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Low-loss gears for precision planetary gearboxes:

Influence of the gear design on the meshing and the churning power
losses
Dr.-Ing. F. Concli, Bonfiglioli Mechatronic Research, via F. Zeni 8, 36068 Rovereto
(TN), Italy, R&D, franco.concli@bonfiglioli.com, Ph. +390464443295, Fax:
+390464443439
M.Sc. J. Coenen, Bonfiglioli Mechatronic Research, via F. Zeni 8, 36068 Rovereto
(TN), Italy, R&D, jan.coenen@bonfiglioli.com, Ph. +390464443438, Fax:
+390464443439

Abstract
In the field of automation, extremely accurate gearboxes are mandatory in order to ensure the
adequate precision required by the automatic processes. For these kinds of applications,
planetary gearboxes represent one of the most attractive solutions. This type of gear set
ensures at the same time high power density and high reduction ratios. The low backlash
required in the field of automation is obtained by changing the chordal thickness of the teeth.
This has the main disadvantage to increase the power dissipation and causing limitation due
to excessive temperature.
In order to overcome this problem new gear designs have been studied by means of analytical
and numerical approaches by Bonfiglioli Mechatronic Research S.p.A..
The efficiency increase is based on an extreme reduction of the module of the gears. This
change, together with other modifications of the tooth form (pressure angle, profile shift, etc.),
allows to reduce the relative sliding between the tooth flanks and therefore the power
dissipation. CFD simulations have shown that the sliding optimized design has a positive
impact also on the churning power losses. The global winning in terms of the reduction of the
gear meshing power losses can be assumed with about 50%, depending on the reduction ratio.
Besides an energy saving, the modifications imply a reduction of the operating temperature
which allows higher performances without reaching excessive temperatures.
The new design has been validated by means of experimental tests performed in the internal
laboratory of the Bonfiglioli Mechatronic Research S.p.A. (BMR). The results have fully
validated both the CAE approach and the new design.
Keywords: Low-loss gears, efficiency, CFD, planetary gears
Introduction
The increasing demand on more efficient and productive solutions represents a big challenge
for the gear manufacturers. In many application fields one of the most attractive solutions is
the planetary gearing. This configuration provides high power density as well as high reduction
ratios. The disadvantage is the thermal power limit of the gearbox. This characteristic is
enforced by the requirement of low backlash.
For this reason a new and more efficient solution that is able to improve the overheating
problem was studied by BMR (Bonfiglioli Mechatronic Research S.p.A.) for its low-backlash
gearboxes for mechatronic applications.
The operating temperature reduction was achieved not by increasing the heat exchange with
the surrounding environment but by reducing the power dissipation of the gearbox itself.

Power loss classification


The power losses of a gearbox are classified according to the mechanical component that
generates them [1]: they are distinguished between losses generated by the gears (subscript
Z), by the bearings (subscript B), by the seals (subscript D) and by other components (subscript
X) like clutches or synchronizers if present.
= + 0 + + 0 + +

[1]

A further classification is made between the losses that are directly dependent from the
transmitted torque and the losses that result load independent (subscript 0).
The percentual distribution between the different sources is strongly dependent from the
specific gearbox configuration. In planetary gearboxes, for example, the major contributions
are given by the sliding between the teeth and by the churning losses of the planet carrier.
For this reason the approach adopted by BMR is the reduction of these two specific
contributions.
Gear meshing losses reduction
The meshing losses are attributable to the sliding under load that takes place between the
tooth flanks during the engagement.

Fig. 1: Speed in different positions along the line of action


Figure 1 shows the velocity vectors of a gear pair. In the pitch point C there is no tangential
velocity between the two flank surfaces (rolling). For all other points on the line of action there
is a tangential velocity between the surfaces in contact (sliding). By integrating the resultant of
the product between the sliding velocity and the force tangential to the flank ( = )
over the length of the contact the meshing power loss is calculated [2].
1

[2]

An easy way to limit the power dissipation is to reduce the sliding between the teeth. This can
be done by concentrating the path of contact as much as possible around the pitch point. The
sliding velocity , as shown in figure 1, increases linearly with the distance of the point of
contact from the pitch point .

A reduction of the length of the line of action can be achieved with a reduction of the teeth
height changing the addendum and dedendum coefficients or reducing the module. The last
way was adopted in this study.
This solution was already investigated by other authors like Hhn et al. [3] and Magalhes et
al. [4] but it was never applied to already small-module gears. In this paper the standard design
with module = 0.55 was optimized in order to reduce the meshing losses. Furthermore
the influence of the new design on the churning effects was studied with numerical simulations.
Classical vs. low-loss design
Traditionally, BMR produces low-backlash planetary gearboxes for precise applications. One
of the most diffuse size-ratio combination is the gearbox TQ070 with ratio i = 5. The TQ070i5
is a single stage planetary gearbox with an external diameter of the housing of approximately
70mm and is characterized with a nominal output torque of 70 that is transmitted with
module = 0.55 spur gears.
The goal of this research project was to maintain the nominal rating of the gearbox and the
external dimensions but to reduce significantly the power losses (increase in the efficiency)
and, as a result, to decrease the operating temperatures.
A mono-objective optimization was performed in order to find out the best compromise
between safety factors against pitting and bending and efficiency. The range of the gearing
data for the optimization is summarized in table 1.
Tab. 1: Range of the gearing data for the optimisation
Sun gear
Normal module

