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Torque control is usually the only method for tightening bolts in some precision assembly applications. However, the
scatter of the torque–tension relationship may significantly decrease the accuracy of the preload, which conflicts with
the high requirement for mechanical accuracy in such precision assemblies. An important, but often ignored, factor
affecting the accuracy of the torque–tension relationship is the effective bearing contact radius. In this article, a threedimensional
finite element model of a typical bolted joint was developed to obtain the actual bearing pressure distribution,
based on which the effective bearing contact radius can be further calculated. Then, a parametrical study was conducted
to systematically investigate the effects of various geometrical, material, and frictional factors on the effective
bearing contact radius. Based on the numerical results, a comprehensive and quantitative evaluation of the relative accuracy
of each traditional method of calculating the effective bearing contact radius was made. In particular, it was found
that the effective bearing contact radius, calculated based on the assumption of uniform bearing pressure distribution,
was always relatively accurate regardless of the geometrical, material, and frictional conditions considered. This study
will be helpful in increasing the accuracy of preload, thus ensuring mechanical accuracy and quality for precision
assemblies.

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2016, Vol. 8(9) 1–8

Ó The Author(s) 2016

Calculation of the effective bearing DOI: 10.1177/1687814016668445

aime.sagepub.com

contact radius for precision tightening

of bolted joints

Abstract

Torque control is usually the only method for tightening bolts in some precision assembly applications. However, the

scatter of the torque–tension relationship may significantly decrease the accuracy of the preload, which conflicts with

the high requirement for mechanical accuracy in such precision assemblies. An important, but often ignored, factor

affecting the accuracy of the torque–tension relationship is the effective bearing contact radius. In this article, a three-

dimensional finite element model of a typical bolted joint was developed to obtain the actual bearing pressure distribu-

tion, based on which the effective bearing contact radius can be further calculated. Then, a parametrical study was con-

ducted to systematically investigate the effects of various geometrical, material, and frictional factors on the effective

bearing contact radius. Based on the numerical results, a comprehensive and quantitative evaluation of the relative accu-

racy of each traditional method of calculating the effective bearing contact radius was made. In particular, it was found

that the effective bearing contact radius, calculated based on the assumption of uniform bearing pressure distribution,

was always relatively accurate regardless of the geometrical, material, and frictional conditions considered. This study

will be helpful in increasing the accuracy of preload, thus ensuring mechanical accuracy and quality for precision

assemblies.

Keywords

Bolted joints, torque control, effective bearing contact radius, precision assembly, finite element analysis

restrictions on operating space and the limitations of

Bolted joints are used widely in many applications due assembly cost. In order to ensure the preload accuracy

to their ease of assembly and disassembly. The safety, in precision assembly applications, the allowed percent-

reliability, and quality of bolted joints are determined age error of the torque–tension relationship might be as

largely by the magnitude and stability of the clamp load small as several percents. For example, Li et al.2

or preload. To achieve a desired preload, various tigh- numerically calculated the effects of preload on the

tening methods have been developed, such as torque

control, torque–angle control, stretch control, and yield School of Mechanical Engineering, Beijing Institute of Technology, Beijing,

control.1 Among these methods, the torque control China

method is the most commonly used because it can be

implemented readily without using complex or expen- Corresponding author:

Xiaoyu Ding, School of Mechanical Engineering, Beijing Institute of

sive tools. In several precision assembly applications, Technology, 5 South Zhongguancun Street, Haidian District, Beijing

such as some small-batch precision optical systems,2 100081, China.

the torque control method is usually the only applicable Email: xiaoyu.ding@bit.edu.cn

Creative Commons CC-BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

(http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without

further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/

open-access-at-sage).

