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Manuf. and Ind. Eng.

, 11(1), 2012, ISSN 1338-6549

© Faculty of Manuf. Tech. TUKE

Spontaneous Unfastening and Fatigue of Bolted Joints

Jozef Dominik, Milan Zmindak

This paper deals with unfastening and fatigue of bolted joints. In this work will try to give answer on question when
occurs fatigue fracture. Statistically, it is proven that the joint decay usually occurs when self-unscrewing. It is due to a
combination of statically and dynamically operating axial, radial or torsional forces. The superposition of forces causes that
the original, i.e. assembly prestressing may not be preserved but by improper installation and adverse operating conditions it
gradually decreases, in extreme case right to zero. It is proven that the most frequent spontaneous release of bolted joints
occurs after the first loaded cycles. Finally, are apparent areas which need to be focused on when bolt connections is
dynamically loaded.
Keywords: bolted joints, spontaneous unscrewing, fatigue fracture

1 Introduction
Bolts are an integral part of engineering designs, and 2 Spontaneous unscrewing
bolted structures can show a complex mechanical behavior. Unlike the destruction of parts from excessive effects of
Structural deterioration or failure of the structure systems by static force, spontaneous loosening is time-dependent gra-
aging is generally attributed to the degradation of joint dual process of decline of bolting prestress leading to their
structures [5]. This is because the discontinuity of rigidity complete disintegration with parallel cumulation (Fig. 2) of
and stress concentration at the joint make it ready to initiate the fatigue material damage.
and propagate fatigue cracks. There are a number of factors
that influence the performance of a bolted joint within the
structure. An important one is the level of preload, or
torque, applied to the bolt, which compresses the joined
elements and increases the friction between them, thus
facilitating the load transmission from one to another [4].
If we do not take into consideration the destruction of
screw connections by excessive static load and corrosion
cracking (or hydrogen embrittlement), then their life can
collapse in two ways: fatigue fracture of bolts or a
spontaneous unscrewing of a nut (Fig. 1). In both cases, the
screw joints lose their ability to function, so both cases are
dangerous. When, however, there is unscrewing and when
the fatigue fracture? The following contribution will try to
give the answer to this question.

Fig. 2 Disintegration of bolted joint

Statistically, it is proven that the joint decay usually oc-
curs when self-unscrewing. However, there are not isolated
instances of fatigue fracture of screws after preceding half-
way loosening while the joint itself is not completely
disintegrated. The reason for this is cyclical repeated dy-
namic shocks and vibrations transmitted to the relevant
For functioning it means correctly tightened bolted joint
have effect two types of forces:
a) Internal or assembly induced by tightening the joint
forces to a value of prestressing. Internal forces can be
defined quite accurately and also applied to the assembly
by using of torque wrenches with more or less precision.
Fig. 1 Disintegration of bolted joints due to repeated b) External forces caused by additional operational loading.
dynamical stressing and vibrations External and internal forces are mutually interrelated and
complement one another proportionally and disproportio-

nally or counteract each other. Therefore, we are talking friction play an important role, and the contribution of the
about a superposition of the forces. It is complicated and bolted connections to noise and vibration. The application
difficult to control. It is often a random process depen- of FEM in the analysis of bolt pre-tension can help to pre-
ding on many factors. In most cases, it is a combination dict the stress concentration and distribution of the con-
of statically and dynamically operating axial, radial or nected parts in advance, and to guide the design and pro-
torsional forces which can be hard to predict. duction [1,6]. Fig.4 describes von Mises stress around most
Absence of exact data on the operating conditions loaded threads.
designers usually offset by increasing the safety coefficient
by sizing of bolted connections, increasing the coefficient of
friction on the contacts surfaces, choice of fine pitch thread
or by other measures. However, the designer can never
guarantee 100% operational safety because he is not
responsible for the installation and subsequent handling.
The mentioned superposition of forces causes that the
original, i.e. assembly prestressing may not be preserved but
by improper installation and adverse operating conditions it
gradually decreases, in extreme case right to zero.
Precondition for the right working of bolted connections
is assembly prestressing that achieves by required tighte-
ning torque. During operation the prestressing serves as
reservoir of assembly forces and it may not drop below a
certain critical value. On the contrary, it may not exceed the
strength characteristics of material even for short additional
operational burden. Fig. 4 Course of von Mises stress in bolted joint

