Mechanical Power Transmission – The Centrifugal Clutch and Metal Fatigue

     When I’m under a lot of stress I sometimes have the nervous habit of grabbing a paper clip, straightening out the bends, then repetitively bending it back and forth.  Eventually the wire reaches a point where it just breaks apart.

     My paper clip broke due to metal fatigue.  Metal parts are said to become fatigued when they’re subjected to forces of a repetitive nature such as occur due to twisting and bending.  The metal cracks, then eventually breaks due to the stress.

     So what’s happening when metal becomes fatigued?  Figure 1 shows the simplified atomic structure of a sample metal.

Figure 1


     When the metal is deformed, such as during bending, its rows of atoms are forced to move with respect to each other as shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2


     The movement of rows of atoms leads to an alteration in structure, breaking bonds between atoms.  This results in small cracks forming along the metal’s surface, cracks which eventually migrate deeper inside the metal with each subsequent bend.  With time the metal will become so compromised by the cracks that breakage occurs.

     Metal fatigue can occur in centrifugal clutch mechanisms as well.  Power tools such as grass trimmers typically operate between idle and working speeds many times during a day’s usage.  As we learned in previous articles, when the engine runs at idle speed, the springs in the centrifugal clutch mechanism stay retracted.  As the engine speeds up, the centrifugal force acting on the clutch shoes extends the springs.  Successive extensions and retractions cause the metal in the springs to bend, and over time they, like my paper clip, will become fatigued and metal springs will break.  

     Next time we’ll continue talking about centrifugal clutch failures and learn how the springs of a clutch mechanism can fail without its metal being brought to the breaking point.





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