Gears are used in a wide range of engineering designs so that power may be transmitted steadily and without slip. They are also commonly used within mechanical devices where they provide a gear reduction in motorized equipment.
This is important because, often, a small motor spinning very fast can provide enough power for a device, but not enough torque. For instance, an electric screwdriver has a very large gear reduction because it needs lots of torque to turn screws, but the motor only produces a small amount of torque at a high speed. With a gear reduction, the output speed can be reduced while the torque is increased.
Another thing gears do is adjust the direction of rotation. For instance, in the differential between the rear wheels of your car, the power is transmitted by a shaft that runs down the center of the car, and the differential has to turn that power 90 degrees to apply it to the wheels.
The teeth on helical gears are cut at an angle to the face of the gear. When two teeth on a helical gear system engage, the contact starts at one end of the tooth and gradually spreads as the gears rotate, until the two teeth are in full engagement.
This gradual engagement makes helical gears operate much more smoothly and quietly than spur gears. For this reason, helical gears are used in almost all car transmissions. Because of the angle of the teeth on helical gears, they create a thrust load on the gear when they mesh. Devices that use helical gears have bearings that can support this thrust load.
One interesting thing about helical gears is that if the angles of the gear teeth are correct, they can be mounted on perpendicular shafts, adjusting the rotation angle by 90 degrees as seen below.
Spur gears are the most common type of gears. They have straight teeth, and are mounted on parallel shafts. Sometimes, multiple spur gears are used as a single train to create very large gear reductions.
Spur gears are used in many industrial, mechanical devices, but you won’t find many in your car. This is because the spur gear can be less quiet. Each time a gear tooth engages a tooth on the other gear, the teeth collide, and this impact makes a noise.
It also increases the stress on the gear teeth. To reduce the noise and stress in the gears, most of the gears in your car are helical.
Worm gears are used when large gear reductions are needed. It is common for worm gears to have reductions of 20:1, and even up to 300:1 or greater.
Many worm gears have an interesting property that no other gear set has: the worm can easily turn the gear, but the gear cannot turn the worm.
This is because the angle on the worm is so shallow that when the gear tries to spin it, the friction between the gear and the worm holds the worm in place.
This feature is useful for machines such as conveyor systems, in which the locking feature can act as a brake for the conveyor when the motor is not turning.