Maximising Pulley Performance through Stress and Finite Element Analysis

February 26, 2019

Finite element analysis is a mathematically based method of solving physical problems. Think of it as a problem-solving aid, a way of breaking mechanical systems down until they become pure numbers. Stress factors on one side, design parameters on the other, mechanical structures develop as formula-balancing solutions. Here, on bringing the mathematical tools together, we’ll carry out an FEA study on a series of heavy-duty conveyor system pulleys. 

Assigning the Mathematical Identities

Let’s assume a hypothetical pulley is undergoing the design process. One option here is to build a dozen prototypes. Each variant is built to provide a slightly different set of operational parameters. Only, this approach would be incredibly wasteful. Ideally, we want the fewest number of prototypes possible. This is an opportunity for a finite element analysis program to produce a mathematically accurate model, one that emulates the physical performance characteristics of a heavy-duty prototype. Stress factors are assigned first. They’re used to calculate how the pulley will respond to a number of statistically analyzed loading scenarios. Will the cylinder deform under the load? Will it experience premature wear and fatigue? Belt wrap angles and tensioning data are added to the formulas now, so the model becomes more detailed, more realistic. 

What Is FEA Science Based Upon?

Sometimes referred to as the Finite Element Method (FEM), the mathematics used here are not easy to comprehend. Partial differential equations and exotic domain parameters blend into unfathomable figures and calculations. Making the science that much easier to wield, there are FEA software packages available. They simulate pulley stresses, calculate cylinder deformation characteristics, and they generally model pulley shell outlines so that a system designer can maximize pulley performance. Again, by pulling off this work inside a mathematically created workspace, fewer prototypes are required. At the end of the day, a handful of prototypes and a slew of experimental data should be enough to model a cylinder/shell profile that will endure. 

The partial differential calculations are useless by themselves. We need to determine the deformation forces and stress factors that are applied by a system. On calculating those stress forces, they’re plugged into the finite element analysis software. All the building blocks are in place, so the modelling run commences. With all of the experimental data and mathematical figures in place, the FEA formulae, whether manually calculated or run within a computer simulation package, creates a vast number of virtual prototypes. It’s easy to fine-tune any material option or dimensional value when everything is moving inside a virtual workspace. But make no mistake, FEA studies solve real-world physical problems. They do resolve pulley performance challenges.

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