2 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

deformation of a 400-mm class reflecting mirror which controlled technically to satisfy the requirements of

is a key part in a high-power solid laser facility. They precision assembly applications.

found that the peak-to-valley (PV) value of the wave- In practice, the effective thread contact radius, rt , is

front can change 2 nm when the preload changes only generally approximated by the mean thread radius. It has

1 N. For precision optical systems, the PV value is typi- been demonstrated that this approximation is sufficiently

cally required to be smaller than 63 nm (i.e. l=10, accurate. Nassar et al.11 compared the effective thread

l = 0:6328 mm). Thus, even several percent errors of contact radius with the mean thread radius and found that

the preload (e.g. when the preload is several hundred the percentage difference between them was generally less

Newton) may cause a considerable change on the PV than 1% regardless of the assumed pressure distribution.

value. Therefore, there is a need to improve the accu- However, the effects of the effective bearing contact

racy of the torque–tension relationship to ensure pre- radius, rb , on the accuracy of the torque–tension relation-

load accuracy for precision assemblies using a torque ship have usually been overlooked. It can be seen from

control tightening method. equations (1) to (3) that the effective bearing contact

Some analytical expressions of torque–tension rela- radius appears in the term Fmb rb which is the bearing fric-

tionship have been developed by Motosh3 and Nassar tion torque component. It is the torque needed to over-

and Yang4 come the friction between the turning head/nut and its

bearing surface. Previous studies have demonstrated that

tan a + mt sec b this component contributes about 50% to the torque–

T = F m b rb + rt ð1Þ

1 mt sec b tan a tension relationship.12 Therefore, the effective bearing con-

tact radius can have a significant effect on the accuracy of

p m rt torque–tension relationship.

T = F m b rb + + t ð2Þ

2p cos b The effective bearing contact radius is defined as

pﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃ! follows13

tan a + mt cos a 1 + tan2 a + tan2 b

T = F mb rb + rt pﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃﬃ Ð

rbmax

1 mt sin a 1 + tan2 a + tan2 b Pb ðrÞr2 dr

ð3Þ rbmin

rb = ð4Þ

Ð

rbmax

Pb ðrÞrdr

where T is the input torque, F is the preload, mb is the rbmin

friction coefficient between the turning head/nut and

its bearing surface, mt is the friction coefficient between where Pb (r) is the bearing pressure distribution, rbmin is

threads, a is the helix angle, b is the half of the thread the minimum radius on the bearing surface, rbmax is

profile angle, rb is the effective bearing contact radius, the maximum radius on the bearing surface, and r is a

rt is the effective thread contact radius, and p is the variable that represents the distance to the axis. It can

pitch of the threads. be seen that the value of effective bearing contact radius

It can be seen from equations (1) to (3) that the depends on the bearing pressure distribution. However,

torque–tension relationship of bolted joints is deter- there is no precise analytical expression of the bearing

mined by geometric factors (a, b, and p), friction pressure distribution, thus the effective bearing contact

coefficients (mb and mt ), and effective contact radii (rb radius cannot be directly calculated using equation (4).

and rt ). Since the geometrical factors are fixed for a In practice, the effective bearing contact radius has been

specific type of bolted joint, the accuracy of the approximately calculated using different methods

torque–tension relationship depends mostly on the

accuracy of the friction coefficients and the effective rbmax + rbmin

rb = ð5Þ

contact radii. In practice, friction coefficients are 2

affected by various factors, such as material class,5 rbmax + D=2

surface roughness,6 tightening speed,7 and the num- rb = ð6Þ

2

ber of tightening cycles.8 Thus, friction coefficients

2 g2 + g + 1

may scatter considerably for the same type of bolted rb = rbmin ð7Þ

joint.6 However, using proper surface coatings9 or 3 1+g

lubricants,7,10 the scatter of friction coefficients could 1 g 4 4g + 3

be reduced significantly. For example, Nassar and rb = rbmin 3 ð8Þ

2 g 3g + 2

Zaki9 demonstrated experimentally that the 1-s scat-

ter of friction coefficients could be controlled to less where g is the ratio of rbmax to rbmin , and D is the

than 5% using a zinc/aluminum coating composition. nominal diameter of the bolt. The detailed explanation

Thus, the effects of friction coefficients on the accu- of equations (5)–(8) can be found in Appendix 1.

racy of the torque–tension relationship can be Equations (5)–(8) only provide approximate

Gong et al. 3

too much error was introduced in these calculations,

the error of the predicted torque–tension relationship

would be relatively high. This would negatively impact

the accuracy of the preload of bolted joints, thus

decreasing mechanical accuracy and quality, especially

for precision assemblies. However, to the best of our

knowledge, there is no reported study that has systema-

tically analyzed the accuracy of the various methods

for calculating the effective bearing contact radius.

