Torsional vibration

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Torsional vibration is angular vibration of an object—commonly a shaft along its axis of rotation. Torsional vibration is often a concern in power transmission systems using rotating shafts or couplings where it can cause failures if not controlled. A second effect of torsional vibrations applies to passenger cars. Torsional vibrations can lead to seat vibrations or noise at certain speeds. Both reduce the comfort.

In ideal power generation, or transmission, systems using rotating parts, not only the torques applied or reacted are "smooth" leading to constant speeds, but also the rotating plane where the power is generated (or input) and the plane it is taken out (output) are the same. In reality this is not the case. The torques generated may not be smooth (e.g., internal combustion engines) or the component being driven may not react to the torque smoothly (e.g., reciprocating compressors), and the power generating plane is normally at some distance to the power takeoff plane. Also, the components transmitting the torque can generate non-smooth or alternating torques (e.g., elastic drive belts, worn gears, misaligned shafts). Because no material can be infinitely stiff, these alternating torques applied at some distance on a shaft cause twisting vibration about the axis of rotation.

Sources of torsional vibration[edit]

Torsional vibration can be introduced into a drive train by the power source. But even a drive train with a very smooth rotational input can develop torsional vibrations through internal components. Common sources are:

  • Internal combustion engine: The torsional vibrations of the not continuous combustion and the crank shaft geometry itself cause torsional vibrations[1]
  • Reciprocating compressor: The pistons experience discontinuous forces from the compression.[2]
  • Universal joint: The geometry of this joint causes torsional vibrations if the shafts are not parallel.
  • Stick slip: During the engagement of a friction element, stick slip situations create torsional vibrations.
  • Lash: Lash in a drive train can cause torsional vibrations if the direction of rotation is changed.

Crankshaft torsional vibration[edit]

Torsional vibration is a concern in the crankshafts of internal combustion engines because it could break the crankshaft itself; shear-off the flywheel; or cause driven belts, gears and attached components to fail, especially when the frequency of the vibration matches the torsional resonant frequency of the crankshaft. Causes of the torsional vibration are attributed to several factors.

  • Alternating torques are generated by the slider-crank mechanism of the crankshaft, connecting rod, and piston.
    • The cylinder pressure due to combustion is not constant through the combustion cycle.
    • The slider-crank mechanism does not output a smooth torque even if the pressure is constant (e.g., at top dead centre there is no torque generated)
    • The motion of the piston mass and connecting rod mass generate alternating torques often referred to as "inertia" torques
  • Engines with six or more cylinders in a straight line configuration can have very flexible crankshafts due to their long length.
  • 2 Stroke Engines generally have smaller bearing overlap between the main and the pin bearings due to the larger stroke length, hence increasing the flexibility of the Crankshaft due to decreased stiffness.
  • There is inherently little damping in a crankshaft to reduce the vibration except for the shearing resistance of oil film in the main and conrod bearings.

If torsional vibration is not controlled in a crankshaft it can cause failure of the crankshaft or any accessories that are being driven by the crankshaft (typically at the front of the engine; the inertia of the flywheel normally reduces the motion at the rear of the engine).

This potentially damaging vibration is often controlled by a torsional damper that is located at the front nose of the crankshaft (in automobiles it is often integrated into the front pulley). There are two main types of torsional dampers.

  • Viscous dampers consist of an inertia ring in a viscous fluid. The torsional vibration of the crankshaft forces the fluid through narrow passages that dissipates the vibration as heat. The viscous torsional damper is analogous to the hydraulic shock absorber in a car's suspension.
  • Tuned absorber type of "dampers" often referred to as a harmonic dampers or harmonic balancers (even though it technically does not dampen or balance the crankshaft). This damper uses a spring element (often rubber in automobile engines) and an inertia ring that is typically tuned to the first torsional natural frequency of the crankshaft. This type of damper reduces the vibration at specific engine speeds when an excitation torque excites the first natural frequency of the crankshaft, but not at other speeds. This type of damper is analogous to the tuned mass dampers used in skyscrapers to reduce the building motion during an earthquake.

Measuring torsional vibration on physical systems[edit]

The most common way to measure torsional vibration is the approach of using equidistant pulses over one shaft revolution. Dedicated shaft encoders as well as gear tooth pickup transducers (induction, hall-effect, variable reluctance,etc.) can generate these pulses. The resulting encoder pulse train is converted into either a digital rpm reading or a voltage proportional to the rpm.

The use of a dual-beam laser is another technique that is used to measure torsional vibrations. The operation of the dual-beam laser is based on the difference in reflection frequency of two perfectly aligned beams pointing at different points on a shaft. Despite its specific advantages, this method yields a limited frequency range, requires line-of-sight from the part to the laser, and represents multiple lasers in case several measurement points need to be measured in parallel.

Torsional vibration software[edit]

There are many software packages that are capable of solving the torsional vibration system of equations. Torsional vibration specific codes are more versatile for design and system validation purposes and can produce simulation data that can readily compared to published industry standards. These codes make it easy to add system branches, mass-elastic data, steady-state loads, transient disturbances and many other items only a rotordynamicist would need. Torsional vibration specific codes:

  • ARMD TORSION (Rotor Bearing Technology & Software, Inc.) - Commercial FEA-based software for performing damped and undamped torsional natural frequencies, mode shapes, steady-state and time-transient response of mechanical drive trains with inputs of various types of external excitation, synchronous motor start-up torque, compressor torques, and electrical system disturbances. Used worldwide by researchers, OEMs and end-users across all industries.

See also[edit]


  • Nestorides, E.J., BICERA: A Handbook on Torsional Vibration, University Press, 1958, ISBN 0-521-04326-3


  1. ^ Den Hartog, J. P. (1985). Mechanical Vibrations. Nineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. p. 174. ISBN 0-486-64785-4. 
  2. ^ Feese, Hill. "Prevention of Torsional Vibration Problems in Reciprocating Machinery" (PDF). Engineering Dynamics Incorporated. Retrieved 17 October 2013. 

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