A gear or cogwheel is a rotating machine part having cut teeth, or cogs, which mesh with another toothed part in order to transmit torque, in most cases with teeth on the one gear being of identical shape, and often also with that shape on the other gear. Two or more gears working in tandem are called a transmission and can produce a mechanical advantage through a gear ratio and thus may be considered a simple machine. Geared devices can change the speed, torque, and direction of a power source. The most common situation is for a gear to mesh with another gear; however, a gear can also mesh with a non-rotating toothed part, called a rack, thereby producing translation instead of rotation.
The gears in a transmission are analogous to the wheels in a crossed belt pulley system. An advantage of gears is that the teeth of a gear prevent slippage.
When two gears mesh, and one gear is bigger than the other (even though the size of the teeth must match), a mechanical advantage is produced, with the rotational speeds and the torques of the two gears differing in an inverse relationship.
In transmissions which offer multiple gear ratios, such as bicycles, motorcycles, and cars, the term gear, as in first gear, refers to a gear ratio rather than an actual physical gear. The term is used to describe similar devices even when the gear ratio is continuous rather than discrete, or when the device does not actually contain any gears, as in a continuously variable transmission.
An external gear is one with the teeth formed on the outer surface of a cylinder or cone. Conversely, an internal gear is one with the teeth formed on the inner surface of a cylinder or cone. For bevel gears, an internal gear is one with the pitch angle exceeding 90 degrees. Internal gears do not cause output shaft direction reversal.
Spur gears or straight-cut gears are the simplest type of gear. They consist of a cylinder or disk with the teeth projecting radially, and although they are not straight-sided in form (they are usually of special form to achieve constant drive ratio, mainly involute), the edge of each tooth is straight and aligned parallel to the axis of rotation. These gears can be meshed together correctly only if they are fitted to parallel shafts.
Helical or “dry fixed” gears offer a refinement over spur gears. The leading edges of the teeth are not parallel to the axis of rotation, but are set at an angle. Since the gear is curved, this angling causes the tooth shape to be a segment of a helix. Helical gears can be meshed in parallel or crossed orientations. The former refers to when the shafts are parallel to each other; this is the most common orientation. In the latter, the shafts are non-parallel, and in this configuration the gears are sometimes known as “skew gears”.
The angled teeth engage more gradually than do spur gear teeth, causing them to run more smoothly and quietly. With parallel helical gears, each pair of teeth first make contact at a single point at one side of the gear wheel; a moving curve of contact then grows gradually across the tooth face to a maximum then recedes until the teeth break contact at a single point on the opposite side. In skew gears, teeth suddenly meet at a line contact across their entire width causing stress and noise. Skew gears make a characteristic whine at high speeds. Whereas spur gears are used for low speed applications and those situations where noise control is not a problem, the use of helical gears is indicated when the application involves high speeds, large power transmission, or where noise abatement is important.
A disadvantage of helical gears is a resultant thrust along the axis of the gear, which needs to be accommodated by appropriate thrust bearings, and a greater degree of sliding friction between the meshing teeth, often addressed with additives in the lubricant.
Double helical gears, or herringbone gears, overcome the problem of axial thrust presented by “single” helical gears, by having two sets of teeth that are set in a V shape. A double helical gear can be thought of as two mirrored helical gears joined together. This arrangement cancels out the net axial thrust, since each half of the gear thrusts in the opposite direction resulting in a net axial force of zero. This arrangement can remove the need for thrust bearings. However, double helical gears are more difficult to manufacture due to their more complicated shape.
For both possible rotational directions, there exist two possible arrangements for the oppositely-oriented helical gears or gear faces. One arrangement is stable, and the other is unstable. In a stable orientation, the helical gear faces are oriented so that each axial force is directed toward the center of the gear. In an unstable orientation, both axial forces are directed away from the center of the gear. In both arrangements, the total (or net) axial force on each gear is zero when the gears are aligned correctly. If the gears become misaligned in the axial direction, the unstable arrangement will generate a net force that may lead to disassembly of the gear train, while the stable arrangement generates a net corrective force. If the direction of rotation is reversed, the direction of the axial thrusts is also reversed, so a stable configuration becomes unstable, and vice versa. Stable double helical gears can be directly interchanged with spur gears without any need for different bearings.
