Putting It All Together with Shaft Couplings

by Breana Cronk, IQS Editor

In a world full of gizmos and gadgets, it is hard to keep up with the latest and greatest technological advancement or mechanical construct. It seems almost daily that a new car that does this or a new washing machine that does that comes on the market. One mainstay of industrial, commercial and domestic applications alike, however, is the shaft coupling. From automotive driveshafts to power generation and even washing machines, shaft couplings allow engineers to facilitate the transmission of torque and power in a predictable and reliable way, even when market place trends may be anything but. Though modern materials and manufacturing methods commonly revamp this antiquated device, it remains true to its original design. Despite relatively few changes, shaft couplings are implicated in an astounding number of modern machines, responsible for putting it all together, literally.

Photos courtesy of Rino Mechanical Components Inc.

Simply put, a coupling is a mechanical device that serves as a connector between two elements. In the case of shaft couplings, the elements are shafts. Such unions serve one of two major purposes. In many of the aforementioned applications the principle goal is the transfer of motion. The shaft couplings used to transfer movement from a vehicle transmission to its wheels are a prime example of this application which enables the proliferation of the rotational movements. Power generation, however, is an example of the second purpose of shaft couplings which is to effectively transmit energy from one shaft to another, as with a wind turbine transmitting energy from the spinning blades into the power grid.

Photos courtesy of Rino Mechanical Components Inc.

Though the end results of energy transmitting couplings versus those geared for motion transfer may differ significantly, the two are not exclusive. In fact, many applications employ multiple types of shaft couplings within a single unit. Automotives are one of the best examples of this as a single car or truck may employ motor couplings, flywheel couplings, fluid couplings and still more examples of shaft couplings. The plethora of application specific shaft couplings can largely be divided into two specific categories. The first, rigid shaft couplings keep the conjoined shafts in perfect alignment. As the name would suggest these are of solid construction and once in place cannot be bent or twisted no matter the torque to which they are subjected. In applications where precision is less essential or where a small degree of misalignment is even preferred, flexible shaft couplings are used. Flexible couplings are made to bend, just slightly, allowing for two shafts to maintain connection without being perfectly in line with one another.

As is made evident by their wide use in industrial, commercial and residential equipment and appliances, shaft couplings are incredibly diverse. From the home to the commute to the work place, shaft couplings are omnipresent in machines and appliances whether they are brand new or even a century old. More than just enabling the transmission of motion and energy within a machine, properly maintained couplings ensure the safe and continuous operations of those devices. So while the mechanisms of modern living have a seemingly extreme inclination towards change, shaft couplings are the tried and true method for putting it all together.

Photo courtesy of R W America.

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