An In-Depth Look into Classical Shock Pulses

April 13, 2020

The various classical shock pulses have unique purposes. Generally, each of these unipolar pulses excites a wide range of frequencies in a short period of time, just in different ways.

Classical pulses are primarily defined in acceleration; the shape of the acceleration waveform determines the frequencies and the degree to which the frequencies are excited. However, delta velocity, or the change in velocity, determines the severity of the shock.

If we look at classical shock pulses on a graph, we can easily note the differences between the pulse shapes.

Classical shock pulses acceleration versus time

Classical shock pulses velocity versus time

Classical shock pulses displacement versus time

Figure 1.1. Shapes of various classical shock pulses.

Half-Sine and Terminal-Peak Pulses

Half-sine and terminal-peak are two of the more common pulses. They are defined in a variety of standards for different applications. In Figure 1.2., the acceleration vs. time waveforms show the clear difference between the half-sine and terminal-peak shapes.

Half-sine versus terminal-peak pulse shapes

Figure 1.2. Half-sine and terminal-peak pulses.

The half-sine pulse has a smooth transition; all the change is uniform. The half-sine generates low amplitude, high-frequency energy. Much of the wavelength energy is at lower frequencies and is primarily used to test for responses and resonances in mechanical systems.

The terminal-peak pulse has a smooth ramp and a sharp transition back to zero. The sharp transition generates notably higher amounts of high-frequency energy. This energy generates minimal displacement and has less of an effect on mechanical resonances. It is effective for testing electronic components, solder joints, and electronic circuitry. The high-frequency energy excites potential failures in these components and is commonly used when testing components with embedded electronics.

ESD half-sine and terminal-peak pulses

Figure 1.3. Half-sine and terminal peak pulses (ESD).

Visually, the differences between the half-sine and terminal-peak pulse shapes are easy to see. When running on a shaker, the overall velocity and displacement of the terminal-peak are lower, but the amount of high-frequency energy generated by the terminal-peak is much greater. These characteristics must be evaluated when selecting a classical shock pulse.

Square and Trapezoid Pulses

Square and trapezoid pulses appear as extreme outliers in both a displacement vs. time and velocity vs. time plot. Neither pulse shape is commonly used.

The square pulse will never be perfectly square on any mechanical system. A mechanical system cannot change positions so sharply and the square wave will always have some trapezoidal shape.

The trapezoidal pulse, with constant acceleration at the peak, is also difficult to create on a mechanical system. There are shock machines designed to create trapezoidal pulses and typically use pneumatics to propel the table up and down. These pulses are exceptionally difficult on electrodynamic, hydraulic, and other shaker systems that are limited in velocity and displacement.

Terminal-peak and half-sine pulses

Figure 1.4. Square and trapezoid pulses.

Test Standards and Multiple Shock Pulses

Test standards often require multiple shock pulses with different amplitudes and durations. For example, EN-60068-2-27 specifies two pulses: a 30G, 11mS half-sine pulse, and a 50G, 3mS half-sine pulse.

Although lower in actual peak amplitude, the first pulse will generate a larger amount of displacement and velocity and a lower amount of overall high-frequency excitation. The second pulse will have less displacement and velocity but a much higher energy spectral density at the higher frequencies.

The combination of shock pulses is very common in test specifications. The first, longer duration pulse is designed to excite lower frequency mechanical resonances. The second drives the higher frequencies and can cause more damage if the product’s resonances are in bands of higher frequency.

Half-sine pulses accelerationHalf-sine pulses velocity

Half-sine pulses displacement

Figure 1.5. EN-60068-2-27 specifications for multiple half-sine pulses.

Moving Toward Complex Shock Pulses

More and more often, vibration tests are recommending to use real-world data in generating product tests. In the shock testing industry, requirements are moving away from classical shock pulses and are instead using some complex time history, shock response spectrum (SRS), or a combination of both. Complex shock pulses are the more appropriate and realistic method of evaluating a product’s response to real-world environments.


All classical shock pulses excite a range of frequencies in a short period of time, but each pulse shape had a unique purpose. In the end, no classical shock pulse occurs in the real world; rather, they are historical references that have been used for many years and are still used to evaluate products today.