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Research Article

Advances in Mechanical Engineering


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

Hao Gong, Jianhua Liu and Xiaoyu Ding

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

Date received: 31 March 2016; accepted: 17 August 2016

Academic Editor: Filippo Berto

Introduction tightening method for bolted joints because of the


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

evaluations of the effective bearing contact radius. If


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

where Ai is the area of the ith element on the nut bear-


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

Figure 5. Bearing pressure distribution under different hole


clearances.

along the bolt axis. In addition, a grid refinement study


was conducted to determine the appropriate mesh den-
sity of the model.

Results and discussions


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.

Effect of hole clearance


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

Table 1. Error analysis under different hole clearances.

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

FEA: finite element analysis.

Table 2. Error analysis under different ratios of rb–max to rb–min.

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

FEA: finite element analysis.

relationship. For an ISO standard hexagonal bolt head


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.

Effect of the stiffness ratio of fasteners to clamped


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

Table 3. Error analysis under different ratios of fastener to joint stiffness.

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

FEA: finite element analysis.

Table 4. Error analysis under different friction coefficients.

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

FEA: finite element analysis.

much with the friction coefficient. In this set for com-


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%.

Validation of FEA results


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

that the allowed error of the torque–tension relation-


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.

Declaration of conflicting interests


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.

completely different strategies (numerical calculation Funding


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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