Maintenance-free and torsionally stiff connecting elements for smooth stable running
For many decades engineers have turned to the flexible disc pack coupling for applications requiring maximum reliability and uptime, minimizing wear on adjacent equipment, and eliminating the need for lubrication or maintenance of the coupling itself. Before disc couplings were invented, flexible couplings nearly always included gear teeth that required periodic lubrication, or rubber and plastic parts that degraded over time and required replacement. As industrial processes became more sophisticated in the late twentieth century, the need to improve coupling balance became critical as a means of reducing vibration to protect the bearings and seals of the connected equipment – something the flexible disc coupling helped with a great deal. Over time the use of disc couplings has grown into a wide variety of applications, with numerous machine designs taking advantage of their unique characteristics. This introductory article provides a brief overview of the basic construction of industrial disc couplings and what gives them the performance and longevity so many engineers value.
Flexible disc packs are comprised of thin sheet metal shims, stamped or laser cut in a ring shape with a series of mounting holes; normally 6-8 but more or fewer are also used, depending on the size of the coupling, with the smallest commonly using 4 and with any number of holes for the very largest sizes. The shims are stacked together and held in place by bushings, and the resulting disc pack is bolted into the coupling system. Misalignment compensation depends on the flexibility of the shims themselves, and generally the larger the stack, the greater the overall stiffness of the disc pack in terms of both torsion and bending. Centering of the disc pack in the coupling can be accomplished by different means, with one common method being precision machined pockets in the adjacent mounting flanges which hold the disc packs concentrically in place by their bushings. The disc packs are mounted to their respective hubs with the bolted joints alternating between the driving hub and the driven hub. The portions of the disc pack bridging the distances between the respective bolted joints provide the flexibility and allow a single disc pack connection to pivot and compensate for an angular bend while transmitting rotation and torque. A single disc pack is generally rigid in shear, meaning that it cannot compensate for misalignment between two rigidly supported shafts, unless used in conjunction with a second disc pack to make the opposite angular bend and complete the parallel offset. The exception is when a single disc pack is used in conjunction with a self-aligning bearing, which replaces the second disc pack in providing the second angular freedom of movement. The greater the distance between disc packs, the larger the parallel misalignment which can be compensated.
The stiffness in shear of a single disc pack provides one of the keys to smooth running at high speed. Most flexible couplings have some level of softness in the radial direction, which means that centrifugal forces more easily deform the flexible element when rotating at higher speeds, leading to instability and vibration. In contrast disc couplings have a unique ability among flexible coupling systems to hold all of their components rigidly within their rotational axes, including any spacers, drive shaft tubing or other components which might be mounted between the two flexible joints. This makes them an excellent choice for high-speed balancing. A further advantage of the radial stiffness of a single disc pack is its ability to support intermediate devices. Most commonly this intermediate device is a torque meter, used widely in test stands and other applications requiring condition monitoring. This allows the torque meter to become an integral part of the coupling system, held in concentric rotation by the radial stiffness of the single disc pack coupling on each of its mounting faces.
Also related to rotational speed is the number of bending cycles a disc pack can tolerate before failure. Because they have no wear or moving parts, no abrasion occurs over the course of a single rotation, and misalignment compensation is accomplished by flexing of the sheet metal. Steel components are generally considered to possess long term fatigue strength when able to withstand 107 load cycles of a given stress amplitude. Because industrial disc couplings are normally rated for misalignment and torque conditions which can be withstood for at least this number of cycles, they are considered fatigue resistant for a service life approaching an infinite number of rotational bending cycles – key to their reputation for maintenance free reliability.
Because of the diversity of applications into which flexible disc couplings are implemented, a wide variety of configurations exist, and most manufacturers offer customization and special features such as:
- Extended length steel and carbon fiber spacers
- High speed balancing
- Various clamping hub designs
- Keyway / splined hubs
- Customized end attachment flanges
- Caliper brake discs
- Built in overload disconnect clutches
- Integral wireless sensor packages
For the ultimate combination of performance and rugged dependability, contact your supplier for flexible disc pack couplings today.
About the authors:
R+W has been designing and manufacturing high performance flexible shaft couplings and torque limiters since 1990 and continues to expand its product portfolio with each passing year. With a reputation for performance, quality, and customization, it is considered by many to be the top precision coupling manufacturer in the world.
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