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Torque & Speed How Much Is Enough?


By: Jan H. Schut
68
From: Plastics Technology
Issue: September 2002
You may be thinking of buying one of the new high-torque/high-speed twinscrew compounders in order to raise your output without going to a larger
machine. But how much torque or speed do you really need? Underusing a
high-powered extruder wastes investment dollars. So look carefully at what is
required for the materials you run.
Click Image to Enlarge

Berstorff's high-speed, high-torque line uses a higher-shear screw with less free
volume than competitors and generates more horsepower.

Six years after introducing the high-speed, high-torque concept, (left side)W&P
introduced deeper screw channels to provide more free volume (right side).

Berstorff's "R" models have a high ratio of free volume to torque for processing
materials with low bulk density.

Leistritz's hammered shafts for high-torque machines use the same diameter and
spline geometry as its previous standard machines.
It has been seven years since Werner & Pfleiderer, now Coperion W&P, launched the
first high-speed, high-torque twin-screw compounder at the K 95 show in Germany.
Its new MegaCompounder offered at least one-third more output than the same size
conventional corotating twin-screw. In the years since then, virtually every maker of
corotating twin-screw extruders has followed suit with its own models of highertorque, higher-speed machines.
Most customers, it seems, are happy to get higher output from a smaller machine. A
smaller machine is also easier to clean out. Knowledgeable sources report that filled

polyolefins, most TP polyesters, ABS, and glass-filled nylon 6 generally do well under
high-speed, high-torque conditions.
But high speed doesnt benefit shear-sensitive resins like LCPs and highperformance nylons. The same is true of heat-sensitive additives and very lowviscosity materials like reactive compounds or low-bulk-density materials like woodfilled or highly talc-filled mixtures. Throttling back a high-speed machine to run such
materials is an inefficient use of the extra investment.
Torque and speed are separate issues. Some material formulations need one but
not the other; some need both, explains Charlie Martin, general manager of Leistritz
Extruder Corp. There are three limits to an extruder: torque, free volume, and quality
which means either dispersion quality or processing temperature. Normally you
reach the quality limit for a compound before you reach the other limits, he says.
(Free volume is the working volume inside the screws, calculated as the free crosssectional area multiplied by the length of the screws.)
The whole high-torque thing is something of a misnomer, says Dan Smith, sales
and marketing manager of Entek Extruders. Customers think they want more torque,
the way people want a more powerful car. The supposedly high-torque machines
are really high-speed machines because allowable torque for a 1200-rpm machine
may be the same as for a 600-rpm machine. The key is to design machine speed and
torque requirements for the application. Since higher rpm means higher shear rates
and melt temperature, lower rpm and higher torque may be better in many cases.
Talk about torque
If torque specs influence your machine purchases, then you better know what
vendors are talking about. Torque is basically twisting force, measured in ft-lb or
Newton-meters (Nm). Engineers use several common formulas to describe torque.
Torque = hp times a constant (5250 for ft-lb or 9550 for Nm), divided by rpm. Or
conversely, hp = torque times rpm divided by 5250 or 9550.
There is also a formula for a theoretical number known as torque factor, specific
torque, or torque density. Torque factor = torque divided by the cube of the center
distance between the screws. The torque factor for a corotating gearbox can be
quoted for both shafts or just one. The value for one shaft is half that for two.
Compounding machines also have an intermeshing ratio, which is the outside
diameter of the screw divided by the root diameter (OD/ID). There is also a power
ratio, which is the intermeshing ratio divided by the torque.
Some machine builders present their machine power in terms of enthalpy or
specific energy, a measure of how much energy is required to bring a plastic to melt
temperature (measured in kwh/kg or hp-hr/lb). If you have a lot of filler, you arent
melting as much plastic and typically dont need as much enthalpy, explains Berstorff
sales engineer Paul Rogers.
Machine builders are sometimes fuzzy about quoting their machines torque capacity
perhaps because of a German patent that W&P obtained in 1997, which covers
extruder operation at a torque level greater than 11 Nm, intermeshing ratio of 1.5 to
1.65, and speed greater than 1000 rpm. The patent was challenged by a group of
W&Ps competitors, but the issue still hasnt been resolved.
Berstorff, for one, has chosen to stay clear of W&Ps patent, by designing its
corotating twin-screws to run at higher shear and with more power than the range the
patent covers. Berstorff uses a lower intermeshing ratio of 1.46, whereas W&P uses
an intermeshing ratio of 1.55. The higher ratio entails more free volume, lower shear
rate, and a smaller shaft diameter that withstands less torque. Berstorffs
intermeshing ratio of 1.46 gives 40% more power and higher shear.