A bevel gear is shaped like a right circular cone with most of its tip cut off. When two bevel gears mesh, their imaginary vertices must occupy the same point. Their shaft axes also intersect at this point, forming an arbitrary non-straight angle between the shafts. The angle between the shafts can be anything except zero or 180 degrees. Bevel gears with equal numbers of teeth and shaft axes at 90 degrees are called mitre gears.
Hypoid gears resemble spiral bevel gears except the shaft axes do not intersect. The pitch surfaces appear conical but, to compensate for the offset shaft, are in fact hyperboloids of revolution. Hypoid gears are almost always designed to operate with shafts at 90 degrees. Depending on which side the shaft is offset to, relative to the angling of the teeth, contact between hypoid gear teeth may be even smoother and more gradual than with spiral bevel gear teeth, but also have a sliding action along the meshing teeth as it rotates and therefore usually require some of the most viscous types of gear oil to avoid it being extruded from the mating tooth faces, the oil is normally designated HP (for hypoid) followed by a number denoting the viscosity. Also, the pinion can be designed with fewer teeth than a spiral bevel pinion, with the result that gear ratios of 60:1 and higher are feasible using a single set of hypoid gears. This style of gear is most commonly found driving mechanical differentials; which are normally straight cut bevel gears; in motor vehicle axles.
Crown gears or contrate gears are a particular form of bevel gear whose teeth project at right angles to the plane of the wheel; in their orientation the teeth resemble the points on a crown. A crown gear can only mesh accurately with another bevel gear, although crown gears are sometimes seen meshing with spur gears. A crown gear is also sometimes meshed with an escapement such as found in mechanical clocks.
Worm gears resemble screws. A worm gear is usually meshed with a spur gear or a helical gear, which is called the gear, wheel, or worm wheel. Worm-and-gear sets are a simple and compact way to achieve a high torque, low speed gear ratio. A disadvantage is the potential for considerable sliding action, leading to low efficiency. Worm gears can be considered a species of helical gear, but its helix angle is usually somewhat large (close to 90 degrees) and its body is usually fairly long in the axial direction; and it is these attributes which give it screw like qualities. The distinction between a worm and a helical gear is made when at least one tooth persists for a full rotation around the helix. If this occurs, it is a ‘worm’; if not, it is a ‘helical gear’. A worm may have as few as one tooth. If that tooth persists for several turns around the helix, the worm will appear, superficially, to have more than one tooth, but what one in fact sees is the same tooth reappearing at intervals along the length of the worm. The usual screw nomenclature applies: a one-toothed worm is called single thread or single start; a worm with more than one tooth is called multiple thread or multiple start. The helix angle of a worm is not usually specified. Instead, the lead angle, which is equal to 90 degrees minus the helix angle, is given.
In a worm-and-gear set, the worm can always drive the gear. However, if the gear attempts to drive the worm, it may or may not succeed. Particularly if the lead angle is small, the gear’s teeth may simply lock against the worm’s teeth, because the force component circumferential to the worm is not sufficient to overcome friction. Worm-and-gear sets that do lock are called self locking, which can be used to advantage, as for instance when it is desired to set the position of a mechanism by turning the worm and then have the mechanism hold that position. An example is the machine head found on some types of stringed instruments.
If the gear in a worm-and-gear set is an ordinary helical gear only a single point of contact will be achieved. If medium to high power transmission is desired, the tooth shape of the gear is modified to achieve more intimate contact by making both gears partially envelop each other. This is done by making both concave and joining them at a saddle point; this is called a cone-drive. or “Double enveloping”
Worm gears can be right or left-handed, following the long-established practice for screw threads.
