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Gearbox Service Factor: What Is It & Why Is It Important?

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Gearbox Service Factors

What is a service factor exactly? It’s the ratio of horsepower your gear reducer can mechanically handle compared to the horsepower required for your application. Put simply, it is how overdesigned the gearbox is when it comes to handling the application load. Stated another way, service factors are variables that determine how capable a reducer is when it comes to accounting for unique but predictable factors such as frequent starts and stops, reversing, shock, or failure mitigation.

Service factors allow you to calculate design horsepower (HP): prime mover HP x applicable service factors. Design HP is the power that is required to make an application work, without harming either the prime mover or gear reducer. Consider this an over-designing of a drive system. For every variable that affects a reduction drive, this will increase the HP necessitated by your design.

Consider a basic analogy: there are two versions of the same truck. One drives from point A to point B, involving just straight travel and a 6 hour day. The second truck, while traveling a similar distance, is loaded with gravel, must travel up and down hills through stop and go traffic, and has 10 hour days. Both trucks can do these jobs, but which truck will last longer? Would it make sense to over-design the second truck and use something more robust?

Why is Gearbox Service Factor Important?

Two of the same gearbox will have different lifespans depending on the specifics of an application. If you require a certain number of service hours from a gear reducer, design it to handle those specific conditions. The service factor is giving us a numerical value to this equation. You can’t typically change your application, but you can choose what reducer to utilize.

A big take-away is that by ignoring specific operating conditions, this leads to a poorly designed drive. Poorly designed drives will lead to excessive wear, mostly to the internal gearing. Excessive wear will trigger premature failure of the reducer. Replacement leads to downtime. In other words, ignoring service factors will cost you money and cause lost production time.

The service factor of your gearbox provides an additional capacity that allows the drive to operate within the specific conditions of the application. Without accounting for these operational conditions, it is impossible to avoid the progression of premature wear that a poorly designed drive experiences.

What Does Service Factor Mean?

We know the service factor compares the gearbox’s rated torque (horsepower) to the horsepower necessary for our application. But where did these numbers originate? The American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA) calculates them with specific regard to the durability of the gear surface.

More specifically, AGMA uses the type of gearbox, the expected service duty, and the type of application to generate the needed service factor. A higher service factor means the gearbox becomes more capable. A service factor and the resulting design HP produces an increased mechanical capacity. These calculations ensure that the output torque of the reducer is safely over the load torque. An under-designed gear reducer will inevitably fail.

How Do I Find My Service Factor?

Service factor is a valuable figure, sure – but by now, you’re probably wondering how to determine what a specific gearbox service factor is. Required minimum service factors for many gear reducers are 1.0, 1.4, and 2.0, which are Class I, Class II, and Class III, respectively.

To determine a service factor rating, identifying your application class number comes first. The length of use throughout the day and the application itself are both factors that affect the outcome. For example, a compactor used for any period is a class III, whereas a uniformly loaded screw conveyor used for 3 to 10 hours is a class II. The lower the class, the less punishing the application. If for some reason, your application is not in the AGMA listing, there are ways to determine the service factor yourself.

Next, you’ll need to decide which type of gearing you’re interested in using. There are specific charts available for service factors of worm, spiral bevel, helical, and even more types of gearboxes. Each style of gear reducer will have separate calculations.

Keep in mind these charts are based on typical conditions. If your conditions seem atypical, it’s a good idea to go for a higher than recommended service factor. Being conservative might save your gear teeth, bearings, and other parts from excessive wear and stress.

Some examples of unique conditions include elevated ambient temperature and more difficult load-bearing. If your reducer application involves cutting or non-uniform loads, experiences frequent starts and stops, runs continuously, or entails heavy shock loads, that will put more stress on your gearbox. These conditions will require a higher service factor to get the same lifespan of your parts.

The reality of your service factor

Be sure to take your service factor into account when designing your drive system. Multiplying the service factor by the torque required for the application will give you the capability of the gearbox. A reducer with a 2.0 service factor can accommodate double the torque compared to a 1.0 service factor. And while the output will be the same in these two reducers, it’s the extra capacity that protects the one with the higher service factor.

Remember – real-life circumstances are much more important than specifications listed on paper. If you overburden your system and the parts wear out quickly, it will only cost you more in the long run. Parts replacement is not only unpleasant but also costly in materials and lost productivity.

Wondering how to identify the correct gearbox for your drive? Contact us today!

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