A critical assessment of the current design theory for bolted joints which is based on a linear, one-dimensional stiffness analysis is presented. A detailed nonlinear finite element analysis of a bolted joint conforming to ANSI standards was performed. The finite element results revealed that the joint stiffness is highly dependent on the magnitude of the applied load. The joint stiffness changes continuously from extremely high for small applied loads to the bolt stiffness during large applied loads, contrary to the constant joint stiffness of the linear theory. The linear theory is shown to be inadequate in characterizing the joint stiffness. The significance of the results in terms of the failure of bolted joints is discussed. A number of sensitivity studies were carried out to assess the effect of various parameters on the axial joint stiffness. The results revealed that bending and rotation of the joint members, interfacial friction, and the bolt/nut threading significantly influence the axial stiffness characteristics of the bolted joint. The two-dimensional, axisymmetric finite element model includes bilinear gap elements to model the interfaces. Special orthotropic elements were used to model the bolt/nut thread interaction. A free-body-diagram approach was taken by applying loads to the outer diameter of the joint model which correspond to internal, uniformly distributed line-shear and line-moment loads in the joint. A number of convergence studies were performed to validate the solution.

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