We feel 1.46 is the best intermeshing ratio for a wide variety of materials. It has less
free volume but higher shear rate and higher torque because of the larger-diameter
shafts, says Berstorffs Rogers. The truth is that both 1.46 and 1.55 will work on
most applications, but one has an edge over the other in some materials. In a similar
vein, Farrel uses a ratio of 1.48 for its twin-screw compounder. Materials like nylon
reportedly do well on lower ratios, while fractional-melt polyolefins and formulations
that dont use wax lubricants benefit from higher ratios.
High-speed, high-torque operation isnt compatible with all fillers and additives. We
are very interested in the types of fillers customers are using and any temperature or
shear restraints in the additives, says Edward Wykoff, director of compounding at
NFM/Welding Engineers. NFM normally builds only high-torque extruders but will
supply extruders with lower-hp motors and lower-speed gear sets if needed.
W&P also switched all its production to its high-torque, high-speed
MegaCompounders until it found that not every formulation fared well under high
shearparticularly materials with low bulk density. Such materials have become
more common, notes Paul Andersen, director of process technology for Coperion
W&P. Wood flour is not the only example, he says: Typical talc particle size used to
be 10 microns. New sub-micron-size talc fillers are lower in bulk density. At particle
sizes of one micron or smaller, compounding with talc is limited by the screws free
volume, not torque, he says.
Turn up the volume
In 2001, Coperion W&P introduced a MegaVolume version of its ZSK compounder to
address needs for low shear and high throughput of low-bulk-density compounds.
W&P made screw channels deeper with an intermeshing ratio of 1.8, allowing up to
50% more free volume.
Likewise, Berstorff introduced its R models, which have deeper screw channels to
increase free volume and which use 20% less torque. Again, Berstorff stayed outside
of W&Ps patent by going to an intermeshing ratio of 1.75.
Entek also offers an E-Mix line of extruders with more free volume and less torque
than its E-Max line of high-speed, high-torque corotating twins.Higher free volumes
and higher intermeshing ratios lower the shear stress on a compound when run at
moderate screw speeds. However, machines with higher free volume and lower
torque capacity can actually run at even higher screw speeds than so-called highspeed, high-torque models. W&Ps MegaVolume series goes up to 1800 rpm for
diameters of 34 to 76 mm, and achieves up to 1500 rpm for diameters from 98 to 125
mm. W&Ps MegaCompounder runs at up to 1200 rpm for sizes from 25 to 70 mm.
The upper speed limit drops for larger sizese.g., to 1000 rpm at 133 mm.
Shafts take an extra twist
Screw shaft L/D is the limiting factor for torque. A larger shaft can withstand more
torque without risking breakage, but at the expense of less free volume and
throughput capacity. Yet it appears that few processors think about shaft dimensions
when they buy a twin-screw extruder. Machine builders often keep shaft dimensions
and materials and methods of shaft construction confidential.
Shaft diameter has an economic impact when it affects a processors inventory of
spare screw elements. One of W&Ps best-selling high-torque models is its 92-mm
MegaCompounder, partly because in that one size the high-torque shaft has the
same diameter as that of the previous, lower-torque SuperCompounder. So a
processor that owns a 92-mm SuperCompounder can buy a 92-mm
MegaCompounder and stock only one size of screw elements. MegaCompounder

