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Ra surface finish -- unit-less, or what are the units


Q. Ra is the arithmetical mean roughness of a surface. Does Ra have units associated with it (i.e., inches, microns, etc.), or is it a unitless number?

David Arnold
Plastic Mfg. - Minden, Nebraska


A. David:

Surface roughness values, including Ra need a dimension to be interpreted. The common unit for machining applications in the US is microinch (millionths of an inch). Metric values would be microns (millionths of a meter) or nanometer (billionths of a meter) for polished surfaces.

hanke Larry Hanke
  materials testing laboratory
Minneapolis, Minnesota


A. All of the following have units of length ---
Ra: The arithmetic mean
Rq: The root mean square
Ry: Maximum peak-to-valley height

Hope this helps.

totter James Totter, CEF
- Tallahassee, Florida


A. The average roughness, Ra, is expressed in units of height. In the Imperial (English) system, Ra typically expressed in "millionths" of an inch. This is also referred to as "microinches" or sometimes just as "micro" (however the latter is just slang). In the metric system, Ra is typically expressed as "millionths of a meter" also called "micrometers" or "microns".

Mark Malburg, Ph.D.
Chairman ASME-B46.1 "Surface Texture" - Columbus, Indiana


Q. Is Ra & RMS exclusively used for measuring surface quality on metal finishes? Is there another measurement value used for measuring Roughness Average on glass mirror surface? How does Ra of metal surface compares to surface of a glass mirror?

Michael Liu Taylor
   specialty stainless steel distributor
Dallas, Texas

July 8, 2008

Q. How large an area do you test to get the value is of Ra? How do you separate Ra from flatness?

Ian Barlow
Engineer - France

October 11, 2008

Q. I need to know what is measuring equipment to measure Ra?

Zaki Yamani Ahmad
engineer - Kuantan, Pahang, Malaysia

December 9, 2008

Q. Need help!

I've got this statement from one journal I've read.

'rough surface decrease Ra value while on smooth surface, Ra value increase'.

Is it right? Or it works the opposite way?

Thanx for helping, anyone.

- Johor, Malaysia


A. No, Lia. That is incorrect information, it works the opposite way. Ra 125 is smoother than Ra 32. However, for grit size it works the opposite direction: the higher the grit number, the finer the grit.


pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

July 17, 2009

Q. We are cutting a sprocket type gear on hobbing machine(Generating process) with the axial feed ... in this case to check the surface finish value (Ra), whether we should check along the feed direction? or across the feed direction?

Kiran Gadag
application engineer - Bangalore,India

September 15, 2010

Q. I have a drawing of a plastic-moulded part with a minimum, as well as, a maximum, Ra tolerance for the surface finish. The surface in question, seal on an 'o' ring, to prevent fluid leakage. Is there any reason why I would not want less than the minimum Ra (0.2 in this case)?

Gary Spring
- Basildon, Essex, UK

March 12, 2011

A. Gary Spring,

I would imagine as your part was a moulding the designer would spec a min and max Ra either for aesthetic purposes or to reduce manufacturing costs. The lower the Ra the more processing will be required; i.e., a mirror finish will be more expensive than a good commercial polish.


Steve Addicott
- UK

December 13, 2010

Q. Hello,
Please tell me information of Ra roughness surface and what equipment. Also calculation to get the Ra roughness surface.

Thank you for your information.

A.Sukri Saad
plating worker - Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia.


April 5, 2011

Q. Dear Sir,
What is relation between Ra value we use to specified in drawing 1.6/0.8/0.4/ and micron?
Please help me in this.

Shyam Tare
Design Dept - Vadodara,Gujrat, India

April 5, 2011

A. Hi, Tare.

A "micron" is a micrometer, one millionth of a meter.


pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 13, 2011

Q. If I hone a cylinder to 7.880" +/- .001 and it calls for a 20-30 RA finish how do I measure this to know that I have achieved the finish spec'ed? How do I know if I have a 20 to 30 RA?

Greg Weitzel
Technician - Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

November 23, 2011

Q. Print calls for a 125Ra, the part measures 155 Ra

Is this within tolerance?

Rod Adkins
- Wilmington, Delaware, USA

March 8, 2012

A. For measuring Ra value, you could use Surface Roughness Tester; it's available in the market place.

About 125 in measuring and part has 155, it does not matter.