This will be the focus of this study.

Methodology

It is not trivial to accurately determine the value of rb

through experiments. Even though coatings and lubri-

cants can be used, the scatter of friction coefficients

cannot be completely avoided, thus can cause measure-

ment error on the effective bearing contact radius. One

potential way to accurately calculate the bearing pres-

sure distribution and effective bearing contact radius is

to use finite element analysis (FEA). In this study, a

three-dimensional (3D) finite element model of a typi-

cal bolted joint structure is built, and the torque control

strategy by directly applying a moment to the nut is

simulated.14–16 Then, the effective bearing contact Figure 1. 2D sketches of bolt, nut, and bolted joint: (a) bolt

radius is calculated based on the FEA results of bearing (and its bearing surface), (b) nut (and its bearing surface), and (c)

pressure distribution bolted joint.

P

n

Ai ri Pi

1

rb = Pn ð9Þ

Ai Pi

1

ing surface, ri is the distance from the center of the ith

element to the axis, Pi is the average pressure on the ith

element, and n is the total number of elements on the

nut bearing surface. Equation (9) is a direct discretiza-

tion of equation (4), thus its error will be negligible

if the element number, n, is high enough. Using

equation (9) as the reference, the relative accuracy of

various methods for approximating the effective bear-

ing contact radius can be analyzed and compared. Figure 2. Mesh of the entire bolted joint.

Specifically, a typical bolted joint structure is

modeled in this study. Figure 1 shows two-dimensional

(2D) sketches of the bolt, nut, and joint structures, The mesh of the entire bolted joint is shown in

where A=6.4 mm, B=15 mm, L=40 mm, D = 10 mm, Figure 2. It can be seen that the bolt head and nut are

S=15.7mm, E=18.1 mm, M = 8 mm, and H1 = H2 = simplified to cylinders for convenience of meshing. The

10.5 mm. A finite element mesh was built with the com- FEA was implemented using the commercial software

mercial preprocessor HyperMesh 12.0Ò. Here, the mesh ANSYS 14.5Ò. The mesh type is SOLID185. Young’s

of the bolted joint is generated based on a strategy con- modulus is 200 GPa, and Poisson’s ratio is 0.3. There

sistent with Fukuoka et al.’s17 method which accurately are four contact interfaces in this model. They are the

takes into account the helical geometry and generates an interfaces between the mating threads, nut and upper

orderly 3D hexahedral mesh for the bolted joint. plate, upper and lower plates, and bolt head and lower

4 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

clearances.

was conducted to determine the appropriate mesh den-

sity of the model.

Figure 3. Applying tightening torque using MPC184 elements. The bearing effective contact radius is obtained based

on the bearing pressure distribution. One example of

the bearing pressure distribution is shown in Figure 4.

In this section, the values of rb calculated using equa-

tions (5)–(8) are compared with those obtained with the

FEA model (equation (9)) under various geometrical,

material, and frictional conditions. The specific condi-

tions considered in this study include the value of hole

clearance (D0 D), the ratio of the maximum bearing

radius (rbmax ) to the minimum bearing radius (rbmin ),

the stiffness ratio of fasteners to clamped plates, and

friction coefficient.

To evaluate quantitatively the effect of hole clearance

on the accuracy of equations (5)–(8), FEA models with

three different values of hole clearance (0.225, 0.600,

and 0.975 mm) were built by changing the value of D0,

Figure 4. Bearing pressure distribution (torque is 80 Nm, D is and the bearing pressure distribution and rb were

10 mm, D0 is 11.2 mm, Young’s modulus is 200 GPa, and friction obtained. The bearing pressure distributions under

coefficient is 0.15). different hole clearances obtained from FEA are

shown in Figure 5. The values of rb calculated using

equations (5)–(8) and their percent errors compared

plate. A friction coefficient value of 0.15 is assigned to with the FEA results are also summarized in Table 1. It

all sliding interfaces for the basic model. To simulate can be seen that both equations (5) and (7) give rela-

the torque control method, the target tightening tor- tively good approximations of rb . The percentage errors

que, 80 N m, is applied directly to the upper surface of of these two equations are smaller than 1.7% in this set

the nut using MPC184 elements, as shown in Figure 3. for comparison. Equation (6) only gives a good approx-

