Specializing in: product liability, failure analysis, patent disputes and intellectual property. We have 25 years experience with glass, ceramics, plastics, wood and metals; 100 depositions & many court appearances.

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Failure Analysis of a Tempered Glass Basketball Backboard

Tutorial: Tempered Glass

Strength of Tempered Glass: Tempered glass is glass with an outer compressive layer; therefore, the center of the glass is in tension. The compressive stress is additive. Therefore, if a piece of glass normally breaks at 4000 PSI tensile stress, and it’s tempered to have an outer layer of 10,000 PSI compressive stress, the resulting breaking stress is raised to 14000 PSI (or higher).

Breaking Characteristics: Once a defect enters the tensile portion of the glass, tempered glass fails almost instantly into blocky pieces. Once the failure initiates, it is driven by the residual tensile stress in the center of the glass, and the crack travels at an approximate velocity of 3,384 m/sec. This is almost instantaneous to an observer. There may be a sound associated with crack propagation; however, the glass is not exploding. In the absence of external forces, the failure is driven from internal stresses. Therefore, the failed glass will stay interlocked until external forces are applied. Figure #1 is a schematic of the stress state in a tempered piece of glass. In this illustration, the depth of the compressive layer is 20% of the glass thickness. This varies with the level of the temper stress, but 20% is a reasonable number to work with. It is important to realize that the compressive stress and its depth is less at corners in the glass. Figure #4 shows the effect of the surface compressive stress from temper on the breaking strength of glass. It is important to remember that this strength is additive, and it must be considered in evaluations applying fracture mechanic principles.

Figure #1: Schematic cross-section of a piece of tempered glass. This schematic illustrates that the outer layer of the glass is in compression. Because glass only breaks in tension, the compressive stresses must be overcome before the glass surface can be put in tension. Therefore, the compressive stress is additive to the stress necessary to break the glass.18

Introduction to Specific Problem

Glass fractography is the most effective method for determining why a glass object, such as a bottle, failed. This technique consists of examining the fracture surfaces of the failure for artifacts such as Wallner lines and using them to trace the crack back to its origin. Once the origin has been identified, it can be examined in detail with a microscope to determine the cause of the failure. In the case of tempered glass, the object breaks into thousands of small blocks of glass, and a failure analysis is impossible. In this particular failure the part of the backboard that contained the fracture origin was preserved between two steel plates, and a failure analysis is possible.

The subject backboard had been in service for 25 years; so, it is not likely that it was defective. However, it is worthwhile to examine it for educational purposes. The structure for the support of the hoop was held by two steel plates (Figure #1) that were clamped through holes to the 1/2” thick tempered glass backboard. The bolts through the glass were hollow, and this allowed the hoop to be bolted to the structure. The glass was properly protected from the steel hardware by polymer plates and washers. Figure #2 is an overview of the glass remaining between the steel plates.

Basket Ball Hoop Support Plates
Side 1 Side 2

Figure #1: Remainder of the backboard. This was all that was submitted for failure analysis.

Figure #2: Overview of the remainder of the tempered glass preserved between the steel plates. The glass was isolated from the steel hardware by compliant polymer sheets and washers. The fracture pattern indicates that the failure started at the lower left hole and spread from that point.

Figure #3: Close up of the region where the failure initiated. In this picture one can see samples of the compliant buffers that separated the glass from the steel. This piece of glass was properly isolated from the steel hardware.


This backboard had been in use for 25 years, and the failure initiated at one of the holes machined in the glass. It is hypothesized that during use one of the cracks generated by machining a hole in the glass must have grown into the tensile region in the center of the tempered glass, and the glass “self destructed”. It is believed that this example proves that small edge cracks in tempered glass can grow over time and cause failure.