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Improving assembly of universal joints

How automating the manufacture of universal joints can reduce the pressure applied to the part, while maintaining functionality and quality. Nick Jordan explains

Universal joints play a critical role in the steering system.  They must transmit rotational input torque through the entire steering system via varying angles, at a consistent speed, without the resistance of radial play. 

Get it wrong, and the vehicle can suffer from reduced steering precision, leading to increased driver fatigue and vehicle maintenance costs. 

Traditionally, universal joint assembly involved combining a bearing assembly inside two yokes with one high-pressure press by a highly skilled operator. This method of staking universal joints is still widely used across the vehicle parts industry and is fit for purpose, but it has its limitations. 

The first improvement being consistency — manual processes are vulnerable to human error. The second being pressure — applying such a high-pressure force to a material can affect the material’s physical integrity. If it can be avoided, it should be avoided.

That’s why Pailton Engineering invested in two bespoke universal joint staking rigs, transforming the manual process into an automated one. 

The two machines can run simultaneously, to stake 19mm or 15mm universal joint variants. A huge benefit of these machines is the quality assurance and consistency of component assembly.

Every universal joint in a batch is assembled to the exact same high quality standards. Similarly, data recorded by the machines offers full traceability to show how the universal joint was built, including assembly pressure parameters. 

With this more controlled method of staking universal joints, we’ve been able to significantly reduce the pressure used within the process compared with the manual method, while maintaining functionality and quality. This offers a multitude of benefits providing a higher quality and longer lasting part for the end-user. 

Precise and accurate bearing assembly in the universal joint also enables smooth rotation over the lifespan of the steering system. This is especially important for vehicles where the steering tilt and telescope functions are adjusted daily, for improved driving ergonomics, comfort and safety.

The equipment has been installed in its own purpose-built clean room work area that is solely focused on universal joint assembly. The investment in equipment and overall performance is making bearing installation and universal joint assembly an easier and more consistent process.

With the added benefits of automating this manufacturing process, vehicle OEMs can now begin to focus on other options in universal joint sourcing. Whether they choose regreasable or service free universal joints, with high working angles and non-standard interface options, they can be confident they are getting quality parts. 

Universal joints may have been around for a long time, but to produce high quality bespoke steering parts for heavy vehicles and specialist vehicles, you need the latest manufacturing technology. By increasing the automation in our manufacturing processes, our new staking rigs are helping us satisfy the demands of vehicle OEMs for greater consistency, traceability and longevity.

Nick Jordan is head of engineering and quality at steering system specialist Pailton Engineering.

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