models either larger or smaller than 92 mm have greater shaft diameters for the
same screw diameter than do previous machine models.
W&Ps high-torque machine shafts have spline profiles different from those of
conventional SuperCompounders. The 24 splines on W&Ps high-torque shaft are flat
on top to disperse torque more evenly inside the screw elements, whereas the
splines on W&Ps previous lower-torque compounders are rounded.
Newer manufacturing methods for high-torque splines improve their strength. Cold
rolling or hammer milling are used to finish the splines by compressing the steel,
instead of merely cutting them to size. That results in a denser, harder metal surface.
Machine makers also use higher-strength alloys and tool steels.
Leistritz takes several other approaches to strengthening shafts for higher torque,
which allow it to keep the same shaft diameter in high-torque models as in
conventional machines. For high-torque machines, Leistritz has delivered screws that
are milled in one piece.
Owners of high-torque machines are sometimes hesitant to use all that available
torque capacity for fear of breaking a screw shaft. An engineer at Century Extruders
notes that a good customer of ours runs at 80% of maximum torque and 80% of
maximum speed, which is safe. W&Ps Andersen says most customers run at 75%
to 95% of maximum torque rating.
NFMs Wykoff, however, thinks compounders frequently use too little torque. They
make the mistake of not keeping torque levels consistently high, believing theyre
extending the life of the machine, Wykoff says. They dont want to run it full out for
fear of twisting or breaking a shaft, so they reduce output. We show them that by
feeding more material and using higher torque, they get better dispersion and higher
output.
Some sources also argue that under-utilizing a powerful gearbox causes more wear
on the gears. On the other hand, Peter Heidemeyer, W&Ps director of product
development in Germany, says a turndown ratio (range of operating speeds) of 2:1 or
even more usually creates no problem.
One way in which processors can protect their high-torque screws from damage is to
take care in cleaning them. Processors often use ovens to burn plastic residues off
screws. But since high-torque shafts are heat tempered, they shouldnt be exposed
to temperatures above 1050 F or they will lose their tempering and be weakened,
says a Century engineer. For safety, he recommends that high-torque screws should
not be cleaned in ovens hotter than 900 F.
Faster is not always better
Higher speed raises throughput and improves mixing, but it also raises melt
temperatures, so thermally sensitive resins and additives dont do well at high speed.
Even short exposure to high temperatures can cause degradation of a foaming
agent or a heat-sensitive flame retardant, says Peter Wickenheisser, director of
process applications for Farrels FTX high-speed, high-torque, twin-screw
compounder. He says the solution is to feed more material at the same rpm to bring
melt temperatures down. Higher percentage of fill of screw flights improves both
temperature control and mixing quality in a screw of the same free volume.
Screw configurations for high-torque, high-speed machines are often distinctive. The
clue is a much larger first kneading zone, which could have twice as many elements
because material is passing through so fast that it needs more kneading to get
uniform mixing. At the same time, screw conveying sections are typically shorter,
says NFMs Wykoff. High-speed, high-torque machines are oftenbut not always
one or two barrel sections longer than a conventional twin-screw.

The highest screw speeds apply only to smaller screw diameters. W&Ps ZSK
MegaCompounders go up to 1200 rpm but only in sizes up to 70-mm diam. At 133mm, maximum speed is 1000 rpm. But for machines over 177-mm diam., the rpm
limit drops rapidly. Thats because larger screws generate high tip speed, the speed
at the tips of the screw flights. For a given rpm, tip speed increases with screw
diameterand so does the shear imparted to the plastic. To avoid excessively high
tip speeds, larger machines are geared for lower maximum rpm. W&Ps 177-mm
model is geared to go only to 550 rpm, the 380-mm model only up to 260 rpm.
High-speed, high-torque twin-screws reportedly have problems compounding some
color masterbatches. Color masterbatches are typically 70% mineral pigment and
30% plastic. The plastic is usually in fine-ground powder form, so it melts more
rapidly for maximum mixing with pigment powders. These mineral-rich formulations
are difficult to run at very high speeds, says Robert Urtel, president of Century
Extruders. W&P, however, says black, white, and color masterbatches can be run at
1200 rpm, though organic pigments are more heat and shear sensitive.
Most high-torque/high-speed machines are vented but still arent good at processes
that require devolatilization. Depending on the screw configuration, running at high
speeds doesnt allow the residence time needed to remove volatiles. Vents are a
particular problem in high-speed processing with materials that dont adhere well to
barrel walls, such as very high-molecular-weight polyethylene or very highly filled
materials. Plastic can actually be flung out of the vents, says Farrels
Wickenheisser.
Material feeders for high-speed machines also must be more accurate than with
conventional lines (see PT, July 02, p. 50). If you have fluctuations in feeders, a
high-speed machine is much less forgiving, says W&Ps Andersen. Fluctuations
come from the hopper-refill cycle, so one solution is to install a bigger hopper to
reduce the frequency of refills.
The ultimate danger at high speeds is that a sudden process upset is potentially
more damaging. Machines standard safety features include provisions for
mechanical disengagement of the clutch and electrical cutoffs in case of a torque
overload. These safety features are supposed to act instantaneously, but sources
suggest they may be less effective at very high rpm. Centurys Urtel cites one
example: If a compounder is using continuous glass roving and the machine
overloads, the plastic feed may stop, but the roving keeps wrapping and pulling, so it
can break screw shafts. Processors have to realize that theyre operating in a much
more unforgiving environment with little room for error.