[mm]

Pressure angle

[]

Number of teeth []
Center distance

[mm]

Shift coefficient

[]

Planets

Ring gear

= 0.3 0.7
= 20 28
1 = 27 65

2 = 40 99

3 = 260 108

= 17.0 24.4
1 = 0.6 1.0 2 = 0.6 1.0

3 = 0.6 1.0

The most influencing parameters on the gear mesh efficiency are the normal module and
the pressure angle . Figure 2 shows the efficiency map with respect to these two parameters.
The standard gears charachterized by a normal module = 0.55 and a pressure angle
= 20 have a gear mesh efficiency of 98.8%.
The domain for the optimization was bounded and the the acceptable values for the different
geometrical parameters such as normal module, pressure angle or center distance limited in
a prescribed range in order to maintain the actual dimensions of the housing and to be able to
manufacture the gears. Even if a further reduction of the normal module under 0.2 can
potentially lead to a further increse of the gear mesh efficiency, the difficulties to manufacture
such small gears with an appropriate grade of quality suggest to limit the minimum acceptable
value for the normal module to 0.3 . Another limit for the optimization are the range of safety
factors against pitting and bending. In general, a reduction of the module and an increase of
the pressure angle leads to an increase of the safety against pitting. A different trend is instead
observed for the safety against tooth root bending (Figure 2) which increases both with
increasing normal module and pressure angle.

a)

b)

c)
Fig. 2: a) Efficiency map (); b) safety factor against tooth bending map ( ); c) safety
factor against pitting map ( )
Starting from this first analysis, the combinations = 0.4 = 28 was selected as the
best compromise able to conjugate a sensible gear mesh efficiency increase with acceptable
safety coefficients. In order to keep the same nominal rating of the original solution, the
standard material was substituted with a nitrided steel.
The macro-geometric properties of the final design are listed in Table 2.
Tab. 2: Macro-geometric properties of the low-loss design
Sun gear
Normal module

[mm]

Pressure angle

[]

Number of teeth []
Center distance

[mm]

Shift coefficient

[]

Planets

Ring gear

= 0.4
= 28
1 = 36

2 = 54

3 = 144

= 17.9
1 = 0.0565 2 = 0.1910 3 = 0.4385

a)

b)

Fig. 3: Sun-Planet gear contact; a) classical design; b) low-loss design


Figure 3 shows the sun and planet gear contact of the standard design used on the TQ series
and the low-loss design.
Power loss calculation
The new geometry was specifically designed in order to reduce as much as possible the load
dependent power losses of the gears which, according to the calculations, were halved with
this new tooth shape resulting in an increase of the gear meshing efficiency from 98.8% to
99.4% (under nominal conditions).
Starting from the new design, a numerical approach was adopted in order to quantify the
influence of the new shape on the churning losses generated by the gears. Previous research
projects showed that CFD is a suitable tool for such kind of investigations [5 to 9]. CFD is
based on three governing equations that represent mathematical statements of the
conservations laws of physics. The governing equations are the averaged mass conservation
for non-stationary incompressible flows

=0

[3]

and the averaged momentum conservation equation.


( )
( )
+

()


+
(
) ]
[

[4]

where is the Cartesian coordinate, is the velocity component, is the pressure and is
the density. The term that compares in the averaged equation is called unresolved term or
Reynolds term and can be expressed by using the eddy-viscosity hypothesis [10].
The presence of more than one phase implies the need of additional equations. In particular,
a transport equation for the volume fraction is introduced. On the basis of the volume fraction
in each cell, the mean properties of the mixture are computed and used in the above
conservation equations for mass and momentum.
For this study an open-source code (OpenFOAM [11]) was adopted. The choice of an opensource tool was made because it allows more flexibility with respect to close-source
commercial software, making it possible to customise the code with the implementation of
specific models for the analysis of the physical problem of interest. In order to understand the
influence of the new gear geometry on the churning losses, a single gear was modelled inside
a quasi-infinite region and submerged up to the rotation axis with lubricant. It can be seen that
the module reduction leads to a benefit also on the churning effects.

a)

b)
Fig. 4: Lubricant circulation and power loss comparison for a) the classical design and b)
the low-loss design
Additional simulations were performed as well on the complete gearbox to capture also the
churning losses of the planet carrier. The aim was to be able to quantify the total load
independent power losses of the gearbox in order to determine the benefits at each load level
introduced by the new gear design. While reliable models for the load independent losses of
the bearings are available [12], literature is lacking in terms of prediction models for churning,
especially for planetary gearboxes.

