Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Contact Mechanics of Rough Surfaces in Hermetic Sealing Studies

Written By

Peter Ogar, Sergey Belokobylsky and Denis Gorokhov

Submitted: 26 April 2017 Reviewed: 03 November 2017 Published: 20 December 2017

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.72196

From the Edited Volume

Contact and Fracture Mechanics

Edited by Pranav H. Darji and Veera P. Darji

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It is indicated that the sealing capacity depends on the contact characteristics—the relative contact area and the gap density in the joint. To determine the contact characteristics, a discrete roughness model is used in the form of a set of spherical segments, the distribution of which in height is related to the bearing curve described by the regularized beta function. The contact of a single asperity is considered with taking into account the influence of the remaining contacting asperities. The equations for determining the relative contact area and gap density in the joint depending on the dimensionless force parameters for elastic and elastic-plastic contacts are provided.


  • contact mechanics
  • hermetic sealing studies
  • rough surface
  • spherical asperity
  • discrete model
  • elastic contact
  • elastic-plastic contact
  • hardening power law
  • relative contact area
  • gaps density
  • sealing joint
  • tightness

1. Introduction

Tightness is the property of the joints to provide an acceptable leakage value, determined from the conditions of normal operation of various systems and equipment, human safety, and environmental protection. To quantify the tightness, the leakage rate is used, that is, the mass or volume of the medium per unit time per unit length along the SJ’s perimeter. By ‘sealing joint’ (SJ), we mean a set of details that form a structure to ensure tightness.

The SJ’s tightness is provided by loading with a compressive load (the contact sealing pressures), which is largely determined by the stress-strain state in the contact area and depends on the contact interaction of the rough surfaces. The main contact characteristics ensuring SJ’s tightness are the approaching of rough surfaces, the relative contact area, the density of gaps in the joint, and the degree of fusion of contact spots of single asperities. Depending on the materials’ properties and microgeometry parameters, there are elastic, viscoelastic, elastic-plastic, and rigid-plastic contacts.

At present, to solve the tribology problems, we need to use the roughness models and the rough surfaces contacting theory developed by the authors [1, 2] and their followers. However, the use of such models to solve the problems in hermetic sealing studies leads to significant errors, which is explained by the following:

  1. the contact pressures of the sealing are approximately 1–2 orders of magnitude higher than for friction and at that, it is necessary to be taken into account the mutual influence of the contacting asperities;

  2. in the sealing joint, all the asperities's contacting is possible, which requires the description of the whole bearing profile curve but not only its initial part, as in [2];

  3. when determining the gaps volume (or density), the displacements of the points of the asperities surfaces have not been taken into account; and

  4. the extrusion of the material into the intercontact space under elastic-plastic contact has not been taken into account.

Therefore, to describe the SJ, a rough surface model is required that adequately describes the real surface and corresponds to the whole bearing curve, and not just its initial part. In addition, in order to improve the accuracy of the calculation of the contact characteristics, the discrete model of a rough surface must be taken into account, the real distribution of dimensions of microasperities and the mutual influence. The criterion of plasticity must take into account the general stress-strain state when contacting of a rough surface and not just of a single asperity. In most cases, the contact of metallic rough surfaces is elastic-plastic, therefore, to determine the contact characteristics, it is necessary to take into account the parameters of material hardening.

To estimate the SJ’s sealing property, in [3, 4], the nondimensional permeability functional is used


where Λ is the gaps density in the joint; η is the relative contact area; υk is the probability of a medium flowing, which depends on the single contact spots fusion.

All the parameters that appear in Eq. (1) depend on the parameters of microgeometry and dimensionless force parameters fq or q¯σ, the determination of which is given in the following sections.

The purpose of the given research is to develop methods for calculating the contact characteristics that ensure the given tightness of the immobile joints with taking into account the complex of functional parameters of the sealing surfaces and mutual influence of asperities.


