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Introduction to Industrial Disc Pack Couplings

Posted by Andy Lechner on Mon, Jun 22, 2020 @ 09:01 AM

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.  Prior to the invention of the disc coupling, flexible couplings nearly always included either gear teeth that required periodic lubrication, or rubber and plastic parts that degraded over time and required replacement.  Further, as industrial processes became more sophisticated in the latter portion of the twentieth century, the need to improve coupling balance became critical as a means of reducing shaft vibration to protect the bearings and seals of the connected equipment ā€“ 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 that so many engineers value.

Flexible disc packs are composed of thin sheet metal shims, generally 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 designs commonly using 4 and with any number of holes being used for the very largest of disc couplings.  The shims are stacked together and held in place with 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 independently bearing supported shafts, unless used in conjunction with a second disc pack to make the opposite angular bend and complete the parallel offset.  The exception to this rule is when a single disc pack is used in conjunction with a self-aligning ball 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 for at a given bending angle.

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 will more easily deform the flexible element when rotating at higher speeds, leading to instability, and making vibration more likely.  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 in series 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 which require condition monitoring.  This allows for 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 mounted on each of its driving and driven 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 purely through the bending 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 generally 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 ā€“ 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.  Below is a short overview of common standard designs, the features of which can often be readily made into combinations of different hub styles and with the extended spacers cut-to-length, making it by no means an exhaustive listing.  

The drop-out spacer coupling shown as the last item in the overview is available with a specific set of features to make the coupling compliant with API-610 which is a standard developed by the American Petroleum Institute to address design reliability in centrifugal pumps and couplings.  Instead of the disc pack bolting directly to the shaft hub, it bolts to an intermediate guard ring that in turn bolts to the shaft hub.  This creates a spacer cartridge which allows for easy installation and removal without any need to move the shaft hubs.  This drop out feature is useful for gaining access to pumps and gearboxes for maintenance with minimal effort.  The intermediate guard rings also extend through the center holes of the disc packs, providing a safety catch to prevent the intermediate tube from being thrown in the event of unexpected disc pack failure.  Use of this drop out spacer feature has become popular in applications beyond those found in the oil and gas industry, such as in rotary test stands and other devices where the need for semi-frequent coupling disassembly is anticipated.

Another useful customization is a configuration with a carbon fiber drive shaft tube.  This allows for industrial disc coupling systems to span longer distances at higher speeds.  The combination of light weight and high stiffness of carbon fiber tubing allows for smooth running in extended shafting applications with minimal imbalance or whipping contributed by the tube.  Pictured below is an example of an industrial disc coupling configured with carbon fiber tubing as well as a special plumbing system that allows fluid to be passed through the center of the coupling to provide lubrication for machine tool applications

Perhaps the most interesting add-on feature for disc couplings is a newly developed remote sensor system which can be integrated into the spacers.  These new sensor systems provide wireless transmission of torque, speed, vibration and thrust load data in real time via Bluetooth connection to either a smartphone or tablet with a special app, or to a wireless gateway for integration of performance data transmission into existing control systems.  This technological advancement is of significance to engineers and operators who previously experienced some difficulty in monitoring data at critical locations in the drive line, having needed to either estimate loads or run time consuming and expensive tests for periodic monitoring of loads in the past. 

 

Depending on the configuration industrial disc couplings continue to be the best option for heavy-duty transmission in applications that require the highest reliability and uptime, spanning of long distances between shafts, and combinations of high power and high speed.  While a variety of off-the-shelf configurations are available for standard applications, customization also abounds.  Consulting with manufacturer applications engineers is always the best starting point, and R+W is ready to assist with an evaluation of project and performance requirements, and to help determine the best solution for any application.  Contact us at info@rw-america.com for details.

R+W headquarters in Germany

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.

Tags: test stand coupling, torsionally stiff coupling, drive couplings, lamina coupling, spacer couplings, API 610 coupling, line shaft, flexible couplings, pump coupling, jack shaft, high speed coupling, non keyed coupling, torsion resistant coupling, torque test coupling, torque sensor coupling, torque tube, coupling for test stand, Precision shaft couplings, disc pack, single flex, maintenance free coupling, flexible shaft coupling, disc coupling

Taking Advantage of Coupling Configurability

Posted by Niilo Nykanen on Thu, May 30, 2013 @ 16:05 PM

 Bellows Coupling White Paper

 

Configurable coupling systems save time and money

Many machine builders are well aware of the advantages of using configurable components in the design stages. As projects progress, specifications often change and builders must adapt components to fit new constraints. Drive and electrical components must be flexible to adapt to new operating parameters or machine chassis dimensions. Electrical designers often make use of DIN rail mounted devices which can be interchanged quickly on the production floor or in the field. Circuit breakers, fuses, and power supplies can be easily changed out in the event that a different motor or sensor is installed. From the mechanical perspective it is usually coupling elements which need to be changed to adapt to new dimensions.  This is why QD or similar bushings are typically used with V-Belt sheaves.  If drive speeds change, a fairly quick sheave swap is all that is required. If a new gearbox or actuator needs to be installed, drive couplings in various lengths and bore diameters are often required in order to help get everything tied together.  Finding direct drive couplings with compact dimensions and creative mounting configurations is normally fairly easy.  But in some cases layout changes involve longer distances between mechanically connected equipment, requiring something a little more specialized.

 

BELT DRIVE

 

 Belt drive or direct drive

With longer distances between rotating components, designers are often in a position to choose between belt or chain driving, and using a direct drive line shaft system.  A direct drive line shaft coupling typically provides for stiffer power transmission than belts, which can be especially advantageous in applications that require precision timing and positioning or frequent changes in rotational direction. Line shaft couplings are also low maintenance compared with belts which need to be changed at regular intervals, just like car tires for optimal performance. But in the past there were occasionally major drawbacks to using direct drive line shafts over belts in some applications.  Assembly with steel shafting and standard couplings generally requires intermediate support bearings and is not very well suited to higher drive speeds over long distances.  Most preassembled torque tube styles of line shaft couplings are also built to order rather than being stocked by many large industrial supply companies. In the past a typical prefabricated torque tube style line shaft would need to be rebuilt if length or shaft sizes changed. 

 

old style line shaft

 

New configurable line shaft couplings

In more recent years, prefabricated, variable length, telescoping line shaft couplings have been brought to the industrial market in order to address the growing trend toward designing with direct drives. A variable length line shaft with removable hubs solves the issue of shaft sizes and lengths changing (within adjustment range) as a machine is built or upgraded. With a variable length line shaft, the overall length can be changed in minutes by simply loosening and tightening a couple of machine screws. Jaw style hubs or flange mounted bellows coupling hubs can be swapped out with stock parts in less time than it takes to change a v-belt sheave and re-tension belts. Additionally, common size adjustable line shaft couplings are stocked by many distributors and ready to ship with hubs just like sheaves and belts.

 

Adjustable Line Shaft Coupling

 

This new take on configurable coupling component technology ultimately saves cost in labor and/or materials over time. While newer components produced in smaller quantity can have higher pricing up front, they can actually lower the cost of maintenance and overhaul down the road. Making use of a more precision product can also help to increase the rate at which a product is manufactured. As we all know, increased productivity and lower service costs ultimately decrease the time over which a return on initial investment is seen. This makes money for our employers, which is something Iā€™ve found they enjoy universally.  

 

Bellows Coupling White Paper

Tags: spacer couplings, line shaft, telescoping shaft, jack shaft, drive shaft, line shaft coupling, adjustable coupling, torque tube