A power take-off or power takeoff (PTO) is any of several methods for taking power from a power source, such as a running engine, and transmitting it to an application such as an attached implement or separate machines.
Most commonly, it is a system comprising a splined output shaft on a tractor or truck, designed so that a PTO shaft, a kind of drive shaft, can be easily connected and disconnected, and a corresponding input shaft on the application end. The power take-off allows implements to draw energy from the engine.
Semi-permanently mounted power take-offs can also be found on industrial and marine engines. These applications typically use a drive shaft and bolted joint to transmit power to a secondary implement or accessory. In the case of a marine application, such shafts may be used to power fire pumps.
In aircraft applications, such an accessory drive may be used in conjunction with a constant speed drive. Jet aircraft have four types of PTO units: internal gearbox, external gearbox, radial driveshaft, and bleed air, which are used to power engine accessories. In some cases, aircraft power take-off systems also provide for putting power into the engine during engine start. See also Coffman starter 
Various power transmission methods were available before power takeoffs became common, but there were applications left wanting for some of the attributes that PTOs would provide. Flat belts generally lent themselves only to applications where the engine was stationary, such as factory steam engines, portable stationary engines, or traction engines parked in front of the work. For moving vehicles such as a traction engine or early tractor towing a farm implement, the implement could receive rotary power by taking it from one of its own wheels (whose turning was imparted by the towing) and distributing it via roller chains (to a sickle bar's crank, for example), but such a transmission ceases if the vehicle stops traveling; and the workload's resistance tends to make the wheel skid rather than turn, even if cleated. The concept of a shaft drive with easily connected and disconnected couplings, and flexibility for driving at changing angles (such as when an articulated tractor-and-trailer combination turns), was a goal to pursue.
Experimental power take-offs were tried as early as 1878, and various homemade versions arose over the subsequent decades. International Harvester Company (IHC) was first to market with a PTO on a production tractor, with its model 8-16, introduced in 1918. Edward A. Johnston, an IHC engineer, had been impressed by a homemade PTO that he saw in France about a decade before, improvised by a French farmer and mechanic surnamed Gougis. He and his IHC colleagues incorporated the idea into the 8-16, and designed a family of implements to take advantage of the feature. IHC was not alone in the market for long, as within a year PTOs were appearing on other production tractors, such as some Case models. In 1920, IHC offered the PTO option on their 15-30 tractor, and it was the first PTO-equipped tractor to be submitted for a Nebraska tractor test. The PTO was a competitive advantage for IHC in the 1920s, and other companies eventually caught up with PTO implementation.
Inside the transmission, the exact point along the gear train where the power is taken off determines whether the PTO can be run independently of vehicle travel (ground speed). Early PTOs were often taken off the main output shaft, meaning that the vehicle had to be "in gear" in order to run the PTO. Later this was improved by so-called live PTO (LPTO) designs, which allow control of the PTO rotation independently of the tractor motion. This is an advantage when the load driven by the PTO requires the tractor motion to slow or stop running to allow the PTO driven equipment to catch up. It also allows operations where the tractor remains parked, such as silo-filling or unloading a manure spreader to a pile or lagoon rather than across a field. In 1945, Cockshutt Farm Equipment Ltd of Brantford, Ontario, Canada, introduced the Cockshutt Model 30 tractor with LPTO. Most PTOs built today are live. In modern tractors, LPTO is often controlled by push-button or selector switch. This increases safety of operators who need to get close to the PTO shaft.
The PTO and its associated shafts and universal joints are a common cause of incidents and injury in farming and industry. According to the National Safety Council, 6 percent of tractor related fatalities in 1997 in the United States involved the PTO. When a piece of clothing, which can be as small as a single thread, touches a spinning part it can be pulled around the part. The clothing and the person wearing it are pulled into the shaft, often resulting in bone fractures, loss of limb, or death. A farmer in Vermont describes the time this happened to him in this YouTube video. On April 13, 2009 former Major League Baseball star Mark Fidrych died as a result of a PTO related accident; "He appeared to have been working on the truck when his clothes became tangled in the truck's power takeoff shaft", District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said in a statement.
Some implements do use plastic guards to try to keep a person from becoming entangled in a PTO shaft, but even with guards people need to exercise caution around PTO shafts when they are plugged into a tractor or truck. In some countries it is illegal to operate a PTO without the shaft guard correctly fastened. In the UK, Health and Safety Executive guidance is contained in a leaflet. The principle of how the guards work is that they are light and free-spinning over top of the shaft, so if a non-spinning object (such as a person's clothes or hair) comes into contact with them, they quickly stop spinning although the shaft keeps spinning underneath them.
- ISO 500-1 General specifications, safety requirements, dimensions for master shield and clearance zone
- ISO 500-2 Narrow-track tractors, dimensions for master shield and clearance zone
- ISO 500-3 Main PTO dimensions and spline dimensions, location of PTO.
