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Power Screws - Description

The function of a power screw is to transform rotary motion into linear motion. The three types of power
screws are square thread, acme thread and ball screw. Square threads and acme threads are similar in
design, where the nut slides along the screw threads (like a traditional screw/nut interface). The ball
screw thread uses ball bearings between the screw thread and corresponding thread on the nut. In
aerospace applications, the two most common power screws are the acme thread design and ball screw
For a power screw with square threads, the threads follow the profile shown in Figure 1. Figure 2 shows
the thread profile for an acme thread power screw. The mating nut for the screw profiles is not shown in
either Figure 1 or Figure 2.

Figure 1 Square Thread Profile
Figure 2 Acme Thread Profile

In Figures 1 and 2, the distance p is the distance between the same points on adjacent teeth. p is often
referred to as the screw lead, which is the distance a nut would travel for one complete rotation of the
screw. The remaining dimensions of the thread are based on the dimension, p. For an acme thread
screw, the thread profile is not normal to the screw centerline but is at an angle, . The angle, , is called
the thread angle. For a standard acme thread, = 14.5. Also illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 is the
definition for the major diameter, mean diameter and minor diameter of the screw. The mean diameter is
often referred to as the pitch diameter. The pitch diameter is the center location of applied forces for a
A ball screw thread profile is shown in Figure 3. For a ball screw, the thread profile is cut to
accommodate the ball bearing. The grooves will be machined to match the ball bearing as close as
possible while maintaining some clearance at the deepest part of the groove. The ball bearing contacts
the thread along a contact line, with a contact angle as shown in Figure 3. For a ball screw/nut
combination note that the threads between the screw and nut will be separated by a small gap (i.e., they
dont mesh together as they would for an acme thread screw/nut). Forces between the screw and nut are
applied along the line of contact in the threads. Lead would also be measured at the contact point
between 2 adjacent teeth.
Figure 3 Ball Screw Thread Profile

An acme thread screw is characterized by low efficiency due to the friction between the screw and nut.
Because of the friction, an acme thread screw is not easily back drivable. Ball screws are characterized
by having a high efficiency (due to the low friction of the balls). As such ball screws are better suited to
high speed applications. Because of the low friction, ball screws are easily backdrivable. Consequently
most ball screw actuators contain no back devices or motor brakes to prevent backdrive. Common
applications of power screws in aerospace are flap, slat and stabilizer actuators.
Raw Materials
Screws are generally made from low to medium carbon steel wire, but other tough and
inexpensive metals may be substituted, such as stainless steel, brass, nickel alloys, or
aluminum alloy. Quality of the metal used is of utmost importance in order to avoid

The cold heading machine cuts a length of wire and makes two blows on the end,
forming a head. In the head slotting machine, the screw blanks are clamped in the
grooves around the perimeter of the wheel. A circular cutter slots the screws as the
wheel revolves.
cracking. If a finish is applied to the screw, it must be of a compatible makeup. Steel
may be coated or plated with zinc, cadmium, nickel, or chromium for extra protection.
On a single thread screw, the lead and pitch are identical, lead is twice the pitch on a
double thread model, and three times as much on a triple thread. The pitch of a screw is
the distance between two threads (or grooves) from the same point on each thread. It is
also more commonly known as the number of threads per inch or centimeter. The lead
of the screw measures how far it is driven in for each revolution.
The Manufacturing
Machining is only used on unique designs or with screws too small to be made any other
way. The machining process is exact, but too time consuming, wasteful, and expensive.
The bulk of all screws are mass manufactured using the thread rolling method, and that
is the procedure described in further detail.
Cold heading
1 Wire is fed from a mechanical coil through a prestraightening machine. The
straightened wire flows directly into a machine that automatically cuts the wire at
a designated length and die cuts the head of the screw blank into a
preprogrammed shape. The heading machine utilizes either an open or closed die
that either requires one punch or two punches to create the screw head. The
closed (or solid) die creates a more accurate screw blank. On average, the cold
heading machine produces 100 to 550 screw blanks per minute.
Thread rolling
2 Once cold headed, the screw blanks are automatically fed to the thread-cutting
dies from a vibrating hopper. The hopper guides the screw blanks down a chute
to the dies, while making sure they are in the correct feed position.
3 The blank is then cut using one of three techniques. In the reciprocating die,
two flat dies are used to cut the screw thread. One die is stationary, while the
other moves in a reciprocating manner, and the screw blank is rolled between the
two. When a centerless cylindrical die is used, the screw blank is rolled between
two to three round dies in order to create the finished thread. The final method of
thread rolling is the planetary rotary die process. It holds the screw blank
stationary, while several die-cutting machines roll around the blank.

Threads can be cut into the blank by several methods. In the reciprocal method,
the screw blank is rolled between two dies. In the cylindrical method, it is turned
in the center of several rollers.
All three methods create higher quality screws than the machine-cut variety. This
is because the thread is not literally cut into the blank during the thread-rolling
process, rather it is impressed into the blank. Thus, no metal material is lost, and
weakness in the metal is avoided. The threads are also more precisely positioned.
The more productive of the thread-rolling techniques is by far the planetary
rotary die, which creates screws at a speed of 60 to 2,000 parts per minute.
Thread forming and rolling[edit]

Thread forming and thread rolling are processes for forming screw threads, with the former referring to
creating internal threads and the latter external threads. In both of these processes threads are formed
into a blank by pressing a shaped tool, commonly called a 'thread rolling die' against the blank, in a
process similar to knurling. These processes are used for large production runs because typical
production rates are around one piece per second.