Do You Need A Cycloidal Drive?

A cycloidal gear drive is one of the most mesmerizing reduction gears to watch when it is running, but it’s not all just eye-candy. Cycloidals give decent gearing, are relatively compact and back-drivable, and have low backlash and high efficiency. You probably want one in the shoulder of your robot arm, for instance.

But designing and building one isn’t exactly straightforward. Thanks, then, to [How To Mechatronics] for the lovely explanation of how it works in detail, and a nice walkthrough of designing and building a cycloidal gear reducer out of 3D printed parts and a ton of bearings. If you just want to watch it go, check out the video embedded below.

The video is partly an ad for SolidWorks, and spends a lot of time on the mechanics of designing the parts for 3D printing using that software. Still, if you’re using any other graphical CAD tool, you should be able to translate what you learned.

It’s amazing that 3D printing has made sophisticated gearbox designs like this possible to fabricate at home. This stuff used to be confined to the high-end machine shops of fancy robotics firms, and now you can make one yourself this weekend. Not exotic or unreliable enough for you? Well, then, buy yourself some flexible filament and step on up to the strain wave, aka “harmonic drive”, gearbox.

Thanks to serial tipster [Keith] for the tip!

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A Peek At The Mesmerizing Action Of A Cycloidal Drive

Cycloidal drives are fascinating pieces of hardware, and we’ve seen them showing up in part due to their suitability for 3D printing. The open source robot arm makers [Haddington Dynamics] are among those playing with a cycloidal drive concept, and tucked away in their August 2018 newsletter was a link they shared to a short but mesmerizing video of a prototype, which we’ve embedded below.

A 10:1 Cycloidal Drive [Source: Wikipedia, image public domain]
A cycloidal drive has some similarities to both planetary gearing and strain-wave gears. In the image shown, the green shaft is the input and its rotation causes an eccentric motion in the yellow cycloidal disk. The cycloidal disk is geared to a stationary outer ring, represented in the animation by the outer ring of grey segments. Its motion is transferred to the purple output shaft via rollers or pins that interface to the holes in the disk. Like planetary gearing, the output shaft rotates in the opposite direction to the input shaft. Because the individual parts are well-suited to 3D printing, this opens the door to easily prototyping custom designs and gearing ratios.

[Haddington Dynamics] are the folks responsible for the open source robot arm Dexter (which will be competing in the Hackaday Prize finals this year), and their interest in a cycloidal drive design sounds extremely forward-thinking. Their prototype consists of 3D printed parts plus some added hardware, but the real magic is in the manufacturing concept of the design. The idea is for the whole assembly to be 3D printed, stopping the printer at five different times to insert hardware. With a robot working in tandem with the printer, coordinating the print pauses with automated insertion of the appropriate hardware, the result will be a finished transmission unit right off the print bed. It’s a lofty goal, and really interesting advancement for small-scale fabrication.

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