When you are starting a project, one of the first considerations is how to ensure that you have the correct design to meet the project specifications as well as providing an abundance of power. Engineers and designers often debate the various merits of a chain vs belt drive, but there is no simple answer that is "correct" for all projects. The best recommendation for going with a chain drive vs belt drive ultimately comes down to the type of system that you're building, any type of clean-air, FDA or agricultural requirements, noise limitations and more. It's also important to keep the type of environment you're building for in mind: when you're looking at belt drive vs chain drive, chains are going to be more easily hardened to handle difficult environments or extreme weather conditions.
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At what point in the process does a system integrator begin deciding whether he needs a belt vs chain drive? Is the specification process complicated or fairly straightforward?
One of the first things that a designer should consider is whether a chain or a belt drive is right for their project.
For a drive application in HVAC, belts make sense. Belts use friction and can handle high speeds smoothly. Many air movement systems depend on high volume airflow, hence speeds of 3,600RPM are better suited for belts. The fact that belts are a friction drive means that in the event of an overload, belts will slip and avoid system damage.
For applications in conveyor transmissions or to develop torque, chains make more sense. Conveyors are much slower – under 350 RPM on the driver. Chains can be used with a wide selection of sprocket ratios to help the designer achieve the desired speed. The demand for torque gives chains an advantage because of the mechanical ratios and the need for a positive drive.
Please explain how belt vs chain drive widths affect performance and why it is so important.
Belts as friction drives are limited in ratio selection, and to transmit higher horsepower, the overall size increases because of the need for more surface/friction. Tooth belts simply do not have the ratio selection and are limited in center distance choices. On the other hand, chains are extremely flexible for machine design because of the ability to use almost any center distance and allow higher horsepower to be transmitted in smaller envelope dimensions.
I’ve seen the case made for both belts and chains in a clean room, FDA-type application. What are some of the other latest technological (food-type) upgrades in roller chains? And belts?
Roller chain in 304 stainless steel or 600 stainless steel can now be manufactured with solid roller and solid bushing. Having no seam in any of the round parts is great for disinfecting or cleaning without crevices for bacteria to hide and grow. The solid bushing provides increased bearing area to spread and distribute the bearing load. Additionally, there is less stretch with solid bushing opposed to split bushing. Belts have a difficult time operating in wet caustic environments when wash-downs are required by the FDA.
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For extremely harsh environment applications — why is steel still the way to go? Or is it?
If heat is involved, then stainless steel is a must to transmit power and conveyor lift. If there is an extreme abrasive element, chains can be hardened to survive in a tough environment. A great example would be cement and limestone. Because of the availability of different alloy steels, materials and heat treatments, chains can survive in more adverse environments than any other media for conveyance, transmission or lift.
Are there any advantages of one over the other regarding their use with the latest NEMA Premium motors? Or AC- vs. DC-drive type motor systems, for example?
Chains are extremely efficient and will operate in almost any condition.
Are there applications where, at the end of the day, either one is equally acceptable in both performance and total cost?
Chain, as a positive drive, flexible center distance and almost infinite readily available ratio selections, will almost always be the less expensive of the two. The cost of ownership in a majority of applications is less with chains than belts.
Are there any performance differences between the two regarding motor-type compatibilities?
Both will operate usually at 1,800RPM, NEMA design B motors – answer no!
Are belts and chains equally seamless regarding system incorporation? Nothing tricky?
No, it is not seamless. One over the other is driven by specific application demands – in many cases, the application simply demands/calls for what belt technology has to offer.
How about ease-of-replacement; when one goes bad (belt or chain), is a service call required?
In many cases, a chain is very easy to replace and reconnect with the simple use of a connector.
What are some future application possibilities for carbon synchronous belt drives?
As belt manufacturers continue to improve the offering of ratio selections, materials and center distance offerings I believe food/beverage wash-down opportunities can have a significant impact.
What are the possibilities for roller chain-type drive applications?
There will always be a need for chain drives. As metallurgy improves, the markets for chains will expand.
As you can see, there is no one-stop winner in the chain vs belt drive question. Instead, it's best to work with knowledgeable professionals as you're building specifications for your project to ensure you have the correct option that will be most effective for your particular application. Want to learn more about the value of a chain drive vs belt drive for your next project? Contact the experts at PEER Chain today at 800-523-4567 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to walk through your project for ideas.