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1. 2. Introduction Flexible Couplings a) Gear Type Couplings i) Grease Packed ii) Oil Lubricated b) Diaphragm Couplings c) Disk Couplings Shaft to Coupling Hub Mounting Methods a) Keyed Mounting b) Keyless Mounting Coupling Balance a) Component Balancing b) Field Balancing Misalignment a) Misalignment Limitations b) Wear Influences




Introduction: What is a flexible coupling? A coupling is a machine element which connects two shafts for the purpose of transmitting torque from the driver to he driven member and allows for misalignment between the two shafts. Rigid couplings connect shafts for torque transmission, but do not accommodate misalignment. Couplings generally consist of four elements. The Hub: The hub is the part of the coupling which is attached to the shaft. The Flexible Element: The parts of the coupling which flex and allow for misalignment. The Spacer: The spacer is generally a hollow shaft which connects the two flexible elements. The Bolts: Bolts are used to connect parts of the coupling assembly. There are many different types of flexible couplings. The include gear type, diaphragm, disk pack, and steel grid couplings. Each design has advantages and disadvantages and are selected based upon the application. The coupling(s) in a machine train is a very important element. It must be installed correctly and properly maintained to ensure a long life cycle.

Gear Type Couplings

Figure 1 Flexing in a gear type coupling is accommodated by the sliding action between the gear teeth on the hub and the teeth on the sleeve. The amount of misalignment that a gear type coupling can accommodate is determined by the backlash between adjacent teeth. Backlash is the tangential clearance between the teeth.


Figure 2

Typical Gear Teeth Profiles

Side View Top View

Figure 3 The pressure angle of an involute profile is shown in Figure 4. The most commonly used angle is 20. The pressure angle controls the amount of axial thrust that the coupling can transmit. The larger the angle, the more axial thrust that resists axial displacement between the shafts. The pressure angle also provides and controls the centering effect between the hub and the sleeve. Maintaining good concentricity is essential for the balance state of the coupling.

is the pressure angle

Figure 4

The pressure angle determines the amount of perpendicular force applied to the teeth. The magnitude of this force is determined by Equation 1.
Fp = 2T PDN cos

Equation 1

= pressure angle

The axial force that the coupling can transmit is a function of the perpendicular force acting on the teeth and the coefficient of friction. Axial Force = FpN Equation 2

= coefficient of friction
The coefficient of friction is determined by the type of lubricant used within the coupling.

Grease Packed Couplings


Grease Fitting & Hole
O Ring Seal

Figure 5 Grease is pumped into the coupling through holes in the sleeve or flanges. Many years of research have produced a number of industrial grade grease formulas. Grease contains primarily three elements; oils, thickeners, and additives. Grease compounds are tested in high speed centrifuges to determine the degree of separation of the three elements. Selection of a specific grease compound depends upon the application and environment that the coupling will operate in. For example, grease at very low temperatures becomes very stiff and will not properly lubricate the gear teeth. Oil is generally used as the lubricant for applications when the ambient temperature may go well below the freezing temperature. Grease within the coupling should be replaced on a periodic basis. Most coupling manufacturers recommend every six months and not longer than once per year.

Oil Lubricated Couplings:



Oil Flow Oil Flow

Figure 6 Most high speed gear type couplings are designed for continuous oil lubrication. Oil is supplied from a lube system and with the use of nozzles is sprayed into the area of the hub and sleeve teeth. The oil performs two tasks. First it removes heat build up due to windage from high speed couplings. Secondly, it provides lubrication between the mating teeth. A coupling guard is employed to capture the oil as it exits the coupling. The guard is equipped with a drain hole that allows the oil to return to the lube tank.



Figure 7 This type of coupling uses diaphragm flexing elements to transmit torque and accommodate misalignment. The diaphragm members are welded to the spacer and bolted to the solid hub. Torque is transmitted radially from the spacer element to the outer diameter of the diaphragm which is bolted to the solid hub. In order to maintain a uniform stress distribution through the diaphragm member, the diaphragms are profiled. The base of the diaphragm (at the spacer) is thicker than the at the outside diameter of the diaphragm. This type of coupling accommodates axial growth of the connecting rotors by deflection of the diaphragm elements. Therefore, the distance between the rotors is set to induce a certain amount of initial stretch in the diaphragms before the machines are started. When

axial growth occurs, the diaphragms return to a neutral position which minimizes stress.



Figure 8 Disk packs are connected to the solid hub and spacer by an alternating bolt pattern. This type of coupling is typically limited to low to medium speed machines. The life cycle of the disk packs are related to the amount of misalignment during operation of the machinery. They are subjected to fretting and corrosion failure.


Keyed Mounting: One of the primary tasks of a coupling is to transmit torque between the shaft and the hub. Keyed hub to shaft connections are often used to accommodate torque transmission. Keys are simple to manufacture and are relatively low cost. One of the main disadvantages is that torque forces may concentrated at one or two points on the key. This introduces an undesirable stress concentration. Cutting keyways into the shaft and hub also weakens these elements. Keyed hubs which are mounted with a slight interference fit between the hub and the shaft permit some of the torque to be transmitted by friction. This distributes the stresses around the shaft and hub and reduces the stress at the key. Shear stress on the key can be calculated by Equation 3.

Shear Stress =

Equation 3

T = Torque in Lb-In W = width of the key

D = shaft diameter L = length of the key


Figure 9 The generally accepted design practice for keys is to size the width of the key (W) to be:
W= D 4

Equation 4

D = Shaft Diameter NOTE: If a key needs to be replaced, it must be replaced with a

material that has the same strength of materials properties and hardness as the shaft or the hub.