. 3 Fatigue fracture
As it was already mentioned, if we omit the brutal con-
gestion, then bolted joint can collapse either due to
spontaneous release or fatigue fracture (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2).
Both cases are, equally, dangerous and the causes are also
the same - the vibration and repeated dynamic stress. But
when is there the spontaneous release, when the fatigue and
when fracture? The answer is not so simple, but on the
knowledge about the behaviour of bolting, we can, at least,
formulate a core argument. As it is generally known, the
Fig. 3 Moment distribution process of spontaneous release is proceeding in three known
Fig. 3 shows that just a little proportion of energy sup- phases: 1. the relaxation, 2. the spontaneous unfastening and
plied in form of torque (Mef) is used effectively for 3. the decay (or disintegration). The relaxation takes occurs
preloading required to maintain associated parts in the without the nut/screw turn over. The cause lies on aligning
tightened state. The rest of energy (Mfr) is used for over- the contact surfaces and on inequalities of microplastic
coming friction between threads and under the head of the deformation in these areas. The second stage begins with
screw and under the nut and is converted into reactive heat. gradual of scrolling matrix and/or screws in assembly
Here is valid: dependent current downturn which results into the third
stage - total separation from the nut screws. The case of
M ef  M  M fr total unscrewing is clear. But what will happen if the
In terms of safety it is not torque what is important, but prestressing falls to zero and the nut is not detached from
the prestressing that causes it. The higher friction between the screw? Will the first two stages occur? This state may
the screw and the head of screw and the nut entails the occur due to using of the lock nut with nylon ring according
lower constant M prestressing, it means that the connection to DIN 985, or another safety element with similar pro-
will be sufficiently tightened. Untightened or ragged perties [2,3]. If the dynamic loading exposition continues,
although not fully disassembled screw connection repre- after certain number of cycles, the critical cumulation of
sents a significant security risk because in a short period of fatigue damage and subsequent fatigue fracture will occur,
time, there is a bore to discharge mounting holes with which is, from the point of safety, certainly worse state. The
subsequent spontaneous disintegration service or fatigue reason is simple. While a loose screw can be checked and
fracture of screws and it occurs preferably in locations of possibly tightened, fatigue failure comes suddenly, without
the biggest stress concentration, in this case, in the interface warning.
of external and internal thread. Fatigue failure and actins to increase the bolt capacity
Not long ago, bolted structural parts were commonly Fatigue failure develops in parts loaded by variable loads
treated as rigidly connected. With recent advances in com- mostly in areas of stress concentration although the value of
puter-aided modeling and finite element analysis, engineers the nominal stress is far below the ultimate strength. Sta-
can now get insight into bolted connections that was tistics confirm that from the total number of observed stan-
previously difficult to obtain. Engineers can ask questions dardized bolts which have been damaged by fatigue
regarding, e.g., the bolt forces required to prevent leaking of fracture, the fatigue failure occurred in 65% of the bolts in
fluid, the frequencies of a bolted structure when contact and the first support thread, 20% in the thread run-out and 15%
in transition from the shank to the bolt head. From the given

statistics if fatigue failures, there are apparent areas which Dominik Jozef, M.Sc., PhD.,
need to be focused on when constructing dynamically loa- FERODOM, s.r.o.,
ded bolt connections. Street Stefánikova 58, 01001 Zilina,
1. The reduction of the notch coefficient in thread run-out Slovak Republic
by rounded transition to bolt shank. E-mail:
2. The radius transition increase from head to bolt shank.
Prof. Zmindak Milan, M.Sc., PhD.,
3. If possible, do not uses bolt with fine pitch thread.
University of Zilina,
4. If possible, do not use bolts with large diameters. Prefer
Faculty of Mechanical Engineering,
two smaller bolts to one large.
Street Univerzitná 1, 01026 Zilina,
5. Use suitable structural design of joints with studs.
Slovak Republic
6. Use cross-thread bolt design for through-hole
7. Use stud with nut cross-thread bolts for dead hole. For
dead hole is preferred to use stud with nut, based on the
bottom of the hole, instead of the standard bolts. The
best stud is with ball end, or with inserted ball. References
We also note that for the dynamic load of bolted joints [1] BOCKO, P., MANTIČ, M., KUĽKA, J.: Input data for
must be designed bolt satisfying “static” control with regard preloaded bolted connection design inn FEM. Acta
to yield strength for the load from maximal axial force. Mechanica, Slovaca, 1/2006 (in Slovak)
[2] DOMINIK, J: Award-Winning Bolt Locking System.
4 Conclusions Fastener Focus, XX, 2010
The loosening of bolts causes improper assembly, [3] DOMINIK, J., ŽMINDÁK, M.: Some of new aspects of
followed by the loss of their self-locking during the ope- Bolted Joints Locking. The conference on New Trends
ration. Then, it depends on the particular circumstances in Construction and in creation technical documenta-
whether a classical breakdown of bolt joint occurs or its tion. 2011, Nitra (in Slovak)
destruction occurs by material fatigue. Statistically, it is [4] MINGUEZ, J.M. VOGWELL, J.: Theoretical Analysis
proven that the most frequent spontaneous release of bolted of Preloaded Bolted Joints Subjected to Cyclic Loading.
joints occurs after the first loaded cycles. Therefore, it is International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Edu-
important their current monitoring, especially in that inter- cation, 33/4.
val. [5] TERADA, H..: Structural fatigue and joint degradation.
International Journal of Fatigue , 23, 2001, pp. 21 - 30
[6] ZHEG, X., XIA,W.: Numerical Simulation of Blind
Hole Bolt Connection with 3D Finite element Approach.
2009 Second International Conference on Information
and Computing Science, 2009