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Friction in threaded fasteners

Influence of materials and tooling

Time: Fri 2022-10-14 10.00

Location: Gladan, Brinellvägen 85, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Machine Design

Doctoral student: Mayank Kumar , Maskinkonstruktion (Inst.), Atlas Copco Industrial Technique AB

Opponent: Prof. Robert Wood, University of Southampton

Supervisor: Professor Sergei Glavatskih, Maskinkonstruktion (Avd.); Dr. Erik Persson, Maskinkonstruktion (Avd.), Atlas Copco Industrial Technique AB; Dr. Ellen Bergseth, Maskinkonstruktion (Avd.), Maskinelement, Tribologi; Prof. Ian Sherrington, Maskinkonstruktion (Avd.), University of Central Lancashire


Threaded fasteners represent the most common type of machine element, with a unique function that facilitates ease of assembly and disassembly. This ease of disassembly allows machine parts to be reused, refurbished, and recycled. Easy as these components are to assemble, several factors must be considered to achieve the desired clamp force and to utilize the fastener to its full load capacity. The research presented in the thesis compares different tightening strategies and assembly tools to show that the clamp force and it´s scatter are influenced by the variation in the coefficient of friction (CoF) to a much larger extent than by the accuracy of an assembly tool. The research therefore focus on understanding the frictional response in a threaded fastener joint during tightening.

A range of design and assembly factors are considered to identify how to increase reliability of the threaded fastener joints. These factors include tightening speed, coating, surface topography, fastener storage conditions, cutting fluid residue and joint material. A torque-controlled, two-step tightening method was mainly used in the studies as it is widely practiced across the production floor of the motor vehicle and general industries to tighten threaded fastener joints. 

A state-of-the-art friction test rig (FTR) was built to quantify variations in the CoF in the thread and under-head contacts during tightening. Coatings and contact surfaces are also characterized using SEM, FIB, indenters, and optical microscopes to gain an insight to find the likely reasons behind CoF variation. Fasteners with different Zn-based coatings were tightened on plates with surface topographies similar to those found in the motor vehicle industry. The samples were not cleaned before the testing but used "as-received" from the supplier. The degree of damage to the joint surface and fastener thread from the tightening depends on the hardness of the coating. The hardest coating (Zn-Ni) remained relatively unchanged but gave twice as high CoF in the under-head contact compared to the softest coating (Zn-flake). The under-head friction often dominates the tightening process and may be significantly affected by the joint surface topography and the level of cleanliness. 

In the automotive industry, many parts to be assembled are not thoroughly cleaned, increasing the risk of cutting fluid residue on the joint surface. Different types of cutting fluids were compared in a study with fasteners tightened against “as-received" and cleaned plates. It was shown that CoF might drastically decrease depending on the coating and cutting fluid types. An ester-based fluid performed best, providing the lowest CoF in the under-head contact due to its higher viscosity and polarity. A water-based fluid showed a significantly larger scatter. 

Water can also influence friction due differences in humidity and temperature. Sometimes fasteners are stored outside a factory which could lead to water diffusion in the coating in hot-humid climate or condensation of water on the fastener surface when it is brought from the outside storage at sub-zero temperatures into the production hall. Water on the coating and inside of it could lead to low CoF, with overtightening and fastener failure as a result. Four Zn-based coatings were compared and showed different response depending on the coating structure and topcoat. 

Another way to reduce CoF is to use variable speed tightening. It will also increase productivity, as it is faster. It will also improve operator ergonomics, as it gives much lower reaction torque. Much higher CoF was found for EPZ coating when tightened at a constant and very low speed, 5 rpm, due to cohesion that resulted in material transfer, compared to CoF during high, variable speed tightening. At the same time, speed had negligible influence on the CoF when using soft Zn-flake coating as the coating easily sheared off, acting as a solid lubricant.

A soft coating is also practical when used in contact with parts made using additive manufacturing (AM). The AM parts are often rough, but a soft coating can mitigate an increase in the under-head CoF. An interesting finding was that the cheapest solution of using an uncoated fastener works very well. An anti-corrosion oil on the plain fastener helped in achieving low CoF. When the AM plate was machined, the CoF and surface damage significantly increased due to the lay of the surface topography created by machining. 

The findings presented in the thesis increase understanding of how various design and assembly factors govern friction in the thread and under-head contacts. The under-head contact dominates friction response. A proper selection and adjustment of these factors will help design engineers to optimize joint designs and achieve high fastener strength utilization.