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A smart link in the chain

25 November 2010

In the first of two articles, David Turner describes a novel technology that allows engineers to monitor, collect data, and test power transmission chain running on real applications

At the turn of the century Renold launched an innovative electronic device that could be wirelessly attached to the side plate of a chain to monitor the dynamic loading it was subjected to on real applications and in real time. This meant that for the first time in the history of industrial chain it was now possible to monitor a chain’s performance outside of the laboratory, in the real world, on real plant and equipment.

The results were exciting. Smartlink was able to record dynamic data such as peak and shock loads, allowing engineers to monitor what was happening within the system itself. Using this new data it was then possible to correct faults, design out problems and determine the correct size of chain for an application with greater precision than had ever previously been possible.

The Smartlink breakthrough gave engineers a new tool and access to new data that was previously unknown. Its importance was recognised by the Design Council when Smartlink was awarded Millennium Product status and put on show in the Millennium Dome.

Since then Smartlink has come a long way and is more versatile and user friendly than early versions. The main developments have been in a dramatic series of reductions in size. Early Smartlink units could only be used on large pitch chain, such as that found on theme park rides, but now Smartlink is small enough to be used on half-inch pitch chain.

The new Smartlink devices are supplied already fitted to a section of chain, all users have to do is install it, and it is ready to go. There is a choice of two remote controllers that allows Smartlink to be used with differing levels of functionality.

The simplest version allows Smartlink to be used as an overload detector. Once it is installed it is operated with a remote controller about the size of a key fob. The Smartlink unit will provide a warning if an overload occurs, showing a red LED light when chain exceeds a predetermined load, enabling engineers to check machinery and make sure that it is safe to continue operating the system. The alarm conditions on Smartlink can then be reset using the remote controller.

A more sophisticated hand-held controller is also available that is capable of downloading detailed information from Smartlink about the nature of the stresses and loading the chain was subjected to during a given period of operation. This data can then be analysed on a PC using software specially written by Renold. Because of the nature of the data collected, engineers can not only see what’s happening to the chain but can also detect errors in the system, such as misaligned sprockets, with Smartlink’s data pointing exactly to which sprockets are misaligned.

Smartlink can be used on a wide range of applications, including theme park rides, food manufacture, conveying and materials handling. It has even been used to solve problems in arduous environments such as agricultural machinery and utility vehicles.

David Turner is marketing communications manager at Renold Chain. His next article, which looks at Smartlink’s analytical capabilities in more detail, will be published in the March 2011 edition of DPA

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