The original type calls for operation at 540 revolutions per minute (RPM). A shaft that rotates at 540 rpm has 6 splines on it, and a diameter of 1⅜". Two newer types, supporting higher power applications, operate at 1000 RPM and differ in shaft size. The larger shaft has 20 splines (1¾" diameter), while the smaller has 21 (1⅜" diameter). All three types rotate counterclockwise when viewed from the tractor (When standing behind the tractor, the shaft turns clockwise). A 10 spline type was used with some early equipment such as the 1948 Land Rover, a six spline adapter was usually supplied. It is customary for agricultural machines manufacturers to provide the nominal PTO power specification, an indication of the available instantaneous power at the shaft.
The first industry standard for PTO design was adopted by ASAE (the American Society of Agricultural Engineers) in April 1927. The PTO rotational speed was specified as 536 ± 10 rpm; the direction was clockwise. The speed was later changed to 540 rpm.
Commercial vehicle PTOs
Truck transmissions have one or more locations which allow for a PTO to be mounted. The PTO must be purchased separately and care is required to match the physical interface of the transmission with a compatible PTO. PTO suppliers will usually require details of the make, model and even serial number of the transmission. Care is also needed to ensure that the physical space around the transmission allows for installation of the PTO. The PTO is engaged/disengaged using the main transmission clutch and a remote control mechanism which operates on the PTO itself. Typically an air valve is used to engage the PTO, but a mechanical linkage, electric or hydraulic mechanism are also options.
Most Unimogs come with front and/or rear PTO's and hydraulics as well as three point hitch systems.
Units will be rated according to the continuous and intermittent torque that can be applied through them and different models will offer different "PTO shaft rotation to engine RPM" ratios.
In the majority of cases, the PTO will connect directly to a hydraulic pump. This allows for transmission of mechanical force through the hydraulic fluid system to any location around the vehicle where a hydraulic motor will convert it back into rotary or linear mechanical force. Typical applications include:
- Running a water pump on a fire engine or water truck
- Running a truck mounted hot water extraction machine for carpet cleaning (driving vacuum blower and high-pressure solution pumps)
- Powering a blower system used to move dry materials such as cement
- Raising a dump truck bed
- Operating the mechanical arm on a bucket truck used by electrical maintenance personnel or Cable TV maintenance crews
- Operating a winch on a tow truck
- Operating the compactor on a garbage truck
- Operating a Boom/Grapple truck
Split Shaft PTO
A Split Shaft PTO is mounted to the truck's drive shaft to provide power to the PTO. Such a unit is an additional gearbox separating the vehicle's driveshaft into two parts: The gearbox-facing shaft which will transmit the power of the engine to the Split Shaft PTO and the axle-facing shaft which transmit the propelling power to the axle.
The unit itself is designed to independently divert the engine's power to either the axle-facing shaft or the additional PTO output shaft. This is done by two independent clutches like tooth or dog clutches which can be operated at total driveline standstill, only. Since the main gearbox changes the rotation speed by selection of a gear the PTO cannot be operated during driving. The vehicle needs to be stationary for operation therefore. On 4x4 vehicles only the rear driveshaft is used by the split shaft PTO gearbox requiring the vehicles 4x4 drive scheme to be of the selectable 4WD type to keep the front axle driveshaft completely decoupled during PTO operation. It is also possible to connect something other than a hydraulic pump directly to the PTO for example, fire truck pumps.
Sandwich Split Shaft
A Sandwich type split shaft unit is mounted between engine and transmission and used on road maintenance vehicles, fire fighting vehicles and off-road vehicles. This unit gets the drive directly from the engine shaft and can be capable of delivering up to the complete engine power to the PTO. Usually these units come with their own lubricating system. Due to the sandwich mounting style the gearbox will be moved away from the engine requiring the driveline to accommodate the installation.
- NASA Technical Memorandum 101731; Monitoring Techniques for "X-29A Aircraft's High Speed Rotating Power Takeoff Shaft"; David F Voracek, Ames Research Center, Dryden Flight Research Facility, Edwards, California, December 1990 [www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/pdf/88209main_H-1680.pdf]
- Pripps & Morland 1993, pp. 37–39.
- "Examiner: Fidrych suffocated to death". ESPN.com. 16 April 2009. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
- Power-Take-Off (PTO) Safety (PDF), National Safety Council, May 2009, retrieved 2009-12-14
- Privette, Charles (2002-03-01), Farm Safety & Health - PTO Safety, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Clemson University, archived from the original on March 28, 2005, retrieved 2007-04-19[dead link]
- hse.gov.uk, AS24(rev1)
- Pripps, Robert N.; Morland, Andrew (photographer) (1993), Farmall Tractors: History of International McCormick-Deering Farmall Tractors, Farm Tractor Color History Series, Osceola, WI, USA: MBI, ISBN 978-0-87938-763-1.
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