The dynamics of structures built-up from components connected by bolted joints are not well understood. Experiments were conducted with bolted joints in a shear configuration in which instantaneous vibration frequencies and damping could be measured. A system with bolted joints was excited and the free vibration decay measured. As the vibration decays, the damping decreases and the frequencies increase.

This suggests a new interpretation for the contact patch in a bolted joint, involving bound, slipping and alternating regions. The changing size of the bound region controls the instantaneous frequencies and the relative displacement inside the slipping region and the alternating region controls the damping behaviour.

Shims of different lengths enabled the behaviour of the contact patch to be investigated. A clear trend exists between the length of the shims and the non-linear dynamic behaviour. The introduction of multiple shims did not increase the damping or alter the dynamic nonlinear behaviour. The introduction of grease into the bolted joint increased the damping but oil did not. The vibration measurements enable the size of the contact patch to be estimated.

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