost steels usually satisfactory; medium capital investment required; improved salt corrosion resistance


Hard, highly wear-resistant surface (shallow case depths); fair capacity for contact load; good bending fatigue strength; excellent resistance to seizure; excellent dimensional control possible; good freedom from quench cracking (during pretreatment); medium-to-high-cost steels required; medium capital investment required; improved salt corrosion resistance.

The depth of hardness with Gas-Nitriding is a function of the hours and the steel.

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Induction hardening

Hard, highly wear-resistant surface (deep case depths); good capacity for contact load; good bending fatigue strength; fair resistance to seizure; fair dimensional control possible; fair freedom from quench cracking; low-cost steels usually satisfactory; medium capital investment required

Flame hardening

Hard, highly wear-resistant surface (deep case depths); good capacity for contact load; good bending fatigue strength; fair resistance to seizure; fair dimensional control possible; fair freedom from quench cracking; low-cost steels usually satisfactory; low capital investment required

Allowable Contact Stress and Surface Hardness

Click to Expand / Collapse
Allowable Cam Contact Hertz Stress and Maximum Shear Stress vs Cam Hardness

Rule of Thumb

Through Hardened Steels; Range of Brinell Hardness; HB = 180 – 400, Grade of Steel: 'Grade 1, (ME,MQ); Reliability, 99% Statistical Reliability; Number of Cycles: 1x107

Allowable Contact Stress < 2.41HB +237 [MPa ]

If you want 10 - 100 million cycles than increase the HB Hardness by 15 –20%.

The image shows typical Allowable Maximum Contact Stress and Allowable Maximum Contact Shear Stress values against Brinell, Vickers and Rockwell 'C' Hardness Scales.]

The values assume the cam-followers are rolling in clean oil.

[Rule of thumb’ for the Maximum Allowable Hertz stress for racing cams made from hardened steels is about 1250 MPa. Such steels are usually hardened to Rockwell 64C or 65C.']

Case Hardness, Case Depth, Core Strength

Depth of Hardness and Shear-Stress

Importance of Depth of Hardening / Core Strength and Depth of Maximum Shear Stress.

In a homogenous material, for example a 'Through-hardened' steel, the 'Depth of Tmax' is not important.

In case-hardened and surface hardened cams, care must be taken to make sure the Case and the Core are both strong enough. It is possible that the case is strong enough, but the core is not, and vice versa. There is a gradual transition between the hardness of the casing and that of the core.

Case: Tmax < Allowable Shear Stress [given its heat-treatment and 'hardness']

Core: Tauat all depths< Allowable Shear Stress [given its heat-treatment and 'hardness']

Case Depth

The usual definition of Case Depth is the depth at which the hardness is greater than 550HV (Vickers Hardness).

The depth of Tmax should be compared to the depth of the hard casing.

As a rule of thumb, when Hardness > 550HV : Case Depth > 1.41×b

A more conservative rule of thumb: Minimum Case Depth ≥ 2×b

Core Crushing

It is possible to 'Crush the Core' if the load is too high for the core and the case is too thin.

Different Definitions of 'Case Depth'

Effective Case Depth [CHD]

The definition of Effective Case Depth is a dependent on the heat treatment process.

1.Carburized or carbonitrided parts (EN ISO 2639)

Hardness Limit = 550 HV

CHD (Eht) = Distance from surface to a point where the hardness is 550 HV

2.Induction or flame hardened parts (EN 10328, ISO 3754)

Hardness Limit = 80% x (Minimum) surface hardness.

CHD (Rht) = Distance from surface to point where hardness is 80% of the (minimum) surface hardness.

3.Nitrided parts (DIN 50190-3)

Hardness Limit = Core Hardness + 50 HV.

CHD (Nht, NCD) = (Max.) Distance from the surface to the point where hardness is 50HV above core hardness.

The definition of Total Case Depth is the depth at which the hardness becomes the same as the core hardness.

Total Case Depth - for nitriding steels - is the depth at which the hardness becomes [reduces to] 110% of the core hardness. This obviously assumes the Surface Hardness of the case is greater than 110% of the Core Hardness.

Possible Failure from Macro-pitting and Case-Crushing

Possible Failure from Macro-pitting and Case-Crushing

Example Failures:  The hardness profile beneath the surface gives the shear strength below the surface.

A shear stress function can fail at different depths with different hardness profiles.


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