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Preliminary version

Four bar linkages.


by David W. Henderson and Daina Taimina

The four bar linkage is a mechanism that lies in a plane (or spherical surface) and consists of four
bars connected by joints that allow rotation only in the plane (or sphere) of the mechanism. We
will add this red color to indicate the slight changes that are necessary when considering
spherical linkages instead of planar linkages.

A
h

a B

b


g C
O

In normal practice one of the links is fixed so that it does not move. In the linkage above we
assume that the link OC is fixed and investigate the possibilities of motion for the other three
links. We call the link OA the input crank and link CB the output crank. Similarly, we call the
angle the input angle and angle the output angle. On a sphere we measure the lengths of the
edges by the angle (in radian measure) that the side subtends from the center of the sphere. We
assume here that all links have lengths less than (that is, we assume that links have lengths less
than half a great circle) This is not a serious restriction because a link of length l > can always
be replaced by a link of length 2 - l that together with the original link completes a great
circle. However, below we sometimes will need to consider what happens when two links are
collinear (for example, when A-O-C are in a line) then the sum (in the example, a+g) of the
lengths of the two links may be l > and then the distance between the end points (in the
example, A and C) will not be l but will rather be the length of the shorter great circle arc, l- .
For this reason, when we write |l|S we will mean the distance between the end points.
o On the plane |l|S = |l|, the usual absolute value.
o On the sphere, |l|S = |l|, if |l| , and |l|S = 2 - |l|, if |l| > .

The reader may experiment with the above simulation and discover that the input crank will be
able to swing opposite C (when the input angle is = 180 degrees) only if the distance between
C and A is allowed to be |a+g|S and this will only be allowed by the mechanism if |a+g|S < b+h.
There will be a maximum input angle if |a+g|S > b+h. (If |a+g|S = b+h then the link folds, that
is, it has a configuration in which all four links lie in the same straight line.) By applying the
Law of Cosines to this configuration (when A-B-C is a straight line) we see that this maximum
angle satisfies:
( g 2 + a 2 ) ( h + b) 2
(h + b) 2 = a 2 + g 2 2ag cos max or cos max = .
2ag
Or using the spherical Law of Cosines:
cos(h + b) cos a cos g
cos(h + b) = cos a cos g + sin a sin g cos max or cos max = .
sin a sin g
A

a B

max
g C
O

Similarly, there will be a minimum input angle whenever a+|b-h| > g (if a<g) or g+|b-h| > a (if
a>g) which are equivalent to |b-h| > |g-a|. The minimum angle is actualized when either B-A-C
is straight or A-C-B is straight, as in the next figure.

B
A
h
b
a h-b A
a
b-h
min
O g h
C
min
b O g C

In both of these cases we can use the Law of Cosines to conclude:


2
2 a2 + g 2 b h
b h = a + g 2ag cos min
2 2
or cos min = .
2ag
cos b h cos a cos g
cos b h = cos a cos g + sin a sin g cos min or cos min = .
sin a sin g
Thus we have four types of input cranks:
o A crank if the link OA can freely rotate completely around O.
In this case, b+h > |a+g|S and |a-g| > |b-h|.
o A 0-rocker if there is a maximum input angle but the link OA can rotate freely thru = 0.
In this case, b+h < |a+g|S and |a-g| > |b-h|.
o A -rocker if there is a minimum input angle but the link OA can rotate freely thru = .
In this case, b+h > |a+g|S and |a-g| < |b-h|.
o A rocker if there is a maximum input angle and minimum input angle.
In this case, b+h < |a+g|S and |a-g| < |b-h|.

The analysis of the output crank is exactly symmetric to above with the lengths a and b
interchanged. In particular:

If |b+g|S > a+h, then there is a maximum output angle max and, by applying the Law of Cosines
to this configuration (when B-A-O is a straight line) we see that this maximum angle satisfies:

( g 2 + b2 ) (h + a) 2
(h + a ) 2 = b 2 + g 2 2bg cos max or cos max = .
2bg
cos(h + a ) cos b cos g
cos(h + a ) = cos b cos g + sin b sin g cos max or cos max =
sin b sin g

If |a-h| > |g-b|, there is a minimum output angle min and, by applying the Law of Cosinges
(when either A-B-O is straight or B-O-A is straight) we see that this minimum angle satisfies:
2
2 b2 + g 2 a h
a h = b + g 2bg cos min
2 2
or cos min = .
2bg
cos(a h) cos b cos g
cos(a h) = cos b cos g + sin b sin g cos min or cos min =
sin b sin g

Thus we have four types of output cranks:


o A crank if the link CB can freely rotate completely around C.
In this case, a+h > |b+g|S and |b-g| > |a-h|.
o A 0-rocker if there is a maximum output angle but the link CB can rotate freely thru =
0. In this case, a+h < |b+g|S and |b-g| > |a-h|.
o A -rocker if there is a minimum output angle but the link CB can rotate freely thru =
. In this case, a+h > |b+g|S and |b-g| < |a-h|.
o A rocker if there is a maximum output angle and minimum output angle.
In this case, a+h < |b+g|S and |b-g| < |a-h|.

Putting these together we get eight types of 4-bar linkages:


1. A double crank in which both the input and output links are cranks.
b+h > |a+g|S, |a-g| > |b-h|, a+h > |b+g|S, and |b-g| > |a-h|.
2. A crank-rocker if the input link is a crank and the output link is a rocker.
b+h > |a+g|S, |a-g| > |b-h|, a+h < |b+g|S, and |b-g| < |a-h|.
3. A rocker-crank if the input link is a rocker and the output link is a crank.
b+h < |a+g|S, |a-g| < |b-h|, a+h > |b+g|S, and |b-g| > |a-h|.
4. A rocker-rocker if both the input link and the output link are rockers.
b+h < |a+g|S, |a-g| < |b-h|, a+h < |b+g|S, and |b-g| < |a-h|.
5. A 00 double rocker if the input and output angles both have maximums but no minimums
and thus both cranks move freely across the fixed link OC.
b+h < |a+g|S, |a-g| > |b-h|, a+h < |b+g|S, and |b-g| > |a-h|.
6. A 0 double rocker if the input angle has a maximum and no minimum but the output
angle has a minimum but no maximum. Thus the input crank moves freely across OC
while the output crank moves freely on the side of C opposite O.
b+h < |a+g|S, |a-g| > |b-h|, a+h > |b+g|S, and |b-g| < |a-h|.
7. A 0 double rocker if the input angle has a minimum and no maximum but the output
angle has a maximum but no minimum. Thus the output crank moves freely across OC
while the input crank moves freely on the side of O opposite C.
b+h > |a+g|S, |a-g| < |b-h|, a+h < |b+g|S, and |b-g| > |a-h|.
8. A double rocker if the input and output angles both have minimums but no
maximums and thus neither cranks move freely across the fixed link OC, but both move
freely on the sides opposite OC.
b+h > |a+g|S, |a-g| < |b-h|, a+h > |b+g|S, and |b-g| < |a-h|.

You can check that the other eight combinations (a 0 or rocker combined with a crank or
rocker) are not possible. This can be done either analytically (by showing that the resulting
inequalities have no solutions), or geometrically (by noting that a 0 or rocker has a motion that
is symmetric by mirror symmetry across OC whereas the crank and rocker do not have this
symmetry).

All the other 4-bar linkages are in the case when one or more of the inequalities become
equalities, in each of these cases the linkage can be folded. That is, the linkage has a
configuration in which all the links line up with OC. Some 4-bar linkages can be folded in more
than one way; for example, the linkage with a=h=b=g can be folded in three different ways (try
it!).