23 Jul 2024


`Unique` sensor monitors the behaviour of small-link chains

Users of chain with pitch sizes as small as 12.7mm can now monitor and analyse the performance of a working chain to pinpoint any problems using an electronic monitor attached to the chain.

The technology is an extension of Renold Chain’s Smartlink system that it developed during the 1990s and claims is still the only device that can be fitted to working chain to record dynamic data such as peak and shock loads. Originally, the system was restricted to use on chain with pitches larger than one inch (25.4mm). By working with half-inch chain, the new version expands the field of application dramatically. According to Renold, there is about ten times more half-inch pitch chain in use than one-inch pitch chain.

“This is a major breakthrough for us and great news for manufacturers and OEMs using half-inch pitch chain who want to optimise their systems,” declares Renold’s Eduardo Abanses, the brains behind the development. “We never thought we’d get Smartlink this small and, in a way, we’ve achieved what we previously thought was impossible.”

The breakthrough has been possible due, in large part, to the miniaturisation of components. The main stumbling block to reducing Smartlink’s size has been battery technology. Because the device is attached to the chain’s side-plate, it must carry its own power supply. Earlier versions were fitted with PP3 9V batteries.

“Smartlink isn’t like a watch; it needs a bit more power because it’s doing a lot more things,” Abases explains. “It has to power a strain gauge, process and record data, and communicate with its remote controller via an infrared signal.”

The new version uses batteries that take up less than half the space. It was this development that first gave the development team the hope that a half-inch pitch version might be possible. Further breakthroughs came with the reduction of the PCB to a third of its former size, and the use of more efficient components. The built-in strain gauge also had to be redesigned to fit in the restricted space. The photograph above shows how much smaller the new PCB is compared to the original version.

The patented Smartlink devices are supplied ready-fitted to a section of chain. Users install this link in their chain and control and monitor it remotely via a hand-held device.

There is a choice of two remote controls. The first (shown above) is about the size of a key fob and provides a warning if an overload occurs. A red LED indicates if the chain exceeds a predetermined load, enabling engineers to check the machinery and ensure that it is safe to continue operating.

A more sophisticated controller can download detailed information about the nature of the stresses and loads that the chain experiences while operating. This data can then be downloaded to a PC for analysis using software developed by Renold. The results help to understand the loads being applied to the chain and to identify problem areas such as misaligned sprockets. The analysis can also determine the ideal size of chain for an application.