Fig. 5: Lubricant circulation in the gearbox


The results of the numerical simulations are used to allow reliable efficiency predictions of the
complete planetary gearbox.
Experimental tests
Two prototypes were produced in order to validate the results of the calculations. The gears
were manufactured with a hobbing tool while the ring gears were produced with electroerosion. In order to have the same gear quality both prototypes were produced with the same
manufacturing technology instead of using the standard broaching process.
All other components such as the planet-carrier, the bearings and the seals are identical for
both prototypes.
The gearboxes have been tested on an energy closed-loop test rig. A schematic layout of the
test bench is shown in figure 6. An electric motor (9.) controlled by an inverter is connected to

the tested gearbox. The housing of the tested gearbox (6.) is fixed to a flange. The output shaft
of the tested gearbox is connected to a second gearbox used as multiplier (5.). It is connected
to a generator (10.) controlled by a second inverter. Torque measurement shafts (4. and 7.) at
the input and output of the tested gearbox measure the transmitted torque (0.05% F.S.) and
rotational speed to determine the transmitted power. The output torque is feedback controlled
with the measurement of the torque meter (7.), the input speed is feedback controlled with the
motor encoder. The shafts are connected with metal bellow couplings.

Fig. 6: Layout of the test rig


The gearbox surface and ambient temperature are measured by 5 sensors. Tests were
performed at the nominal input speed of 1 = 3000 with and without load. In order to
perform the test without load, the coupling at the output shaft of the tested gearbox was
disconnected.

Fig. 7: Results of the test and comparison with the expected values
Figure 7 shows the results of the experimental tests (dark columns) and the calculated values
(light columns). The standard design ( = 0.55 ) is in solid colour while the shaded refers
to the low-loss design ( = 0.40). A reduction of the losses was measured both in the
tests with and without load. The power loss measured in the no load test is lower for the lowloss design than for the standard design caused by the reduction of the churning power losses
and sliding between the gear flanks.

Under load ( = 40 ) the difference between the two measurements is more significant.
This result shows that the new gear design has a significant impact also in terms of gear
meshing loss reduction.
The graph on the right side of figure 7 shows the load dependent power losses. These losses
are attributable to the gear meshing losses and the losses due to sliding in the bearings. The
bearings are the same in both models and also the forces acting on them are the same so the
power loss reduction is completely due to the gear differences.

a)

b)
Fig. 8: Calculated power loss and temperature maps for the standard design (a) and for the
low-loss design (b) (Ambient temperature 25C)
The load dependent losses result lower due to the new gear design. The percentage loss
reduction is not reduced by 50% due to the presence of the bearing contribution that remains
the same.
Figure 7 shows also a comparison between the measurements and the theoretical predictions.
The prediction model provides accurate results for both designs and for each load condition
and shows differences to the measurement of about 5%.
After the theoretical model was validated a full factorial analysis was performed. Figure 8
shows the results in power loss and temperature maps for both designs.
Figure 9 shows that the gearbox efficiency has significantly increased thanks to the new gear
design. Even if the efficiency was already 97.28% (figure 8a) under nominal conditions ( =
8 , = 3 ), the improvement in the design has allowed to obtain an efficiency of
about 97.86% (figure 8b) with an increase of about 0.6 percentage points (figure 8c). This
increment is more significant for lower loads and lower rotational speeds were the efficiency is
lower. Figure 8d shows that even if the gear meshing power loss reduction decreases with a
reduction of the transmitted torque, the total power loss differences remains more or less
constant confirming the positive impact of the module reduction on the churning power losses,

especially for low temperatures (related to low transmitted torques) this balances the lower
impact of the new geometry in terms of meshing losses for low loads.

a)

b)

c)
d)
Fig. 9: Efficiency maps for the standard design (a) and the low-loss design (b); efficiency
differences between the two designs (c); power loss differences between the two
designs (d)
Conclusions
Efficiency and the related operating temperatures are a main issue in the field of precision
planetary gearboxes. In order to improve its standard production, BMR conducted a research
project in order to investigate new gear geometries and their impact on the gearbox efficiency.
A module reduction seems to give good results in terms of gear meshing loss reduction. This
was validated by the measurements. Furthermore a prediction model based on analytical and
empirical equations as well as on numerical simulations was developed and the results
converged with the measurements. The difference between calculation and measurement is
always less than 5%. The theoretical analysis showed that the power loss reduction at a fixed
rotational speed does not increase linearly with a torque increase. This can be explained with
the help of the numerical CFD simulations: while the benefit in terms of gear meshing losses
decrease if the transmitted torque decrease, the churning power losses usually increase with
a reduction of the transmitted torque due to lower operating temperatures and the consequent
change of the fluid properties. This is reflected in a constant power loss reduction due to the
new design considering the transmitted torque. For low temperatures the distribution of the
losses gives more weight to the churning while for high loads it is more towards sliding.
The research has pointed out the potential benefits that can be achieved by adopting a lowloss design and has confirmed the accuracy of the prediction model that was developed by
BMR.

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