Other boundary conditions include the following: (1) imation when the hole clearance is very small. It can

the bolt head surface is constrained in all directions also be seen that the accuracy of equation (8) is rela-

and (2) the outer surfaces of the clamped plates are tively low over the entire range of hole clearance (with

constrained in the lateral direction but free to move a percent error generally .4%).

Gong et al. 5

Hole FEA (mm) Equation Error Equation Error Equation Error Equation Error

clearance (mm) (5) (mm) (%) (6) (mm) (%) (7) (mm) (%) (8) (mm) (%)

0.225 6.5179 6.5375 0.3 6.425 21.43 6.6253 1.65 6.1628 25.45

0.600 6.7187 6.725 0.09 6.425 24.37 6.7877 1.03 6.3943 24.83

0.975 6.9043 6.9125 0.12 6.425 26.94 6.9549 0.73 6.6296 23.98

g FEA (mm) Equation (5) Error (%) Equation (6) Error (%) Equation (7) Error (%) Equation (8) Error (%)

(mm) (mm) (mm) (mm)

1.57 6.7187 6.725 0.09 6.425 24.37 6.7877 1.03 6.3943 24.83

2.47 9.451 8.975 25.04 8.675 28.21 9.3981 20.56 8.1725 213.53

2.92 11.0927 10.1 28.95 9.800 211.65 10.7683 22.92 9.1233 217.75

and nut, g is approximately equal to 1.5. It is generally

between 2 and 3 for most flanged heads and nuts.13 In

this study, FEA models with three different values of g

(1.57, 2.47, and 2.92) were built to evaluate the quanti-

tative effect of g on rb . The bearing pressure distribu-

tion under different values of g obtained from FEA is

shown in Figure 6. Values of rb under different values

of g obtained from the FEA and calculated using equa-

tions (5)–(8) are summarized and compared in Table 2.

It can be seen that the accuracy of equations (5)–(8)

generally decreases with an increase in g. However,

equation (7) can give relatively good approximations of

Figure 6. Bearing pressure distribution under different values rb over the entire range of g. Equation (5) only gives a

of g. good approximation of rb when g is relatively small

(1.57). Equations (6) and (8) do not give good approxi-

mations of rb over the entire range of g.

plates

To investigate the accuracy of equations (5)–(8) under

various material combinations, finite element calcula-

tions were conducted with three representative stiffness

ratios (the ratio of the elastic modulus of the fasteners

to the clamped plates): 2, 1, and 0.5. Specifically, the

elastic modulus of fasteners was fixed at 200 GPa, while

the elastic modulus of the clamped plates was varied

Figure 7. Bearing pressure distribution under various stiffness (100, 200, and 400 GPa). The bearing pressure distribu-

ratios. tion under different stiffness ratios obtained from FEA

is shown in Figure 7. Values of rb under different stiff-

ness ratios obtained from the FEA and calculated using

Effect of the ratio of rb–max to rb–min equations (5)–(8) are summarized and compared in

The ratio of the maximum bearing radius (rbmax ) to the Table 3. It can be seen that both equations (5) and (7)

minimum bearing radius (rbmin ), g, is another impor- give relatively good approximations of rb for different

tant geometrical factor affecting the torque–tension stiffness ratios. The percentage errors of these two

6 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

Stiffness ratio FEA (mm) Equation (5) Error (%) Equation (6) Error (%) Equation (7) Error (%) Equation (8) Error (%)

(mm) (mm) (mm) (mm)

0.5 6.6642 6.725 0.91 6.425 23.59 6.7877 1.85 6.3943 24.05

1 6.7187 6.725 0.09 6.425 24.37 6.7877 1.03 6.3943 24.83

2 6.8097 6.725 21.24 6.425 25.65 6.7877 20.32 6.3943 26.10

Friction coefficient FEA (mm) Equation (5) Error (%) Equation (6) Error (%) Equation (7) Error (%) Equation (8) Error (%)