2. Discrete model of the rough surface

We consider that the initial data for the model representation of a rough surface are parameters of roughness according to ISO 4287–1997, ISO 4287/1–1997: maximum roughness depth Rmax, arithmetic mean deviation of the profile Ra, root-mean-square deviation of the profile Rq, mean height of the profile elements Rp, mean width of the profile elements Sm, bearing profile curve tp, and bearing profile curve on the midline tm. Thus, the standard parameters of the roughness for the developed model must coincide with the corresponding parameters of the real surface.

To describe the entire rough surface, it is required to know one of two functions:

ηuε=AuAc or φnu=nunc,E2

where Au is the material cross-sectional area at a relative level ε=h/Rmax; Ac is the contour area; nu is the number of asperities whose peaks are located above the level u; nc=Ac/Aci is the total number of asperities; and Aci is the area due to a single asperity.

According to ISO 4287–1997, parameters of roughness are determined from profilograms and the functions describing the distribution for the profile tp and the surface ηu(ε), but it is not fulfilled for the peaks and valleys asperities distribution functions of the profile φnl(ul) and the surface φn(u), then the model is based on the bearing profile curve.

Let us assume that the function ηuε is monotonic and twice differentiable. A rough surface (Figure 1) is a set of asperities in the form of spherical segments of radius r and height ωRmax, and base radius ac=Aci/π. It is necessary to find such a function φnu for which the distribution of the material in the rough layer corresponds to the bearing surface curve.

Figure 1.

The scheme and the bearing curve of a rough surface.

Figure 2.

The distribution densities of asperities for different values of p and q.

The cross-section of the i-th asperity at the level ε is


where u is the relative distance from the peaks level to the peak of the i-th asperity.

The number of peaks in the layer du and at a distance u is equal to


Then, Au=Ar=2πrRmaxnc0εφnuεudu;


Further, we have


Twice differentiating the left and right sides of ε, we have


To describe the bearing surface curve, we use the regularized beta function:




Вε(α,β) и В(α,β) are the incomplete and complete beta-functions.

Double differentiating Eq. (9), from Eq. (8), for the function and the distribution density of the asperities, we have


The relative height of the spherical asperity is ω=1εs and the radius of spherical asperity is r=ac2/2ωRmax.

This section describes a model of a rough surface in the form of a set of spherical asperities with constant radii and heights. More complex models with asperities with variable radii and heights are given in work [3, 4].

The contact of two rough surfaces zixy can be represented as a contact of an equivalent rough surface zxy=i=12zixy and a flat surface. The parameters of the microgeometry of an equivalent surface are given in [3, 4].


3. Description of contact of a single asperity

3.1. Contact of a spherical asperity and the low-modulus half-space

Elastic contact occurs when low-modulus materials are used, which are used widely in sealing technology in the form of coatings or individual details [3, 5]. According to the strength criteria, the construction materials belong to the low-modulus materials if the values of the elastic moduli E < 103 MPa [6]. When contacting metallic rough surfaces, elastic contact is possible for high surface cleanliness classes and large values of the yield strength of the material.

As shown by experiments [7, p. 179] with polymeric interlayers (a coating on one of the conjugate details), loaded by [1] compressive stresses, the real touching area tends to be a constant value, depending on the physico-mechanical properties of the interlayer material.

During elastic contact, the mutual influence of discretely loaded sections leads to the growth retardation of the contact area [3]. It is reflected in the Bartenev-Lavrentyev’s formula [7]


where b is the coefficient depending on the surface quality, qc is the contour contact pressure, and E is the elastic modulus. As it follows from Eq. (13), η1 for q.

The question of the influence of neighboring asperities in the case of elastic contact was considered in [8, 9], where the mutual influence is replaced by the action of equal concentrated forces located at the nodes of the hexagonal lattice.

