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Guide to chain

Guide to chain

Industrial roller chain may have been produced for over 100 years, but that does not mean it cannot be improved, says Greg Sharp, engineering manager at Tsubaki UK.


When most people hear the word 'chain', they imagine a link chain or the type of chain used on a bicycle. However, chains are used in the manufacture of everyday goods, even though they are rarely seen by the general public. Chain is a reliable machine component, which transmits power by means of tensile forces, and is best suited to long-term continuous running and power transmission with limited torque fluctuation.

There are two functions of chain; power transmission and conveyance. Over the last century, Japanese chain manufacturers transformed from production of bicycle chain to industrial chain. Now, Japanese chain has achieved the highest levels in the world for both quality and quantity.

The industries that are the main users of chain include automotive, electronics, steel, food, and motorcycle, all of whom have developed new production methods requiring high performance chains. These industries are looking for improved tensile strength, fatigue strength, wear resistance, environmental resistance, and efficiency. To satisfy this many require-ments, Tsubaki makes every effort to im-prove chain's performance, component by component. Chain is a mature product with limited scope for radical development due to well established industrial standards and a large existing aftermarket, however changes in material specification and consistent heat treatment processes separate the high and low quality chain manufacturers. Tsubaki focuses on product 'DNA' to produce a chain with a significantly beneficial 'total cost of ownership'. More recently, chain is used in high-speed conditions like automobile engine camshaft drives. This is accomplished by devising a method of operation and lubrication, combined with leading design and manufacturing processes.

One of the most important factors for a chain is proper lubrication. Particularly when application conditions are severe, the need for lubrication becomes even more important. No matter how well a transmission system is designed, improper lubrication will reduce the service life significantly.

Tsubaki understands that lubrication of transmission chains is not a simple task, due to limited maintenance windows, and the risk of product contamination hence we develop products that are 'market/application orientated'. Our GT4 Winner chain sets a new standard in roller chain technology; using Tsubaki 'DNA' in terms of materials and manufacturing processes, and combining unique features such as perfectly cylindrical bushings with lubrication grooves which retain lubricant for longer periods, Tsubaki is able to engineer a commodity product into a truly value added component. Other unique features such as connecting links with 100% fatigue strength and pins with an 'easy splitting' design, provide a reliable and efficient product. For applications where lubrication is not possible, Tsubaki manufactures 'Lambda' lube free chain using a specialist bushing with oil-impregnation, this ensures the bearing surfaces are continuously lubricated to minimise chain wear.

Tsubaki offers many other innovative chain products such as corrosion protected 'NEP' chains for wet environment, and 'PC' chain for lightweight drive and conveyor systems.

Tsubaki strives for continuous improvement, and follows the Japanese culture of 'Kaizen'. Whilst continually developing its products, it also devotes resource to delivering industry leading service. Tsubaki's UK headquarters is home to specialist sales and engineering teams, as well as large stocks and a bespoke assembly facility, all dedicated to delivering the right product at the right time. This service advantage is crucial in the current demand for high productivity and minimal downtime, where maintenance is often overlooked to prevent profit damaging downtime.

In summary, chain is a 'mature' product, but still offers opportunity to think and act in a modern 'total cost of ownership' fashion.
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