A common example is the camshaft of an automobile, which takes the rotary motion of the engine and translates it into the reciprocating motion necessary to operate the intake and exhaust valves of the cylinders.
Certain cams can be characterized by their displacement diagrams, which reflect the changing position a roller follower (a shaft with a rotating wheel at the end) would make as the cam rotates about an axis.
The most common type has the follower ride in a slot so that the captive follower produces radial motion with positive positioning without the need for a spring or other mechanism to keep the follower in contact with the control surface.
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Instructions for producing programming cams and cam generation data for the most common makes of machine were included in engineering references well into the modern CNC era.
A cylindrical cam or barrel cam is a cam in which the follower rides on the surface of a cylinder.
In designing the cam, the lift and the dwell angle Several key terms are relevant in such a construction of plate cams: base circle, prime circle (with radius equal to the sum of the follower radius and the base circle radius), pitch curve which is the radial curve traced out by applying the radial displacements away from the prime circle across all angles, and the lobe separation angle (LSA - the angle between two adjacent intake and exhaust cam lobes).
The base circle is the smallest circle that can be drawn to the cam profile.