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Bolt Preloading
Bolt preloading notes
Calculating initial bolt tension
Shear load developed in tightening bolts
Methods of setting bolt preload
Table showing Accuracy of Bolt tensioning methods

Calculating bolt loads is complicated if done correctly. The notes below are very limited and are reasonable for none critical applications. There are
lots of specialist in this field as identified in the links on this page and on the screw index page. These notes do not include for fatigue loading,
determination of stiffness of joint, joint settlement, load application factors.etc etc.

Bolt Loading Notes

It is accepted that a bolt preloaded to a fixed value is safer than a bolt simply tightened to an abitrary value. A preload of about 80% of the proof
strength of the bolt material is normally used.

Assume a bolt is used to clamp a joint to a set preload value and the bolt has a low stiffness and the joint has a very high stiffness. An external load
is applied to tend separate the joint. Part of this load will cause the further extension of the bolt (increase in bolt load). Part of the load will result in
an increase of the joint thickness reducing of the compressive load on the joint. e.g. If the preload has resulted from a stretching of the bolt of 1mm
and a compression of the joint by only 0.01mm then an external load sufficient to achieve joint separation the will only increase on loading of the bolt
by about 0,01mm/1mm (1%) x preload .

It is clear?? from this example that using longer small diameter bolts to clamp surfaces results in relatively uniform bolt loading under varying
external forces with reduced risk of fatigue loading.

F e = External Load (N)

F p = Bolt Preload (N)
F = Total Load On Bolt (N)
A z = Area of plate - taking load ( m2)
t z = Thickness of plate (m)
L = Length of Bolt (m)
E z = Youngs Modulus of item ( N / m2)
x z = deflection of item /unit load (m/N)
x b = deflection of bolt /unit load (m/N)
D b = Bolt thread root diameter (m)
A b = Bolt Cross Section = Bolt thread root Area (m)
T = Bolt Tightening Torque (N.m)

Assuming the assembly is bolted with a bolt preload of Fp and an external load F eis applied..
Joint separation will occur when Fe = F (total load on the bolt) .. i.e when no load is being taken by the joint
For an infinitely stiff bolt separation will never occur all of the external load will be applied directly to the bolt with no resulting extension..
For a infinitely stiff joint separation will take place when the external load exceeds the preload.

Deflections of items on application of external load

x b = L / (E b .A b):.. x 1 = t 1 / (E 1 .A 1):... x 2 = t 2 / (E 2 .A 2):... x 2 = t 3 / (E 3 .A 3):...

Total force in bolt (F) including preload Fp and proportion of external load

F = Fp + Fe. Sum(x z) / (Sum (x z) + x b )

Bolted Joint diagram

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Initial Tension in Bolt
The initial tension in a bolt is crudely estimated for a bolt tightened by hand by an experienced mechanic as follows

Fp = K*d
d = nominal diameter of bolt
Fp = Preload (N)
K = Coefficient vary from. 1.75 x 10 6 N/m to 2.8 x 10 6 N /m

For a bolt tightened with a torque wrench the torque required to provide an initial bolt tension may be approximated by the formula..

T = Fp * K * d
Typical K factors

Steel Thread Condition K

as received, stainless on mild or alloy 0,30
as received, mild or alloy on same 0,20
cadmium plated 0,16
molybdenum-disulphide grease 0.14
PTFE lubrication 0.12

A more accurate value can be determined using the formula

F p = Desired bolt Preload (N)

p = Thread pitch (m)
d m = Mean diameter of thread (m)
= Coefficient of Thread friction
c = Coefficient of collar friction
is the thread angle / 2 ( = 30 o for standard metric threads & = 29 o/2 for acme threads).
r c = Collar friction radius (m)

Note: Friction values are found on this site on the coefficient of friction page..Coefficient of Friction

It can be proved that the majority of the torque is required to overcome the thread and collar friction forces (approx 90%). Therefore any error in the
value of the friction coefficient will have a large variation on the bolt tensile load. The above formula is in essence not a lot more accurate than the
approximate formulae above.

A very simplified version of this formula can be derive by assuming c = , d m = 0.92 d , = 30o. rc = 0.625 d.
If the denominator is simplified to .dm The equation reduces to

T = Fp (0,159.p + 1,156. .d )
This provides a very crude relationship between the torque and the resulting bolt tension for a standard hex screw with no washer..

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For important bolting applications it is recommended that the bolt preload is is determined using direct bolt tension measuring techniques - see
notes below.