125 to 250 is common tolerance

J Malai
- Green Bay, Wisconsin

November 28, 2011

Q. If a drawing specifies 500 micro-inch requirement, I've always been under the impression that this value would be the maximum allowed surface-roughness variation as defined by ANSI/ASME B46.1 [link by ed. to spec at TechStreet]. A colleague told me that this is just a target value, not a maximum. what is the convention for the surface finish callout on a drawing? What is the document that governs this? I couldn't specifically determine the interpretation of this per ANSI B46.1? Let me know.

Dave Johnson
Aerospace/Military - Clinton, Utah, USA

November 29, 2011

A. I can't say what the drawing intent for your specific customer is, only my own personal experiences. If a drawing calls up a surface finish requirement it is considered to be a maximum value as far as I am concerned. I have worked on and with many of the Aerospace platforms and all drawings that I have come across have stated surface finishes as maximums (although there was one drawing that actually did the reverse and stated a minimum roughness! It was clearly marked on the drawing though).

In the end, if you are not certain what the requirement is go back to your customer and ask the question. 2 minutes on the phone may save you a lot of pain.

Brian Terry
aerospace - Yeovil, Somerset, United Kingdom

December 17, 2011



October 4, 2013

Q. Dear sir, I want to know what is the tooth surface roughness unit if I measure it with digital microscope? Microns or other?
Thank you for your kindness.

Lita Christ
- Yogya, Indonesia

Length of Travel and Cutoff Length Settings on Profilometers

February 7, 2014

Q. I work in quality and lately have been thinking if the settings for 'LT' (Length of Travel) and 'LC' (Cutoff length) on a profilometer should be considered when measuring a particular range of 'RA' surface finishes? We generally grind and/or super polish from 2 RA to 8 RA. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Paul Desko
Quality - Torrington, Connecticut, USA
  ^- Privately contact this inquirer -^

February 15, 2014

A. You might have something that could help others. The length could be taken into consideration as part of the overall reading. Meaning if the part was say 3 inches and got a reading of 6Ra and you were only able to measure half that length for whatever reason, you could indicate that as Ra6@50. I'm not sure that would make a lot of difference in the overall reading but it would give the observer more reliability of the quality.

AF Kenton
Nova Finishing Sytems Inc. - Hatboro, Pennsylvania

February 17, 2014

Q. I guess I wasn't clear in my explanation of what I was in search of. My goal was to understand if I should be using a different 'length of travel' and/or 'cut-off length' when our surface finishes require a 2RA "instead of" an 8 RA or above. Maybe that will make my question clearer. Thanks in advance.

Paul Desko [returning]
Quality - Torrington, Connecticut, USA

February 19, 2014

A. The English language is a SOB sometimes. OK let me see if I understand what you are looking for. The length of the part is one thing. the length of the profilometer stroke is another, the reading of the surface finish is the 3rd thing. So if I understand this right, you are requesting info on the difference between the RA's in which case, the lower the number the smoother the surface finish. I don't think you are talking about different measurement scales, are you?

AF Kenton
Nova Finishing Sytems Inc. - Hatboro, Pennsylvania

February 20, 2014

Q. Profilometers have various "cut-off Lengths" (Lc), such as .003, .01, .03 etc... Should this be changed when different 'RA's' are called for, such as a 16RA, 8RA or a 2RA? Again thank you for your time.

Paul Desko [returning]
Quality - Torrington, Connecticut, USA

February 21, 2014

A. Never looked at this question the way you are doing. OK. #1 A profilometer measures the surface roughness of any part. It is an average of the surface the stylus travels. #2 It can not do anything about the number because that is the roughness of the part or the section that was read with the profilometer. The number only indicates to the end user how smooth or how much more work has to be done to the part to get it into an acceptable surface finish to either paint, plate, or leave it. In the medical industry, the smoother finish or lower number is desirable to reduce the possibility of bacteria adhering to the part when in use.

