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The primary benefit for worm gears is their capability to provide high reduction ratios and correspondingly high torque multiplication. They may also be utilized as speed reducers in low- to medium-rate applications. And, because their decrease ratio is founded on the amount of gear teeth alone, they are more compact than other types of gears. Like fine-pitch lead screws, worm gears are typically self-locking, making them suitable for hoisting and lifting applications.

Although the sliding contact decreases efficiency, it provides extremely quiet operation. (The utilization of dissimilar metals for the worm and gear also plays a part in quiet operation.) This makes worm gears well suited for use where sound should be minimized, such as for example in elevators. Furthermore, the consumption of a softer material for the gear means that it can absorb shock loads, like those knowledgeable in major equipment or crushing machines.

The meshing of the worm and the gear is a mixture of sliding and rolling actions, but sliding contact dominates at high reduction ratios. This sliding actions causes friction and heating, which limits the productivity of worm gears to 30 to 50 percent. So as to minimize friction (and for that reason, temperature), the worm and gear are constructed of dissimilar metals – for instance, the worm could be made of hardened metal and the gear manufactured from bronze or aluminum.

Like a ball screw, the worm in a worm gear might have a single start or multiple starts – meaning that there are multiple threads, or helicies, on the worm. For a single-start worm, each full switch (360 degrees) of the worm increases the gear by one tooth. So a gear with 24 teeth will provide a gear reduction of 24:1. For a multi-start worm, the gear reduction equals the amount of teeth on the gear, divided by the amount of begins on the worm. (This is different from most other types of gears, where in fact the gear reduction is definitely a function of the diameters of the two components.)

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