Shear Stress In Bolts

In tightening a bolt stress is induced as a result of the bolt tension and bolt torque.. The combined resulting shear stress is calculated as follows

F Bolt Tension (N)

Tf = Thread torque(N.m)
A r = Thread Root Area (m 2)
d r = Thread Root diameter

This formula is relatively conservative. For less conservative designs A r can be replaced by A t as defined on page Thread calcs
and d r can be replaced by d t = Sqrt( 4.A t/p )

In general for static loading, the maximum shear stress in a bolt should not exceed about 75% of the shear yield stress of the material. For variable
loading the bolt should be designed for endurance stress levels. Bolts subject to dynamic loading often lose their initial torsion stress because the
nut/bolt head tends to slip back if the collar friction is not sufficient.

Methods of setting bolt preload /tension

High strength friction grip bolts and nuts require to be tensioned in accordance with BS 4604 which specifies min. loads to be achieved (see Table
1). It also specifies three methods of determining bolt tension, i.e.:
i) Torque Control
ii) Part Turn of Nut
iii) Direct Tension Measurement

Torque Wrench
This method is sometimes known erroneously as "torque control". The bolts are tensioned in a tension calibrator on the site. The wrench is then set
to cut out at that torque (the wrench becomes "calibrated"), and then all similar bolts that day are installed to that torque after the joint is snugged
first. Rotation during the tightening process must be limited to a specific value. Actual results of tension in bolts produced by this method are
acknowledged to be highly variable, even when this method is followed exactly.

Turn Of Nut
After snugging the joint, the bolt shank and nut is marked and then a specific amount of rotation is induced between the nut and the bolt. The
amount of rotation differs for different bolt lengths and diameters and therefore must be known and understood by the bolt installers in advance.
The success of the method is dependent on a correct snugging of the joint, and is dependent on the bolt head being held from turning so the bolt
does not spin in the hole.
Note: Turn-of-nut does not work correctly when the steel surfaces are coated with a compressible coating such as high paint thickness or hot dipped
galvanized zinc.

Direct Tension Indicators

..These note relate to DTI washers..Other DTI systems are available (see links below)
DTI washers measure the bolt tension developed during tightening, regardless of the torque resistance of the bolt. By far the simplest method, a
DTI washer is put on one or the other end of all bolts. The bolts are then slightly tensioned snugging the joint by partially (but not fully) compressing
the DTI. Then all the bolts are tightened such that the DTI's are "crushed" to the point where a feeler gage cannot be inserted half way around.
DTI's are completely independent of the torque resistance of the bolt assembly. If the DTI is put on the nut end of the bolt, tightening can be done
by one person because it is not necessary to hold the bolt roll.

Other methods of measuring Bolt tension

There are a number of methods of determining the bolt tension including

Using Strain gauges..Accurate /complicated /expensive. Some skill required

Using ultrasonics instruments..Accurate and not expensive over the long term. Some skill required
Using special bolts with built-in (mechanical or electronic) extension measurement. Good but relatively expensive
Using hydraulics (or heat) to pretension bolts Ses note below

Using heat is based on heating the bolt(and nut) to a set temperature. The bolt is inserted quickly and the nut tightened snugly. The bolt is then
allowed to cool and the contraction results in the required tension. If a tension Fp is required for a bolt with a CSA of Ab then the required bolt stress
is calculated = F p / Ab
The bolt is heated to a temperature of

T = [ /(E.e)] + T o

E= Youngs Modulus (N/m2 )....e = Coefficient of thermal expansion (m/m)/deg.C....To = ambient temperature (deg. C)

This method is very difficult to implement the bolt has to be heated while the bolted joint has to be kept at ambient temperature. The accuracy of the

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heating method is very much limited by quality of the procedure followed.

Hydraulic bolt tensioners use an annular hydraulic jack placed around the screw, stretching it axially. When the required stress level is reached, the
nut is tightened snugly and then the pressure released, resulting in a preloaded bolt without any frictional or torsional stresses.

The hydraulic method can provide very accurate preload (+/- 1%) on long bolts but it is less accurate on short bolts.br />

Preload Setting Error

Operator "Feel" +/- 35%
Torque Wrench +/- 25%
Angle Torquing (Turn of nut) +/- 15%
Load Indicating Washer +/- 10%
Measuring Bolt elongation +/- 5%
Hydraulic Bolt pretension +/- (1% to 10%)
Strain Gauges / Ultrasonics +/- 1%

Sites Providing Information On Bolt Loading

1. Bolt torque Calculator..A Useful Calculator from Futek

2. Smartbolts..A clever bolt with DTI built in
3. thomas-william-lench..A company providing DTI Washers
4. Surebolt..A company providing an Ultrasonics tensions system - Very Informative Web site
5. MITCALC..Provides a good Excel based bolt calculator at reasonable cost
6. The Truth About TORQUE and TENSION ..You should read this article from Assembly Magazine

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Please Send Comments to Roy@roymech.co.uk

Last Updated 20/04/2006

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