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J China Univ Mining & Technol 18 (2008) 0459–0465

Mechanism of hydro-viscous soft start of

belt conveyor
MENG Qing-rui, HOU You-fu
School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, China University of Mining & Technology, Xuzhou, Jiangsu 221008, China

Abstract: The mechanism of a hydro-viscous soft start is of great importance in the design of a hydro-viscous clutch and its control
system. To explain the mechanism of a hydro-viscous soft start, the startup process of a belt conveyor was numerically analyzed
with the modified Reynolds equation, an energy equation and a temperature-viscosity equation. The effect of temperature and
grooves of the friction disk surface on torque transfer and load capacity of the oil film have also been analyzed. The results show
that 1) the grooves are the basis of forming dynamic pressure but they may reduce the capacity of torque transfer to a certain extent,
2) during the startup process, temperature has little effect on torque transfer and load capacity and the variation in load capacity of
the oil film is very small, indicating that it is preferable to use the flow rate as a control object than the pressure of the feed cylinder.
The results have been verified by an experiment.
Key words: hydro-viscous clutch; soft start; belt conveyor; torque transfer; load capacity

1 Introduction tion. Many studies on engagement have been carried

out up to the present[1–10]. But all of the previous
Belt conveyors are in many cases the most studies largely concentrated on speed regulating
cost-effective solution for handling bulk material in characteristics of the hydro-viscous clutch, or just on
mass flows over short and medium conveying dis- the engagement of a wet clutch. The main issues are
tances. With great inertia and a short starting time, the as follows: investigating the relationship between
acceleration at the start will be very great, considera- normal pressure, output speed and torque under the
bly affecting the tight side of conveyor belt, if the condition of a given oil film thickness, or investigat-
startup process of the belt conveyor is not properly ing the relationship between the oil film thickness,
controlled. As a result, the dynamic stress induced by output speed and torque under the condition of nor-
this effect is increased several times, compared with mal pressure. Few studies on characteristics of hy-
normal operation. To ensure reliable operation, the dro-viscous soft starters have been carried out. Unlike
strength grade of the belt should be increased. Thus speed regulation for fans or water pumps, differences
the prophase investment will be greatly increased. in both oil film thickness and rotational speed are in
The soft starter is a perfect solution for this problem dynamic development during the entire startup proc-
because it can reduce total investment by 20%. A hy- ess. At the initial time of the startup, the rotational
dro-viscous soft starter has a good application pros- speed difference is large and the oil film is thick,
pect among the soft starters commonly used at pre- while at the end of the startup process, the oil film is
sent, because its performance is superior to electrical thin and the rotational speed difference is small. In
soft starters at low speed and superior to hydraulic addition, the load capacity of the oil film is also de-
coupling at high speed. veloping dynamically. Obviously, it is not a good
A hydro-viscous soft starter (hydro-viscous clutch) way to investigate the soft start process under these
is similar in structure to a wet clutch. It is based on conditions of oil film thickness or normal pressure.
Newton's Law of Viscosity and transfers power by the Because the pressure of the feed cylinder should
shearing force of an oil film. According to the change dynamically and to counterbalance the dy-
Stribeck curve, the engagement of the hydro-viscous namically changing load capacity of the oil film to
clutch can be divided into three stages: hydrodynamic obtain different oil film thicknesses at different times,
lubrication, mixed lubrication and boundary lubrica- torque transfer and load capacity of the oil film are

Received 15 February 2008; accepted 12 April 2008

Corresponding author. Tel: +86-516-83890238; E-mail address:
460 Journal of China University of Mining & Technology Vol.18 No.3

two key parameters affecting the characteristics of a hydro-viscous soft start by using a Cartesian coordi-
hydro-viscous soft start. nate system, since the friction discs have different
Considering the surface roughness of the friction surface grooves. The friction disc used by us has ra-
disc, we have investigated numerically and analyti- dial surface grooves. For convenience, only a part of
cally the load capacity and torque transfer character- the friction disc, including three grooves, is analyzed
istics of the oil film during the startup process by us- (see Fig. 2), where AD is the inlet and BC is outlet of
ing a Reynolds equation, an energy equation and a the flow domain.
temperature-viscosity equation in order to reveal the
mechanism of the hydro-viscous soft start of the belt
conveyor and to facilitate the conceptual design of the
hydro-viscous soft starter and the control system.

