Chain reaction

Louise Davis

Greg Sharp reveals how constant development keeps chain at the forefront of technology

Chain is one of the unsung heroes of the engineering world. Although a long established technology, it continues to develop and improve, so remains one of the most efficient methods of power transmission available today. Here, we assess some of the recent developments and show how they appeal to new markets.

The only time most people come into contact with chain is when they are carrying out maintenance on their bike. However, as engineers know, chain is used in almost every industrial process and is, in fact, a critical component in high performance machines and systems the world over.

Like many engineering products, chain comes in a range of qualities and prices; for demanding applications, better quality chain is usually a sound investment.

A popular choice of high-performance chain is 'lube-free', such as Tsubaki's Lambda range. This uses special oil-impregnated bushings that ensure the bearing surfaces are continuously lubricated to minimise wear. The advantages of lube-free chains can be summed up as: reduced maintenance; no costs associated with manual lubrication; longer life, leading to less frequent replacement and the associated costs; no purchasing of lubricants or lubrication systems; no unforeseen downtime due to chain breakages and therefore higher long-term productivity; reduced risk of contaminating products, machines, floors; and generally increased environmental acceptability.

A paper chain project

An example of how Lambda chain improved the performance and profitability of a production machine occurred on a large paper log accumulator at a leading hygiene paper company. This is used to marshal paper logs before they are presented to a saw so that they can be cut to length to make the final product.

Originally the machine was fitted with a standard chain that required lubrication. The problem was that each log produced an amount of paper dust that drifted in the air before settling on a surface. Some of this dust settled on the chain, where it became trapped in the lubrication. Once trapped it caused the chain's joints to stiffen, which led to the logs tipping rather than moving smoothly through the accumulator.

Tsubaki was asked to look at the machine and recommended switching to a lube-free chain solution. In fact the machine required two chains that acted in unison, so the company also suggested its Match & Tag service to guarantee high accuracy and minimum length tolerance.

The new chain eliminated contamination of product and machine and reduced the amount of dust on the chain, which reduced the maintenance requirement and resulted in a longer service lifetime.

Although the basic design philosophy of chain is well established and unlikely to ever see significant change, Tsubaki follows an intensive R&D platform to ensure that all of its chain products continually evolve, using the best materials and manufacturing techniques available to enhance like and improve efficiency.

A recent update to the Lambda range is the use of food-grade lubricant as standard. The lubricant has been available as an option for several years, used successfully at one of the UK's largest chocolate producers.

The line that conveys the moulding trays to make bars of the popular chocolate was suffering from elongation of the OE chain, caused by wear and corrosion on the pin surface. This led to uneven wear, causing some moulds to crash into one another and production stoppages.

Sticky situation

Investigation showed that chocolate was sticking to the lubrication and preventing it from penetrating into the chain's bearing areas. Replacing the existing chain with a food-grade Lambda product quickly solved all the problems. Because Lambda is dry to the touch it can be installed directly from the box, even in hygiene-critical areas, which keeps installation costs low. Further, its ring-coined connecting link, which improves fatigue strength, ensure that once the chain is in place it delivers a longer operating life.

Lambda is also available for high temperature applications and is offered with a range of attachments and other accessories. As such it can bring its benefits to a great many fields of application. Tsubaki is able to provide a high-quality service to the OE, manufacturing and industrial distribution markets because it is continually innovating and enhancing its products, service and quality.

Greg Sharp is engineering manager at Tsubaki Chain

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