According to the Saint-Venant’s principle, at a point sufficiently distant from the region of application of the load, the stresses and deformations do not depend on the nature of the load distribution in its application area, in [10, 11]. Using the principle, the influence of the other contacting asperities is replaced by the action of a uniformly distributed load in some circular area. It allows considering the problem posed as an axisymmetric problem.

Let us consider the contact of a single absolutely rigid spherical asperity of radius r, whose peak is located at a distance uRmax from the peaks line of a rough surface with an elastic half-space in the system of cylindrical coordinates z, ρ, and φ with origin at the point О (Figure 3).

Figure 3.

Scheme of contact of a single asperity.

From an analysis of the numerous solutions of contact problems in the theory of elasticity and plasticity, it follows that a change of the distribution of external loads near the contact area under constancy of its average intensity leads to insignificant changes only near the boundary of the contact area.

Then, taking into account, the nature of the mutual location of the individual contact spots, the influence on the contact characteristics of an individual asperity within the circular contact area W1ρ=0,ari¯ and the circular unloaded area Wρ=ari,an¯ on the remaining contact spots will be equivalent to the effect of the uniformly distributed load qcn acting in the circular area W2ρ=an,al¯, and the assigned problem may be regarded as an axisymmetric (Figure 3). The size of the unloaded area an depends on the number of contacting asperities and with increasing applied load, it decreases from al to ac.

The solution of this problem is given in Ref. [11]. Studies on the effect of the parameter ka=an/ac on the relative contact area show only 4% increase of last one; therefore, with a margin to tightness ensure, we will give a solution for ka = 1 or an = ac below.

Let A1 and A2 be two points on the surface of the circular contact area W1. The A1 and A2 coming into contact after application of the compressive load. Since the total normal displacement U0 of the point А1 is constant for any point in area W1, we have


where UEri is the normal contact displacement under the pressure pri acting in the region W1; UEci is the normal displacement under the pressure qcn; and z1 is the equation of the surface of a spherical asperity in an unloaded state.

As for the real surfaces, r > > Rmax, then


Elementary displacements dUEri and dUEci under pressures qri and qc acting on elementary areas dw1 and dw2, respectively, are determined by [12]:


where Rj2=ρ2+ρj22ρρjcosφj, j = 1, 2; ρρi; θ=1ν2/E, ν is Poisson’s ratio; dw1=ρ1dρdφ; and dw2=ρ2dρdφ.

After integrating Eq. (16), we have


where Εx is the complete elliptic integral of the second kind.

From Eq. (15), taking into account Eqs. (16)(18), we have


The Eq. (19) is the basic equation of an axisymmetric contact problem. The common decision of Eq. (19) is [13].


As a result from (21), we have


Taking into account that ηi=ari2/aci2, qci=Pi/πaci2, from Eqs. (22) and (23), we have

qci=8ωRmaxηi1.53πθac+2πqcarcsin ηi0.5ηi1ηi.E25

The mean pmi and the maximum pri(0) stresses at the contact spot are described by equations

pmi=NiAri=qciηi=8ηi0,5ωRmax3πθac+2qcπηiarcsin ηi0.5ηi1ηi,E26
pri0=4ηi0,5ωRmaxπθac+qcπarcsin ηi0..5.E27

With sufficient accuracy (with an error of less than 1%), Eq. (24) can be written as.


3.2. The contact of a spherical asperity and the hardenable elastic-plastic half-space

Problems of a spherical asperity elastic-plastic indentation are not studied sufficiently and some suggested solutions are needed for clarification and improvement. One of the important problems is material hardening. The authors’ approach to solve this problem is given in Ref. [14].

In several works [15, 16], the empirical Meyer law linking the spherical indentation load and an indenter diameter was used to allow for material hardening in solving the tribomechanic problems. Let us consider this approach at length.

In describing elastic-plastic characteristics of the hardenable material, the Hollomon’s power law is widely used. According to it, the relation between the true stress S and the true strain ε under uniaxial tension or compression is described by equations


where E is the elastic modulus and n is the strain-hardening exponent.