AF Kenton
Nova Finishing Sytems Inc. - Hatboro, Pennsylvania

February 2014

A. Hi Paul. The advances in surface topography over the course of my career make my head spin, with terms that were unheard of or at least completely ignored years ago now becoming critical as we continue towards miniaturization. So I needed a 15-minute refresher on this Lc and Ls issue. I'm talking myself through this, and explaining it to readers, so please don't interpret these examples as talking down to you, since I'm sure you know much more about the topic than I do --

In brief, in addition to the local roughness of a surface, it also may have a long wavelength waviness. For example, we can picture a football field where the Astroturf may have a particular roughness that we measure and are careful about so cleats grab but players' skin doesn't -- but the field may have a bit of ponding at the left hashmark on the 20-yard line that we may not notice and which doesn't matter and which may even inject a serendipity that fans demand. So we don't study every square inch of the whole field, just a little patch, and our long wave cutoff (Lc) may be 6 inches rather than 100 yards. This Lc we choose has more to do with functionality than with with whether Brand A artificial turf is rougher than Brand B.

Regarding Ls, the short wave cutoff, I once read that a shoreline looks generally the same regardless of magnification. So you magnify the picture a hundred times and you still see the same level of graininess. Magnify the picture of that short section a hundred times and you still see it; do it again and you still see it. So no profilometer or other instrument that is following that shoreline is really following it, it is following it at one scale, but is jumping over the graininess at some smaller scale. The roughness/graininess below some magnification level is ignored; that's Ls.

I think the answer to your question is that Lc must be specified on the basis of functionality -- what really matters. You are specifying an Ra in the first place because it impacts the functionality of the part. The instrument can't tell the function of the part and why Lc matters, but the designer can. As a practical matter, I'd assume that the larger the machined area, usually the higher the Lc.

Ls is conventionally specified as 1/100 of Lc. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

February 24, 2014

Q. So then, how does 'Lt' or length of travel, of the profilometer factor into this equation? The cylinders that we grind are as small as 3" in dia. x 30" long up to 59" in dia" and up to 400" long! Our customers do not specify any Lc or Lt, so it is left up to us to decide what is best for them. Thanks again!

Paul Desko [returning]
Quality - Torrington, Connecticut, USA

February 2014

A. As I say, this whole idea of Lc and Ls is a bit foreign to my career experience, and it may be the same with others. But actually ISO 1302-2002 says that the drawings are supposed to specify Lc and Ls.

But if the designer doesn't specify them, no, it is NOT up to you to decide what is best for them -- because you are not in a position to hazard guesses about what a designer is contending against. So I guess you say that in the absence of contrary info, mid range readings are usually best, so that's how you pick Lc on your profilometer and that's that :-)

As for Lt, I keep seeing different definitions for that, some claiming Lt = Lc, some saying the profile is evaluated 5x, so Lt = 5 x Lc plus pretravel and post travel. I think you have to refer to the operating instructions for your profilometer to determine exactly what it means to the instrument you are using, but that you should pick the middle of the range for Lc. Sorry, I can't take it any further because going further would imply an expertise I don't have :-(


pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey

February 25, 2014

A. Just some additional thoughts. If you did not talk with your customer about this issue, make sure you document what you did do and show support information.

AF Kenton
Nova Finishing Sytems Inc. - Hatboro, Pennsylvania

February 25, 2015

Q. I am reviewing a drawing that calls out a surface roughness of Ra 16 Min. How would you interpret this callout? I have seen "MAX" call outs, but never "Min". Also is there a specification that defines how to use "Max" and "Min"?

Jose Supan
- Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, USA

March 3, 2015

A. It is a little strange that they should use terminology min; however,I think you should check with your customer. As good customer relations, I'd inform him that technically you do not have to do anything to the part for you to conform to his requirement except bill him for nothing unless the parts are way under his referenced specs. in which case you have to make them rougher.

AF Kenton
Nova Finishing Sytems Inc. - Hatboro, Pennsylvania

March 4, 2015

A. Hello, regarding the Ra min, I have seen it scarcely but it is quite common on bore with press fit operations; per say I have a bore where we press a seal and we need the Ra to range from 0.8 min to 2.5 max; smoother surface than specified would cause the seal to move from position, higher than specified would cause damage to the seal for the friction during the press in operation.

We honestly make it reader friendly by stating: Ra 0.8 - 2.5.

And that is that... so yes, you have to be careful sometimes with smoother than expected surfaces.

Luis Munoz
- El Paso Texas USA

March 17, 2015

Q. Can you help me understand this call out:
8Ra, Rmr (bearing ratio) 50-70%, Rsk negative skew ratio

Tony Ryland
- Watertown South Dakota USA

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