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One of the most widely applied type of flexible couplings is an elastomeric design known as the jaw coupling. This design is characterized by two hubs, each having two or more thick, stubby protrusions around their perimeters, called jaws, pointing toward the opposing hub. These jaws mesh loosely when the two hubs are brought together. Filling the gaps between the jaws are blocks of elastomeric material, usually molded into a single asterisk-shaped element called a "spider."
Just as coupling designs vary to satisfy different application criteria, so do the spiders in jaw-type couplings. However, the spider is the key determinant of the torque rating of each jaw coupling. Its design also can make a significant difference in the coupling's response to vibration, temperature, chemicals, misalignment, high revolutions per minute (RPM), space limitations and ease of installation or removal.
Selecting the right type of spider is just as important as selecting the right type and size coupling. For that reason, users will benefit from a fuller understanding of the different spider constructions and materials available, when specifying new or maintaining existing couplings.
Jaw couplings generally are recommended for continuous-duty electric motor-driven machinery, pumps, gearboxes, etc. They typically are limited to an angular shaft misalignment of 1 deg and tolerate up to .015 inches of parallel misalignment. Jaw designs usually are not recommended for engine-driven or frequent start-stop-reversing applications because of backlash (the amount of free hub movement allowed by the spacing between the jaws and spider legs).
Elastomeric couplings classify into one of two categories, determined by the way their elastomeric element transmits torque between driving and driven hubs (i.e., the element is either "in compression" or "in shear").
In jaw couplings, the element is in compression, because the jaws of both the driving and driven hubs operate in the same plane, with the driving jaws pushing the driven jaws. Here, the legs of the elastomeric spider serve as cushions between the torque force of the driving jaws and the resistance of the driven jaws, absorbing that force by being compressed between them.
This contrasts with shear-type designs, in which driving and driven hubs operate wholly in separate planes, with the driving hub pulling the driven hub through their mutual connection to an elastomeric element suspended between them. The element serves as a link between the torque force of the driving hub and the resistance of the driven hub, absorbing that force by being stretched between them through twisting.
Both compression and shear type designs offer advantages that guide them into different applications. Where compression couplings are preferred, it is generally because of four main advantages. The first is that elastomers (especially synthetic rubber) have a higher load capacity in compression than they do in shear. Therefore, compression types can transmit higher torque and tolerate greater overload than shear types. The greater the surface area of the elastomer in compression, the higher the torque rating of the coupling. Heavy-duty jaw models with up to seven jaws can accommodate nominal torque ranges up to 170,000 inch-pounds.
Compression types also offer a greater degree of torsional stiffness (less "twist" between hubs) than shear type. Some designs come fairly close to the very stiff positive-displacement transmission of torque that is characteristic of metallic couplings. These offer near-equal movement of the driven shaft for each incremental movement of the driving shaft. With most jaw couplings, however, even small amounts of backlash can make them inappropriate for true positive-displacement applications.
Jaw designs are considered "fail-safe" because the coupling is not necessarily destroyed or rendered inoperable if the spider breaks away. The driving jaws simply advance to contact the driven jaws directly, and the coupling continues to function (albeit with considerable noise and accelerated wear), preventing critical system downtime until the spider can be replaced. For this reason, in a quality jaw coupling, the jaws are designed to withstand at least ten times their coupling's torque rating.
Another benefit is that a simple design with only three parts (a spider housed between two metal hubs) permits easy installation, disassembly and visual inspection. The specially contoured spider usually allows "blind fit" even in the most confined spaces.
Compared to couplings made entirely of metal, jaw and other elastomeric types generally offer additional advantages including greater radial softness (allow more misalignment between hubs and/or less reactionary load on bearings); no metal-to-metal contact between driving/ driven parts (less internal wear and no need for lubrication); lighter weight and lower cost, when comparing torque capacity to maximum bore capacity; quieter operation; and easy field-replacement of the torque-transmitting element (element failure does not cause loss of the entire coupling).
When elastomeric coupling elements break down, it is often due to cyclic loading caused by hysteresis (internal heat build-up in the elastomer) exceeding the material's limits. Some elastomerics also are more vulnerable to high ambient temperatures and some types of oil, chemical or atmospheric exposure. For this reason, elastomeric couplings offer a selection of element materials to suit specific operating conditions:
In addition to the variety of materials, four basic mechanical designs allow further choices to suit specific applications:
Some degree of permanent compressive set is normal as elastomeric elements age in service. For jaw couplings, (when permanent set reduces the element's original thickness by 25 percent) this feature provides a visual signal that the element should be replaced.
Another feature unique to jaw couplings is that compression is applied only to the spider legs or load cushions forward of the driving jaws - trailing legs or cushions behind the driving jaws remain relaxed. Accordingly, when the compressive set reaches the maximum in the driving cushions, the spider's trailing legs or cushions can be advanced into the driving position. Thus, in most applications, jaw couplings carry a built-in set of replacement elastomers that can be used to reduce replacement costs. Couplings applied in reversing drives or those with frequently varying torque usually relinquish this benefit.
Jaw coupling installations never should permit the jaws of one hub to contact the face of the opposing hub. This would cause a noisy, "grinding" action. For that reason, spiders and load cushions often are equipped with spacer dots designed to enforce a suitable separation between metal components. When no dots are provided, extra care should be taken to assure that the two opposing halves of the coupling do not touch each other.
When replacing the elastomeric element in jaw couplings, it is always easiest to simply find something similar to what was there before (if not identical), and perhaps apply a fudge factor based on torque, just to be conservative. However, too often this approach only invites a repeat failure or equally short service life.
The better approach is to first give some thought to why the previous spider failed or wore out sooner than expected. Always consider that the material or design that failed might have been the wrong choice in the first place.
The following application criteria are helpful in determining the correct choice of spider:
As with all couplings, it is important to resist the temptation to overstate service factors. Coupling service factors are intended to compensate for the variation of torque loads typical of different kinds of driven systems. If chosen too conservatively, they can misguide the selection of both coupling types and their elastomeric materials. Aside from raising coupling costs to unnecessary levels, "over service-factor" selection very often causes damage elsewhere in the system.
Thoroughly review the above operating conditions with your coupling vendors and seek not only their recommendations for the right type of spider, but also the reasons behind those recommendations. With the variety of elastomeric materials available today, careful selection usually leads to an excellent, long lasting match between coupling characteristics and the demands of the application.
Hytrel® is a registered trademark of E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co.
Mark McCullough is a Product Manager with Lovejoy, Inc., Downers Grove, IL