The constant K is determined from the equality condition for σ at εy. Then the second equation in Eq. (29) can be written as.


where σySy, σy is the yield strength, and εy=σy/E.

Taking into accord that the limiting uniform strain εu=n, the exponential deformation hardening can be determined according to Ref. [17] from the following equation:


where σu is the tensile strength.

Meyer was the first who described a material behavior in the elastic-plastic domain. He related the load P to the indentation diameter d as


The empirical Meyer law is often written as:


where m, A, and A* are constants. A* has a dimension of strength.

The equation on the left side is a mean contact area pressure referred to as the Meyer hardness


where a is the radius of the contact area.

Using [16], we have


where E is reduced elastic modulus, kσ=0.333 for carbon and pearlitic steel, for other materials, the values of kσ are given in Ref. [18].


The limits of using of Eq. (35) are given in Ref. [16].

As it was indicated in Ref. [16], the obtained results are in good agreement with the experimental data given in Ref. [19], and with the data of FE analysis [20].

Thus, the proposed approach suggests an alternative to a more complex method for describing elastic-plastic penetration of a sphere on the basis of the kinetic indentation diagram [14], which was used in solving problems of elastic-plastic contacting of rough surfaces.


4. Contacting rough surfaces

4.1. Elastic contact of rough surfaces

4.1.1. Relative contact area

Consider the contact of a rough surface with an elastic-plastic half-space using a roughness model for which the function and the density of the distribution of the asperities are described by Eqs. (15) and (16). The displacement of a rough surface in the general case is determined from Eq. (21) under the condition Fari=0:


For an asperity contacting at a point, that is, for ari = 0, we have


Since the value of U0 is constant for all points of the contact regions, it follows from Eqs. (56) and (38) that


This equation has a solution


where fq=θqcacωRmax.

Contour pressure in the joint of a rough surface with a half-space and the relative area are described by equations.


Considering that for this roughness model Aci=const, Ac=Acinc, and dnr=ncφnudu, we represent Eq. (41) in the form.


Taking into account Eq. (25), we have.


Figure 4 shows the dependences of the relative contact area on the force elastic-geometric parameter fq.

Figure 4.

The relative contact area with/without taking into account the mutual influence of asperities (a) and for different values of p and q (b).

4.1.2. Gaps density of the joint

To determine the volume of the intercontact space, it is necessary to determine the volumes of gaps attributable to single contacting and noncontacting asperities [10],


where z10,z20 and z1r,z2r are the equations describing the surfaces of noncontacting and contacting asperities and half-spaces, respectively.

Then, the total volume of the intercontact space at the joint is described by the equation


And the corresponding gap density is equal to


Taking into account that Λri=Vri/AciRmax и Λ0i=V0i/AciRmax, it can be represented in the form


We provide the equations of surfaces of the asperities and the half-space that enter into Eq. (44):


where x=ρac;k=alac,


where 2F1 is the Gaussian hypergeometric function,

for contacting asperity z1r=z10;


where β=pri0/pm1.

Figure 5 shows the different positions of the single asperity in the process of contacting with the rough surface: case a corresponds to original position; case b corresponds to the touching at a point; and cases c and d correspond to the contact under the different loads.

Figure 5.

The scheme for contacting a single asperity located at level u = 0.5.

Taking into account that x2=t, we have


where Δz0=z20z10 and Δzr=z2rz1r.

Since Λi=ViπacRmax, after integrating (52), we have

Λri=ω1ηi1+ηi2εuω2fqk1+2fqk2F1121221k2ηi 2F112122ηik22fq2F1121221ηi 2F112122ηi++2fqi2F11212β+2ηiηi0,52F11212β+21.E54

Substituting the equations obtained in Eq. (47), we determine the joint density Λε. To determine the dependence Λfq, it is necessary to exclude the parameter ε from the dependences fqε and Λε.

