by Bill Holtz, Rexnord Industries

A flexible coupling's primary functions are connecting two shafts, transmitting power from a driver shaft to a driven shaft and accommodating the misalignment between them. With only these requirements, it would appear the coupling selection could be narrowed down to one or two types. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. All flexible couplings accomplish the above three functions, but they do so with varying degrees and attributes. It is within these secondary coupling attributes that the best coupling selection is separated from the fair, poor or even disastrous ones. No single type of coupling will be perfect for all applications.

In industrial pump applications, both lubricated and non-lubricated couplings are used. Some common coupling options include disc, shear jaw and bonded tire non-lubricated designs, as well as grid and gear style lubricated couplings.

Coupling Attribute Comparison

In the selection process, coupling manufacturers help users make selections based on general requirements such as torque, speed shaft sizes and shaft gap. To select the best coupling for an application, the requirements of the application must be reconciled with the performance attributes of the specific coupling. Although there are many attributes to consider for the five couplings mentioned, we will compare the following coupling attributes-misalignment, speed, torsional stiffness, weight, torque density, temperature and generated thrust forces-for a 100 hp, 1,750 rpm centrifugal pump with a 5 in shaft gap between the motor and the pump.


For purposes of our discussion, the misalignment levels referenced here are operational limits, which are the maximum levels of misalignment the coupling can accommodate before experiencing shortened life (see Figures 1A, 1B and 1C).

Figure 1A
Figure 1B
Figure 1C


 Figure 1A (top), Figure 1B (middle), Figure 1C (bottom)

In addition, coupling manufacturers are typically able to provide installation limits, which are lower misalignment values than operational limits. Aligning equipment at or below the installation limits will help reduce equipment vibration and extend the life of other system components like bearings and seals. It is important to remember that using a high misalignment coupling such as an elastomeric one to compensate for misalignment is no excuse for poor alignment practices. Although the coupling may be able to tolerate the misalignment, other components of the pump system may not fare as well.

Axial misalignment, although often overlooked, can be important where thermal growth is an issue or where sleeve bearing motors, herringbone gearsets and other axially sensitive equipment is involved. Gear and tire-type elastomeric couplings have relatively high axial misalignment capacity, but axial forces may result from this movement. Thrust forces will occur in tire-type elastomeric couplings as a result of axially stretching or compressing the elastomeric element. In the case of gear couplings, this effect may result from forces required to slide the coupling under load.