Keyless Mounting Method: Keyless mounting of hubs to shafts relies on an interference fit to create friction sufficient to transmit torque. This type of mounting technique permits torque transfer over the entire contact area between the shaft and hub. It also eliminates stress concentrations found with keyed mounting methods. The maximum torque that can be transmitted by friction is shown in Equation 5.
APDs 2

Tmax =

Equation 5

A = Contact Area (DsL) Ds = Shaft diameter P = Contact pressure L = length of contact area
= coefficient of friction
2 2

D ( D D ) EI P = s h 2 2s 2 Dh Ds Dh Ds Ds E = modulus of elasticity

I = interference fit =

Dh = hub bore diameter The typical interference fit for coupling assembly is .001 - .002 inch per inch of shaft diameter. Keyless hubs can be installed on straight or taper shafts.



Figure 10 Keyless hubs are installed either by heating the hub for sufficient thermal expansion or with the use of a hydraulic fixture to expand the hub. It is recommended that an oven be used for heating installations. The oven will ensure uniform heating of the hub and the temperature can be controlled. Hydraulic expansion requires oil passages in the shaft, a special hydraulic tool, and a high pressure oil supply (typically 30,000 psi).


Component And Assembly Balancing: The elements which comprise a flexible coupling are individually machined components. Although they are machined to very tight dimensional tolerances, the mass center of a component may not coincide with the geometric center. The displacement of the mass center will introduce an unbalance force when the coupling is operated at its rated speed. The mass center displacement of each component of the coupling may contribute to a significant unbalance force when the coupling is fully assembled. Therefore, a balancing procedure is utilized to initially balance each component and then balance the complete coupling assemble. Since the coupling does not have its own shafts, they are balanced in low speed balance machines which have various sized mandrels to fit the bore of the hubs. When an acceptable balance condition has been achieved, connecting components are match marked. The purpose of the match marking is to ensure that the coupling is assembled in the field in the same manner and orientation as it was balanced. The quality of the balance state of the coupling depends largely on the quality of balance machine. Mandrels which are out of balance or poorly fitted will introduce significant error to the balancing process. The American Petroleum Institute (API) Standard 671 and the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA) Standard 9000-C90 provide specifications for max allowable dynamic unbalance.


Field Balancing: Couplings are shipped to the field unassembled. The coupling has been assembly balanced and match marked. The bolts were weighed and weight matched with precision scales. It is very important to assemble the coupling with all match marks aligned correctly and with the bolts that were sent by the manufacturer. If the coupling is out of balance it will introduce a vibration at a frequency equal to the operating speed of the machine. The coupling is connected to shafts on adjacent machines. The rotors within each machine may also be out of balance which will induce coupling vibrations. The question then becomes, where is the source of the unbalance? In one or both of the rotors or in the coupling? One technique employed is to remove the bolts on one end of the coupling and rotate the disconnected rotor through an angle of 180 and then reassemble the coupling. Another technique is to disconnect the spacer from each end, rotate it 180, and then reassemble the spacer. When the machines are restarted, if the phase angle of the vibration changes by 180 relative to the phase angle in the match marked condition, the source of the unbalance is within the coupling. If it does not change at all or very little, the source of the unbalance is within the connected shafts. The most common procedure for field balancing a coupling is to add washers at the appropriate phase angle to a bolt(s) which connects the spacer to the hub. In most cases a satisfactory state of balance can be achieved by this method. However, there is one risk in this procedure. If the coupling is disassembled sometime in the future and the specific bolt


number that the washers were attached to is not properly recorded, the coupling may be incorrectly assembled. A second procedure for balancing a coupling is to add a balancing ring on to the coupling hub or sleeve. The ring contains drilled and tapped holes for adding weights.


Figure 11 This procedure has the advantage that the balancing ring is not removed during future disassembles of the coupling.

One of the main features of a flexible coupling is to accommodate misalignment of connected shafts. Misalignment can be categorized as parallel, angular, or a combination of both. In fact most misalignment conditions are a combinations of parallel and angular misalignment.


Parallel Misalignment

Figure 12

Angular Misalignment

Figure 13

Angular + Parallel Misalignment

Figure 14


Each coupling type articulates in response to misalignment forces. For example, a gear type coupling accommodates misalignment by the sliding action of the gear teeth. A diaphragm coupling responds with deflection of the diaphragm member. The useful life of a coupling depends largely amount of misalignment it operates under and for lubricated couplings the integrity of the lubrication. For gear type couplings, if the angle of misalignment (see Figure 15) is large, the contact area of the mating teeth is reduced. This increases the wear rate and will significantly reduce the life of the coupling.

Figure 15 The diaphragm or disk pack couplings accommodate misalignment through deformation of the flexible element (see Figure 16).


Figure 16 The deformation of the flexible element introduces stresses. Maximum stress is the sum of stress due to axial displacement and cyclic stress due to the angle of misalignment. Failure can occur if the max stress is beyond the yield strength of the material or the cyclic stress induces a fatigue failure of the material. As a general rule most coupling manufacturers specify that the maximum allowable misalignment is limited to 1.0 mil or 0.06 per inch of spacer length. The alignment state of connected rotors should always be verified to fall within this limit, preferably well within this limit. This is particularly true for diaphragm and disk type couplings. Techniques for determining the alignment state include reverse dial indicator checks or optical and laser target techniques.