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Effective gear designs balance strength, durability, reliability, size, weight, and cost. Even effective designs, however, can have the possibility of gear cracks due to fatigue. In addition, truly robust designs consider not only crack initiation, but also crack propagation trajectories. As an example, crack trajectories that propagate through the gear tooth are the preferred mode of failure compared to propagation through the gear rim. Rim failure will lead to catastrophic events and should be avoided. Analysis tools that predict crack propagation paths can be a valuable aid to the designer to prevent such catastrophic failures.
A common design goal for gears in helicopter or turboprop power transmission is reduced weight. To help meet this goal, some gear designs use thin rims. Rims that are too thin, however, may lead to bending fatigue problems and cracks. The most common methods of gear design and analysis are based on standards published by the American Gear Manufacturers Association. Included in the standards are rating formulas for gear tooth bending to prevent crack initiation (Ref. 1). These standards can include the effect of rim thickness on tooth bending fatigue (Ref 2.). The standards, however, do not indicate the crack propagation path or the remaining life once a crack has started. Fracture mechanics has developed into a useful discipline for predicting strength and life of cracked structures.
When gears are case-hardened, it is known that some growth and redistribution of stresses that result in geometric distortion will occur. Aerospace gears require post case-hardening grinding of the gear teeth to achieve necessary accuracy. Tempering of the case-hardened surface, commonly known as grinding burn, occurs in the manufacturing process when control of the heat generation at the surface is lost.
Micropitting has become a major concern in certain classes of industrial gear applications, especially wind power and other relatively highly loaded, somewhat slow-speed applications, where carburized gears are used to facilitate maximum load capacity in a compact package. While by itself the appearance of micropitting does not generally cause much perturbation in the overall operation of a gear system, the ultimate consequences of a micropitting failure can, and frequently are, much more catastrophic.