Figure 6 shows the dependence of the gap density on the complex parameter fq when two rough surfaces come into contact. Figure 2 shows that the contact density does not depend on the parameters p and q, since the dependences for the different values of p and q.

Figure 6.

The gap density with/without taking into account the mutual influence of asperities (a) and for different values of p and q (b).

4.1.3. The criteria for the appearance of plastic deformations

To determine the limits of using the above equations for metal surfaces, it is necessary to have a reliable criterion of plasticity. The closest coincidence with the experimental data on the indentation into elastic-plastic media was shown by the energy Mises’ theory of shear strain and the theory of the maximum tangential stresses of Tresca. The difference between the two criteria is small; therefore, it is advisable to use the Tresca criterion because of its algebraic simplicity. The problem of determining the plasticity criterion for the considered loading scheme for a single asperity (Figure 3) was considered in [21]. In this case, the data of the effect of an axisymmetric load of the form Eq. (28) on the stress-strain state were taken into account. An important conclusion of [21] is the statement of stability of the values of the relative contact area ηip for distributed at different heights asperities, at which plastic deformation begins. Thus, the value of ηip for any asperity loaded according to Figure 3 can be determined for the highest asperity at u=0, qc=0, and β=0,5.

By the Tresca criterion of the maximum tangential stresses, the plastic deformation on the z axis corresponds to the equivalent stress [22].


The maximum contact pressure is defined as p0=Kyσy, where Ky=1,613. The mean contact pressure is pm=Kyσy/1+β.

Using Hertz’s expressions for the radius of the contact area.


and taking into account that.


We obtain the value of the criterion for the appearance of plastic strains in the near-surface layer


where fy=σyacEωRmax.

For the highest asperity ηp=1,605fy2. Thus, the proposed criterion of plasticity does not depend on loading conditions and this is its advantage.

Similarly, we define the criterion of occurrence of plastic deformation at the contact area. According to [23], the equivalent stresses at the center of the area are


The highest value of the equivalent stress σeq1 is on the contour of the contact area, where it slightly exceeds σeq0 in the center of the loading area. It is convenient to represent σeq1=Kσσeq0, where for β=0,5 according to the energy theory of shear strains Kσ=1,16, according to the theory of maximal tangential stresses Kσ=1,33.

At the moment of appearance of plastic deformation along the contour of the contact area σeq1=σy, and the average contact pressure.


Then, similarly to the above reasoning, the criterion of the appearance of plastic deformations in the contact area is


For the highest asperity ηp=15,42Kσ2fy2. According to the theory of maximum tangential stresses ηp=5,405ηp, according to the energy theory of shear deformations ηp=7,105ηp.

4.2. Elastic-plastic contact of rough surfaces

Contact characteristics for elastic-plastic contact will be considered taking into account the mutual influence of the contacting asperities. By analogy with the elastic contact, we assume that the mutual influence of the asperities is equivalent to the action of the additional load qc (Figure 3). We use a discrete roughness model, described by Eqs. (15) and (16).

4.2.1. Relative contact area

According to Eq. (33), the load applied to a single asperity


Considering that for the roughness model used R=ac2/2ωRmax and ηi=ari2/ac2, from Eq. (62) we have


For elastic-plastic contact, it is convenient to use the parameter q¯σ=qc/σy, then from Eq. (63) we have




By analogy with Eq. (25), taking into account Eq. (64), for an elastic-plastic contact, we have


In order to preserve the acceptability of the equations for elastic and elastic-plastic contacts, we use the relations.


Then Eq. (66) can be represented in the form


where Cf=Cafy, ηi is determined by Eq. (40).

Summing up fqi over all asperities, we have


For a given value ε, we solve the system of transcendental Eqs. (40), (69) and obtain the dependence fqε.

Similarly, using Eq. (40) and fqε, we have


Excluding the parameter ε from Eqs. (69) and (70), we obtain the dependence ηfq or ηq¯σ.

