Mechanical Power Transmission – Centrifugal Force and Centrifugal Clutches

     I’m not a big fan of amusement parks.  The first time I rode on a Tilt-A-Whirl I was caught off guard and flung onto my side by the centrifugal force acting upon my body, the lower half of which was constrained by a seat belt so I wouldn’t be catapulted out during the ride.  To make matters worse, the centrifugal force started to force the lunch I’d made the mistake of eating just before back up my throat.  It was a very unpleasant experience to say the least.

     Centrifugal force is an interesting phenomenon, and its principles are involved in the operation of a centrifugal clutch, which we’ll see later.  For now, let’s get a basic understanding of what it’s all about, thanks to the discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton in the late 17th Century.

 Centrifugal Force

Figure 1

 

     Figure 1 shows a red ball, whose mass we’ll notate m, attached to a string, the other end of which is attached to a fixed point, such as if you held it taught between your fingers.  If you’re in a playful mood, you might enjoy twirling the ball above your head on its string.  The distance between the center of the ball and the fixed point is labeled r, which stands for the radius of the circular path traveled by the ball as it twirls around the fixed point.   The speed at which the ball travels through the air is called its straight line velocity, or tangential velocity in scientific-speak, and it is generally notated as a V.  The centrifugal force, or Fc, that is exerted upon the ball as it whirls around your head is, Sir Isaac tells us, measured by the equation:

Fc = mV2/r

     Centrifugal force in the simplest of terms is an outward-pushing force that pulls objects in motion away from the point about which they’re rotating.  Let’s hold as fact that if m and r don’t change, then Newton’s equation tells us that the centrifugal force exerted upon the object in motion increases by the square of the velocity, or speed, of the ball.  In other words, the faster the ball moves as you spin it around your head on the string, the harder the centrifugal force that acts upon it.  As you spin the ball faster and faster, it will pull outward more and more strenuously, exerting ever greater resistance upon the string you hold between your fingers.

     Now suppose we replace the string in this example with a spring as shown in Figure 2. 

centrifugal force clutch spring

Figure 2

 

     Why a spring?  Because that’s what’s used within a centrifugal clutch.  Just as with the string, the ball’s velocity increases as you increase rotation speed around the fixed point, and the centrifugal force acting upon its mass by the spinning action increases as well.  The spring expands, extending further and further out from its beginning position of attachment to the fixed point, your fingers.  As velocity decreases, the spring will retract, eventually returning to its original coil size.  This extending and retracting action is the major mechanism at play within a centrifugal clutch.

     Next time we’ll explore a centrifugal clutch mechanism in more depth to observe its behavior relative to its spring under the influence of centrifugal force.

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One Response to “Mechanical Power Transmission – Centrifugal Force and Centrifugal Clutches”

  1. [...] articles we identified the component parts of a centrifugal clutch mechanism and learned how centrifugal force makes objects spinning in a circular path about a fixed point move outward.  We can now explore what happens when we couple a centrifugal clutch mechanism to the engine of a [...]

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