2 Soft start

A soft start means that a belt conveyor can

smoothly start by progressively overcoming the iner-
Fig. 2 Calculation model
tia even under the condition of a full load. In order to
reduce the damage of the impact, there should be no Since the load capacity of the oil film in a hy-
sudden change in acceleration. So during a perfect dro-viscous clutch is much less than that in a hydro-
startup process the speed should vary from zero to the dynamic lubrication bearing, the radial flow induced
rating value according to a given starting curve. Both by the centrifugal force plays an important role and
the Harrision and Nordell curves are commonly used cannot be neglected, Reynolds equation is modified
as starting curves and are shown in Fig. 1, where V is by the effect of the centrifugal force in our calcula-
the rated speed and Ts starting time. The Harrision tion model. In our Cartesian coordinate system, the
curve is more popular and is used by us to investigate xoy plane represents the friction disc surface and the
the characteristics of a soft start[11]. oil film thickness is represented along the z direction.
Considering the friction disc surface roughness and
by using a Patir-Cheng average flow model, the
modified Reynolds equation can be derived as fol-
∂ ⎛ h3 ∂ p ⎞ ∂ ⎛ h3 ∂p⎞
⎜ φx ⎟+ ⎜ φy ⎟
∂x ⎝ 12µ ∂x ⎠ ∂y ⎝ 12 µ ∂y ⎠
(a) Harrision curve (b) Nordell curve
Fig. 1 Harrison and Nordell starting curves U − U 2 x ∂ h T U1 y − U 2 y ∂ h T
= 1x +
2 ∂x 2 ∂y
The torque transferred by the oil film between fric-
U − U 2 x ∂φs U1 y − U 2 y ∂φs
tion discs can be calculated. By definition: + 1x σ + σ
2 ∂x 2 ∂y
M = πµ (ω1 − ω2 ) ( r24 − r14 )
1 1
∂ ⎡ ρ xhT 3 2 ⎞⎤
2 h ⎛
+ ⎢ ⎜ ω1ω 2 + ω1− 2 ⎟ ⎥
where M is torque transferred by oil film, µ dy- ∂x ⎢ 12 µ ⎝ 10 ⎠ ⎥⎦

namic viscosity, ω1 and ω 2 are input speed and
∂ ⎡ ρ yhT ⎛ 3 2 ⎞⎤
output speed respectively, h is oil film thickness, + ⎢ ⎜ ω1ω2 + ω1− 2 ⎟ ⎥ (2)
r1 and r2 are the inner and outer radius of the fric- ∂y ⎢ 12µ ⎝ 10 ⎠ ⎥⎦

tion discs respectively.
It can be seen from Fig. 1a and Eq.(1) that the cor- where φx and φ y are pressure flow factors along
responding speed, acceleration and oil film thickness the x and y direction respectively and φs is the shear
at any moment can be calculated and these results
flow factor. U ix , U iy (i = 1, 2) are the components of
provide the basic data for further calculation of load
capacity and torque transfer of the oil film at any velocity of the friction disc along the x and y direction.
moment during the startup process. hT = h + δ1 + δ 2 is the real oil film thickness, h is
the nominal oil film thickness, i.e., the distance be-
3 Fundamental equations tween the two “middle surfaces”, one the rough sur-
face of the friction disc and the other of the separator,
3.1 Modified Reynolds equation δ1 and δ 2 are the surface roughness by taking each
It is preferable to investigate the characteristics of a “middle surface” as reference respectively. h T is
MENG Qing-rui et al Mechanism of hydro-viscous soft start of belt conveyor 461

the average oil film thickness and the mathematical ⎡ 1 ∂p ⎛1 2 1 ⎞⎤

τx = h⎢ − ρ x ⎜ ω12 − ω1ω1− 2 + ω12− 2 ⎟ ⎥
expectation of hT . Without the rough contact, h is ⎣ 2 ∂x ⎝2 3 4 ⎠⎦
equal to h T , otherwise h ≠ h T . p is the average µ
− (U1x − U 2 x ) (9)
oil film pressure, ω1− 2 = ω1 − ω2 and ρ is density of h

the lubricating oil. ⎡ 1 ∂p ⎛1 2 1 ⎞⎤

τy = h⎢ − ρ y ⎜ ω12 − ω1ω1− 2 + ω12− 2 ⎟ ⎥
Boundary conditions: ⎣ 2 ∂y ⎝2 3 4 ⎠⎦
p | AD , BC = p0 µ
(3) −
(U 1y − U2y ) (10)
G ⎛ hU h3 ⎞
n ⎜⎜ − ∇p ⎟⎟ = q on AB and CD (4) Torque (M) can be calculated as:
⎝ 2 12 µ ⎠
Inlet pressure on AD is at 0.1–0.5 MPa and the M = ∫∫ (τ x y + τ y x )dxdy (11)
outlet pressure on BC is 0 MPa. The boundary condi-
tion on AB and CD is a flowrate boundary condition, The oil film load capacity can be calculated by the
representing influent and effluent flows respectively. following equation:

