Reynolds equation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Reynolds Equation is a partial differential equation governing the pressure distribution of thin viscous fluid films in Lubrication theory. It should not be confused with Osborne Reynolds' other namesakes, Reynolds number and Reynolds-averaged Navier–Stokes equations. It was first derived by Osborne Reynolds in 1886.[1] The classical Reynolds Equation can be used to describe the pressure distribution in nearly any type of fluid film bearing; a bearing type in which the bounding bodies are fully separated by a thin layer of liquid or gas.

General usage[edit]

The general Reynolds equation is:


  • is fluid film pressure.
  • and are the bearing width and length coordinates.
  • is fluid film thickness coordinate.
  • is fluid film thickness.
  • is fluid viscosity.
  • is fluid density.
  • are the bounding body velocities in respectively.
  • are subscripts denoting the top and bottom bounding bodies respectively.

The equation can either be used with consistent units or nondimensionalized.

The Reynolds Equation assumes:

  • The fluid is Newtonian.
  • Fluid viscous forces dominate over fluid inertia forces. This is the principal of the Reynolds number.
  • Fluid body forces are negligible.
  • The variation of pressure across the fluid film is negligibly small (i.e. )
  • The fluid film thickness is much less than the width and length and thus curvature effects are negligible. (i.e. and ).

For some simple bearing geometries and boundary conditions, the Reynolds equation can be solved analytically. Often however, the equation must be solved numerically. Frequently this involves discretizing the geometric domain, and then applying a finite technique - often FDM, FVM, or FEM.

Derivation from Navier-Stokes[edit]

A full derivation of the Reynolds Equation from the Navier-Stokes equation can be found in numerous lubrication text books.[2][3]


The Reynolds equation is used to model the pressure in many applications. For example:

Reynolds Equation Adaptations[edit]

In 1978 Patir and Cheng introduced an average flow model[4] which modifies the Reynolds equation to consider the effects of surface roughness on partially lubricated contacts.


  1. ^ Reynolds, O. 1886. On the Theory of Lubrication and Its Application to Mr. Beauchamp Tower's Experiments, Including an Experimental Determination of the Viscosity of Olive Oil. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.[1]
  2. ^ Fundamentals of Fluid Film Lubrication. Hamrock, B., Schmid, S., Jacobson. B. 2nd Edition. 2004. ISBN 0-8247-5371-2
  3. ^ Fluid Film Lubrication. Szeri, A. 2nd Edition. 2010. ISBN 0521898234.
  4. ^ Patir, N. and Cheng, H.S. 1978. An Average Flow Model for Determining Effects of Three-Dimensional Roughness on Partial Hydrodynamic Lubrication. Journal of Lubrication Technology, Vol. 100, No. 1, pp. 12-17. [2]