Non-circular gears are designed for special purposes. While a regular gear is optimized to transmit torque to another engaged member with minimum noise and wear and maximum efficiency, a non-circular gear’s main objective might be ratio variations, axle displacement oscillations and more. Common applications include textile machines, potentiometers and continuously variable transmissions.
A rack is a toothed bar or rod that can be thought of as a sector gear with an infinitely large radius of curvature. Torque can be converted to linear force by meshing a rack with a pinion: the pinion turns; the rack moves in a straight line. Such a mechanism is used in automobiles to convert the rotation of the steering wheel into the left-to-right motion of the tie rods. Racks also feature in the theory of gear geometry, where, for instance, the tooth shape of an interchangeable set of gears may be specified for the rack (infinite radius), and the tooth shapes for gears of particular actual radii are then derived from that. The rack and pinion gear type is employed in a rack railway.
In epicyclic gearing one or more of the gear axes moves. Examples are sun and planet gearing (see below) and mechanical differentials.
Sun and planet gearing was a method of converting reciprocating motion into rotary motion in steam engines. It was famously used by James Watt on his early steam engines in order to get around the patent on the crank but also had the advantage of increasing the flywheel speed so that a lighter flywheel could be used.
A harmonic gear is a specialized gearing mechanism often used in industrial motion control, robotics and aerospace for its advantages over traditional gearing systems, including lack of backlash, compactness and high gear ratios.
A cage gear, also called a lantern gear or lantern pinion has cylindrical rods for teeth, parallel to the axle and arranged in a circle around it, much as the bars on a round bird cage or lantern. The assembly is held together by disks at either end into which the tooth rods and axle are set. Lantern gears are more efficient than solid pinions, and dirt can fall through the rods rather than becoming trapped and increasing wear. They can be constructed with very simple tools as the teeth are not formed by cutting or milling, but rather by drilling holes and inserting rods.
Sometimes used in clocks, the lantern pinion should always be driven by a gearwheel, not used as the driver. The lantern pinion was not initially favoured by conservative clock makers. It became popular in turret clocks where dirty working conditions were most commonplace.
All cogs of each gear component of magnetic gears act as a constant magnet with periodic alternation of opposite magnetic poles on mating surfaces. Gear components are mounted with a backlash capability similar to other mechanical gearings. Although they cannot exert as much force as a traditional gear, such gears work without touching and so are immune to wear, have very low noise and can slip without damage making them very reliable. They can be used in configurations that are not possible for gears that must be physically touching and can operate with a non-metallic barrier completely separating the driving force from the load, in this way they can transmit force into a hermetically sealed enclosure without the use of a radial shaft seal which may leak.
Numerous nonferrous alloys, cast irons, powder-metallurgy and plastics are used in the manufacture of gears. However, steels are most commonly used because of their high strength-to-weight ratio and low cost. Plastic is commonly used where cost or weight is a concern. A properly designed plastic gear can replace steel in many cases because it has many desirable properties, including dirt tolerance, low speed meshing, the ability to “skip” quite well and the ability to be made with materials not needing additional lubrication. Manufacturers have employed plastic gears to reduce costs in consumer items including copy machines, optical storage devices, cheap dynamos, consumer audio equipment, servo motors, and printers.
Gears are most commonly produced via hobbing, but they are also shaped, broached, and cast. Plastic gears can also be injection molded; for prototypes, 3D printing in a suitable material can be used. For metal gears the teeth are usually heat treated to make them hard and more wear resistant while leaving the core soft and tough. For large gears that are prone to warp, a quench press is used.
Gear geometry can be inspected and verified using various methods such as industrial CT scanning, coordinate-measuring machines, white light scanner or laser scanning. Particularly useful for plastic gears, industrial CT scanning can inspect internal geometry and imperfections such as porosity.