(mm) (mm) (mm) (mm)

0.05 6.7091 6.725 0.24 6.425 24.23 6.7877 1.17 6.3943 24.69

0.1 6.7193 6.725 0.08 6.425 24.38 6.7877 1.02 6.3943 24.84

0.15 6.7187 6.725 0.09 6.425 24.37 6.7877 1.03 6.3943 24.83

parison, both equations (5) and (7) still give relatively

good approximations of rb regardless of the value of

friction coefficient. The percentage errors of these two

equations are \1.5% for this data set. Again, the accu-

racy of both equations (6) and (8) is still relatively low

over the entire range of friction coefficient, with the

percent error .4%.

The FEA model in this study accurately takes into

Figure 8. Bearing pressure distribution under different friction account the helical geometry and has a high-quality 3D

coefficients. hexahedral mesh, with a seamless transition between

the threaded section and the bolt shank. In addition, a

careful mesh refinement study was done to ensure that

equations are \2% in this data set. The accuracy of the FEA results were grid-independent. Thus, it would

both equations (6) and (8) is relatively low over the be expected that the FEA results and corresponding

entire range of stiffness ratio, with the percentage error conclusions obtained in this study are accurate. In

generally .4%. this section, the accuracy of the FEA model is

further validated by comparing the torque–tension rela-

tionship extracted directly from the FEA model with

Effect of friction coefficient equation (3), which is the most accurate analytical

To investigate the accuracy of equations (5)–(8) under torque–tension relationship to date. The results are

various friction coefficients, finite element calculations shown in Figure 9. All geometric, material, and bound-

were conducted with three representative friction coeffi- ary conditions in the calculation are the same as the

cient values: 0.05, 0.1, and 0.15. For simplification, mb basic model, discussed in section ‘‘Methodology.’’ The

and mt were set to be the same. The bearing pressure rb value calculated using equation (7) is used as the

distribution under different friction coefficients input of equation (3).

obtained from FEA is shown in Figure 8. Values of rb It can be seen that the torque–tension relationship

under different friction coefficients obtained from the from the FEA model is almost the same as that calcu-

FEA and calculated using equations (5)–(8) are sum- lated based on equation (3). The relative error between

marized and compared in Table 4. It can be seen that these two sets of results is smaller than 0.5%. Given

the value of rb obtained from FEA does not change that these two sets of results are obtained using

Gong et al. 7

ship might be as small as several percents for precision

assembly applications, equations (6) and (8) are not

suitable for these applications. The results and conclu-

sions of this study can help to increase the accuracy of

the torque–tension relationship for tightening bolted

joints, thus ensuring mechanical accuracy and quality

for precision assemblies.

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with

Figure 9. Comparison of the torque–tension relationship respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this

obtained from FEA and equation (3). article.

and analytical derivation), the consistency of the results The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial sup-

can be considered an evidence of the accuracy of both port for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this

models (FEA model and analytical expression). article: This research was supported by the National Natural

Science Foundation of China (grant no. 51675050 and

51605030).

Conclusion

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8 Advances in Mechanical Engineering

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approach to determine effective radius in bolted joints. J radius

Tribol: T ASME 2005; 127: 30–36. It can be seen from equation (4) that the value of the effec-

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604–615. close to D/2, equation (5) is usually reduced to equation

16. Ganeshmurthy S and Nassar SA. Finite element simula- (6).13 The effective bearing contact radius can also be cal-

tion of process control for bolt tightening in joints with culated using equation (4), based on the assumed bearing

nonparallel contact. J Manuf Sci E: T ASME 2014; 136: pressure distributions. The most commonly used assump-

549–558. tion of the bearing pressure distribution is a uniform dis-

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tribution.3,13 In that case, rb is calculated to be equation

of helical thread modeling with accurate geometry and

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(7). Another simple assumption of the bearing pressure

135–140. distribution is a linear decreasing distribution, which gives

the expression of rb as equation (8).13

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