3.2 Energy equation W = ∫ pdΩ = ∫∫ pdxdy (12)

The oil film temperature is essentially caused by
convection and heat conduction is a form of secon-
4 Calculation methods
dary heat transfer. It indicates that the heat flux on the
fluid boundary is very small and temperature and
We have used a finite element method to solve the
viscosity along the oil film thickness direction can be
modified Reynolds equation and the energy equation.
treated as constants[12] so that oil film energy equation
In order to approach the sophisticated friction disc
surface, a triangular element with three nodes is se-
⎛ ∂T ∂T ⎞ lected and pressure of the element is built into a linear
ρ Cv ⎜ q x + qy ⎟
⎝ ∂x ∂y ⎠ model as follows:
µ ⎡ p = a + bx + cy (13)
( ) ( ) ⎤
2 2
= ⎢ U − U + U − U ⎥
hT ⎣ ⎦
1 x 2 x 1 y 2 y
Assuming the three vertices of an element are
h T ⎡⎛ ∂ p ⎞ ⎛ ∂ p ⎞ ⎤
3 2 2
( xi , yi ) , ( x j , y j ) and ( xm , ym ) , then the follow-
+ ⎢⎜ ⎟ +⎜ ⎟ ⎥ (5)
12µ ⎢⎝ ∂x ⎠ ⎝ ∂y ⎠ ⎥ ing coefficients can be calculated:
⎣ ⎦
where qx and q y are average flows of the lubri- ai = x j ym − xm y j , a j = xm yi − xi ym ,
cating oil. am = xi y j − x j yi , bi = y j − ym ,
Boundary conditions:
T | AD , BC = T0 (6) b j = ym − yi , bm = yi − y j , ci = xm − x j ,

∂T c j = xi − xm , cm = x j − xi .
=0 on AB and CD (7) The interpolation function is as follows:
∂n 1
3.3 Temperature-viscosity equation
Ni = ( ai + bi x + ci y ) ( i = i, j , m ) (14)
Without a universal temperature-viscosity equation, where A is the area of the triangular element.
we have used an ASTM line graph. The equation is as The form of the function used in solving the modi-
follows: fied Reynolds equation is as follows[13]:
log log (η + 0.6 ) = A − B log T (8) ⎡⎛ h 3 hU ⎞
I ( p ) = ∫ ⎢⎜⎜ ∇p − ⎟ ∇p
where η is kinematic viscosity (mm /s), A and B are
2 Ω
⎢⎣⎝ 24 µ 2 ⎠⎟
two constants which can be calculated from the vis- ∂h ⎤
+ p dΩ + ∫ qpds (15)
∂t ⎥⎦
cosity at two different temperatures. Γ2

3.4 Torque transfer and load capacity where Γ 2 represent AB and CD as shown in Fig. 2.
Shear stress along the x and y directions can be The functional of modified Reynolds equation can be
calculated by the following equations: derived from Eq.(15). If the jm edge of the triangular
element lies on Γ 2 , p can be calculated by the
462 Journal of China University of Mining & Technology Vol.18 No.3

following equation: Table 1 The input data in calculation

p = (1 − ξ ) p j + ξ pm ( 0 < ξ < 1 ) (16) Parameter Value

Input speed n1 (r/min) 1470
The Galerkin approach is used to solve the en- Starting time Ts (s) 40
ergy equation as follows: Inner radius of friction disc r1 (m) 0.0575
⎛ ∂T ∂T ⎞
∫Ω Ni ρCV ⎜⎝ q x ∂x + q y ∂y ⎠⎟ dΩ
Outer radius of friction disc r2 (m) 0.076
Width of groove Wd (m) 0.004

