Gears and sprockets are both used every day in a broad range of important applications. As they look somewhat similar, and share a basic principle of operation, gears and sprockets are often mistaken for one another. Despite this, they really do not share many characteristics. This blog will explain both the few similarities and many differences between gears and sprockets, as well as the uses for each part.
Gears and sprockets are both grooved wheels that operate within larger machines. Realistically, this is where their similarities end. Gears connect with the teeth on other gears to transmit movement to another part, while sprockets use their teeth to interact with and move a flexible component such as a bike chain or conveyor belt. Another way to look at it is that during operation, gears generally operate with other gears to transmit power to the end user while sprockets interact directly with the end user by moving it via the rotation of its teeth.
The most significant physical difference between gears and sprockets are in their teeth. For instance, in bike chain sprockets, teeth have to be shaped so they fit perfectly into the indents, holes, or slots in the object they are intended to move. Because gears interact with other gears, the design of the teeth can vary. For example, some gears feature teeth on the inner side of the wheel in applications where space is at a premium. A further difference is found when you look at their sensitivities to damage. Sprocket damage is far more detrimental to performance than gear damage. If one or more of a sprocket’s teeth are damaged, there is a higher chance of the chain coming loose or slipping off completely. If a gear loses teeth, a small amount of power may be compromised, but the gears will continue to work.
Both gears and sprockets have distinct uses. Gears tend to be found more deeply within machines, such as in a car engine where they transfer power from the engine to the drivetrain, or within a clock or watch where they move the hands. Due to their efficiency and higher resistance to damage, gears are generally more preferable to engineers and developers. The most common use for sprockets is in supporting bike chains, but they are also used in objects such as bulldozer and tank tranks, film projectors, and more. In each of these machines, the sprockets rotate to move a flexible belt of some type. The moving parts of these belts lead to more wear on both the belt and sprockets. Because of this, sprockets tend to be on the outside of the machine so they can be easily fixed or replaced.
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