Figures 7 and 8 present the dependencies of the relative contact area on the relative force parameter q¯σ.

Figure 7.

The relative contact area with/without taking into account the mutual influence of asperities (a) and for different values of p and q (b).

Figure 8.

The relative contact area for different values of εy and n.

4.2.2. Gaps density of the joint

The scheme of the action of the loads pr and qc is similar to the scheme for elastic contact (Figure 3).

For an elastic-plastic contact


therefore, the pressure distribution in the contact area described by [4]


where p0=pm1+β is pressure at r=0, pm is the mean pressure on contact area and β=0,5205n.

Total density of gaps with elastic-plastic contact


where Λe is the density of gaps due to the elastic punching of the half-space, which accounted for single contacting and noncontacting asperities; Λp is reduction of the gap density due to the plastic displacement of the material into the interfacial space.

The value of Λe is determined, similarly to the elastic contact, by Eq. (47). In this case, fqi is determined by Eq. (68) and the parameter β is used in Eq. (72).

Let us determine the volume of the displaced material for a single contacting asperity (Figure 9).

Figure 9.

Scheme of the unloaded crater.

Let us assume that the unloaded crater has a constant radius Rfi and the unloaded depth from the level of the initial surface hfi. The volume of plastically displaced material falling on a single crater is equal to the volume of a spherical segment of height hf and radius Rfi:


The total volume of the displaced material


Since Λp=Vp/AcRmax, we have


Substituting Eq. (76) into Eq. (73), we find the total gap density for elastic-plastic contact.

Figure 10 presents the dependencies of the gap density on the relative force parameter q¯σ.

Figure 10.

The gap density with/without taking into account the mutual influence of asperities (a) and for different values of p and q (b).


5. Ensuring specified tightness

Ensuring specified tightness or leakage rate is related to the determination of the force parameters fq or q¯σ. The sealing capacity of the SJ is evaluated by the permeability functional by Eq. (1). The contact characteristics—the relative contact area η and the gap density Λ, included in Eq. (1), are defined in the previous section. Included in Eq. (1), the probability vk of the medium flowing through the SJ is determined by the fusion of contact spots and is given in Ref. [3]. Two adjacent asperities will merge if ηi>0.5 for each asperity.

Figure 11 shows the dependences for the elastic and elastic-plastic contacts.

The required permeability functional is determined by [3]


where Gl* is the specified tightness; ρ is the density of the sealed medium; p1 and p2 are the inlet and outlet pressures; μ is the dynamic viscosity; Δp=p1p2; and l is the compacting band width.

Figure 11.

The dependences of the permeability functional for the elastic (a) and elastic-plastic (b) contacts.

The force parameters fq or q¯σ, that providing a given level Cu are determined from the Cufq or Cuq¯σ (Figure 11).


6. Conclusion

Using the proposed model of roughness as a result of the studies, methods for determining the contact characteristics and the conditions for ensuring a specified tightness of the joints were developed and established:

  1. Contact characteristics and the permeability functional are determined depending on the introduced dimensionless power parameters fq for the elastic and q¯σ for elastic-plastic contacts.

  2. The relative contact area and the gap density for elastic contact do not depend on the values of the parameters of the bearing curve p and q. To a large extent, the mutual influence of asperities affects, and at fq > 0.47, the determining factor affecting the permeability functional is the probability vk of the medium flowing (Figure 11).

  3. To describe the elastic-plastic contact, Mayer’s law and the relation between the hardening exponent n and the Mayer index m were used.

  4. In the case of elastic-plastic contact, the exponent of hardening n has a greater effect on the contact characteristics and to a lesser extent, the parameter εy and the mutual influence of the asperities. For the considered range of the parameter q¯σ, the fusion of the contact spots is insignificant.


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Written By

Peter Ogar, Sergey Belokobylsky and Denis Gorokhov

Submitted: 26 April 2017 Reviewed: 03 November 2017 Published: 20 December 2017