= ∫ N i ⎨ ⎡⎢(U1x − U 2 x ) + (U1 y − U 2 y ) ⎤⎥
2 2 Depth of groove Wt (mm) 0.2

⎩ hT ⎣ ⎦ Rated speed v (m/s) 2
Friction disc surface roughness σ1 (µm) 4
h T ⎡⎛ ∂p ⎞ ⎛ ∂p ⎞ ⎤ ⎫⎪
3 2 2
Separator surface roughness σ2 (µm) 1
+ ⎢ ⎜ ⎟ + ⎜ ⎟ ⎥ ⎬ dΩ (17)
12 µ ⎢⎣⎝ ∂x ⎠ ⎝ ∂y ⎠ ⎥⎦ ⎪ Fluid kinematic viscosity η (mm2/s) 32
⎭ Fluid density ρ (kg/m3) 865
Fluid specific heat capacity Cv (J/(g·ć)) 1.88
5 Calculation steps
γ is a surface texture parameter. We have set
1) Generating the finite element mesh. Finite ele-
ment mesh should be generated on grooves and γ = 1 and the values of φx , φ y and φs are as fol-
non-groove regions respectively. lows: φx ˙0.8323, φ y ˙0.8323, φs ˙0.322.
2) At discrete intervals, repeat the startup process
according to rated load and speed, the corresponding Variations of oil film thickness during the startup
speed, acceleration and oil film thickness at each time process, according to theoretical calculations, are
can be calculated by Eq.(1) and Fig. 1a. shown in Fig. 3.
3) Calculation of corresponding torque each time
by modified Reynolds equation. Modify the oil film
Oil film thickness (mm)

thickness calculated in step 2 from the calculation

4) Temperature distribution. The initial temperature
can be assumed to be a constant, i.e., T = const.
5) According to Eq.(8) and definition µ = ηρ , the
calculated viscosity distribution µ = µ (T ) .
6) Calculate the node-pressure according to the
function of the modified Reynolds equation. Fig. 3 Variation of oil film thickness
7) Calculate the node-temperature according to the
energy equation. It can be seen from Fig. 3 that oil film thickness is
8) Compare the node-temperature calculated in too thick in the first five seconds and too thin in the
step 7 with the given temperature in step 4. A con- last five seconds of the startup process. The oil film
vergent result can be obtained if the comparative re- thickness is less than 10 µm and the hydro-viscous
sult satisfies convergence criterion, otherwise substi- clutch works in a mixed lubrication stage during the
tute the node temperature calculated in step 7 for last five seconds.
temperature distribution given in step 4 and recalcu- The torque transferred by oil film is rather small
late. The convergence criterion is as follows: when the oil film thickness is greater than 0.2 mm.
The gap between friction discs is usually designed to
T ( k ) − T ( k − 1)
≤ 0.01 be less than 0.4 mm. Furthermore, the hydro-viscous
T (k ) clutch should overcome the static friction force of the
where T(k) and T(k–1) are average temperature of belt conveyor. At 35 s, the output speed is greater
nodes calculated in step k and step k–1. than 1400 r/min, close to input speed. From this point
9) Calculate torque and load capacity. on, the torque begins to be transferred by both the oil
film and the rough surface of the friction disc. In this
6 Results and discussion period the hydro-viscous clutch cannot be controlled
well. Thus, our theoretical analysis is only suitable
A hydro-viscous clutch of 75 kW is used as an for the period from five seconds to 35 seconds. A
example to investigate the mechanism of a soft start. closed-loop feedback control should be used in the
The friction discs used in the hydro-viscous clutch first five seconds and last five seconds in order to
have 30 radial grooves distributed uniformly. Other approach the starting curve shown in Fig. 1a. In fact a
parameters are shown in Table 1. closed-loop feedback control is usually used during
the entire startup process to achieve a perfect starting
MENG Qing-rui et al Mechanism of hydro-viscous soft start of belt conveyor 463

curve. namic pressure is not so clear because the oil film is

It can also be seen that the hydro-viscous clutch rather thick. In fact, the effect of dynamic pressure is
works at a hydrodynamic lubrication stage during not clear during the entire startup process, because
most of the startup process. Although a hydro-viscous near the end of the startup process the oil film is thin
clutch works at a mixed lubrication stage during the but the rotational speed difference becomes very
last five seconds, because the rotational speed differ- small. In order to observe the dynamic pressure effect
ence is rather small and duration very short, wear of more clearly, let the inlet pressure be equal to 0 MPa.
friction disc will not be severe. So friction discs usu- The results are shown in Fig. 4b. Fig. 4c shows the
ally a have long service life when they are used in a dynamic pressure affected by temperature. It can be
hydro-viscous soft starter. Compared with the oil film seen that the dynamic pressure is clearly reduced near
thickness, the peak value of the surface roughness is the outlet of the friction disc, because of rising tem-
rather small, so only a small error will be incurred in perature. The temperature distribution is shown in Fig.
the calculation if the surface texture is treated as iso- 4d. It can be seen that the variation in temperature is
tropic. great along the radial direction but rather small in the
Pressure distribution of the oil film should be cal- circumferential direction.
culated in order to calculate load capacity. Pressure Fig. 5a shows the torque transferred by the oil film
distribution under the condition of an oil film thick- during the startup process. It can be seen that the
ness of 0.2 mm and an output speed of 108 r/min is grooves have a great effect on torque transfer, but the
shown in Fig. 4a. It can be seen that the effect of dy- effect of temperature is rather small. It indicates that

Fig. 4 Distribution of pressure and temperature

(a) Variation of torque transfer of oil film during startup process (b) Variation of load capacity of oil film during startup process
Fig. 5 Torque transfer and load capacity of oil film during startup process
464 Journal of China University of Mining & Technology Vol.18 No.3

the effect of temperature can be neglected in design- are two sets of electro-hydraulic proportional control
ing a hydro-viscous clutch which can be compensated systems, one uses a proportional pressure valve type
by feedback in the control system. Fig. 5b shows the DBETE-5X/5G24 of Rexroth. The other is a propor-
load capacity of the oil film. It can be seen the load tional flow valve type 2FRE6A-2X/2 of Rexroth. A
capacity varies slightly during the startup process. microcontroller, Atmega16, was used in the electric
This agrees with the preceding theoretical analysis. control system and the control strategy was fuzzy
Since the pressure of the feed cylinder should vary PID.
with the load capacity of the oil film, it is obviously Output speed curves are shown in Fig. 6b. It can be
not the best choice to take pressure as a control object seen that the speed curve using flow rate as control
in the design of a control system. According to the object is close to that using pressure as the control
theory of fluid power transmission and control tech- object in the first 20 seconds. But the former flow
nology, it is better to take flow rate as the control ob- rate is better in the last 20 seconds. During the entire
ject. startup process, the speed curve using flow rate as the
control object can approach the theoretical curve
7 Experimental verification more accurately. But there are deflections to varying
degrees between the experimental and theoretical
A belt conveyor is usually considered to be a con- curves and improvement of the control system is de-
stant torque device during the startup process. In this sired to reduce these deflections.
experiment a disc brake was adopted to simulate a Fig. 6c shows variation in the pressure of the feed
belt conveyor. Torque generated by the disc brake cylinder during the startup process when flow rate
works as a load, it is acquired by a torque sensor and taken as the control object. It can be seen that it is
pressure of the feed cylinder is acquired by the pres- coincident with calculation results shown in Fig. 5b.
sure sensor installed in the electro-hydraulic propor- It proves the validity of our theoretical analysis and
tional control system. calculations.
Fig. 6a shows our experimental equipment. There

(a) Experimental equipment

1. Motor; 2,4,6. Couplings; 3. Hydro-viscous clutch; 5. Torque sensor;
7. Disc brake; 8. Electric control system; 9. Electro-hydraulic proportional control system

(b) Velocity curve (c) Variation of pressure of feed cylinder

Fig. 6 Experimental equipment and results

8 Conclusions not be severe. Friction discs usually have a long ser-

vice life.
A hydro-viscous clutch works at a hydrodynamic Friction disc surface grooves are the basis of
lubrication stage during most of the time of the forming dynamic pressure, but they may reduce the
startup process, so that wear of the friction discs will capacity of torque transfer at the same time. The ef-
MENG Qing-rui et al Mechanism of hydro-viscous soft start of belt conveyor 465

fect of dynamic pressure is not so clear during the 610–617.

entire startup process and the effect of the inlet pres- [4] Pär M, Rikard M, Roland L, et al. Thermal influence on
torque transfer of wet clutches in limited slip differential
sure is significant.
applications. Tribology International, 2007(40): 876–
Temperature has little effect on a hydro-viscous 884.
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be neglected in designing a hydro-viscous clutch. per-based friction materials for oil-immersed clutches-
This may be compensated for by feedback in the con- wear model for composite materials. Tribology Interna-
trol system. tional, 2005(38): 943–950.
[6] Przemyslaw Z, Samuel A T. Generation of hot spots in a
The load capacity varies slightly during the startup
wet multidisk clutch during short-term engagement.
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Acknowledgement (In Chinese)
[9] Dong X, Zhou Y Y. A study of transmission mechanism
The authors gratefully acknowledge the reviewer(s) on modulated clutch. Journal of Shanghai Jiaotong
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