air brake

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brake, in technology, device to slow or stop the motion of a mechanism or vehicle.


Friction Brakes

Friction brakes, the most common kind, operate on the principle that friction can be used to convert the mechanical energy of a moving object into heat energy, which is absorbed by the brake. The essential components of a friction brake are a rotating part, such as a wheel, axle, disk, or brake drum, and a stationary part that is pressed against the rotating part to slow or stop it. The stationary part usually has a lining, called a brake lining, that can generate a great amount of friction yet give long wear; it formerly contained asbestos, but this is being replaced by less efficient materials for environmental reasons.

The principal types of friction brake are the block brake, the band brake, the internal-shoe brake, and the disk brake. The block brake consists of a block, the stationary part, that is shaped to fit the contour of a wheel or drum. For example, a wooden block applied to the rim of a wheel has long been used to slow or stop horse-drawn vehicles. A simple band brake consists of a metal band, the stationary part, that can be tightened around a drum by means of a lever. It is found on hoists and excavating machinery. The internal-shoe brake has a drum that contains two stationary semicircular pieces, or shoes, which slow or stop the motion of the drum by pressing against its inner surface. This is the type of brake most often found on automobiles, with an internal-shoe brake drum located on the central part of each wheel. A disk brake of the type used on automobiles has a metal disk and pistons with friction pads that can close on the disk and slow it.

Electric Brakes

A machine that is driven by an electric motor can sometimes use its motor as a brake. Because inertia keeps the machine's shafts moving after the current to the electric motor has been shut off, the machine keeps the motor's armature turning. While this is happening, if the motor's action can be changed to that of a generator, the electric current produced will be drawing its energy from the machine, thus slowing it. However, since such a braking method is not suitable for bringing the machine to a quick stop, it is usually supplemented by friction brakes.

Braking Systems

A manually operated brake pedal or handle is used to activate a brake. With low-power machinery or vehicles the operator can usually apply sufficient force through a simple mechanical linkage from the pedal or handle to the stationary part of the brake. In many cases, however, this force must be multiplied by using an elaborate braking system. In many modern braking systems there no longer is a direct connection between the pedal and the brake; a sensor is used register the force applied to the pedal, and that information is used to determine the pressure to apply to the brake. Automobile braking systems may also include an override that disables the accelerator when the brake is activated. An antilock braking system (ABS) uses sensors to identify when a wheel is locking and then applies and releases the brake automatically several times per second to prevent lockup. ABS can prevent skids, permitting controlled stops, and decreases the amount of time and distance needed to stop a car.

The Air Brake System

An early system for multiplying the braking force, called the air brake system, or air brake, was invented by American manufacturer George Westinghouse and was first used on passenger trains in 1868. It is now widely used on railroad trains. The fundamental principle involved is the use of compressed air acting through a piston in a cylinder to set block brakes on the wheels. The action is simultaneous on the wheels of all the cars in the train. The compressed air is carried through a strong hose from car to car with couplings between cars; its release to all the separate block brake units, at the same time, is controlled by the engineer. An automatic feature provides for the setting of all the block brakes in the event of damage to the brake hose, leakage, or damage to individual brake units. Railroad braking can be enhanced by collision avoidance systems that will stop train movement without human intervention in certain situations, such as when there is a danger of collision. In the United States, positive train control, a system that uses GPS devices, radio, and computers to automate emergency braking, was fully installed on some 58,000 mi (93,000 km) of track in 2020; it was first mandated by Congress in 2008. The air brake is used also on subway trains, trolley cars, buses, and trucks.

The Hydraulic Brake System

The hydraulic brake system, or hydraulic brake, is used on almost all automobiles (see hydraulic machine). When the brake pedal of an automobile is depressed, a force is applied to a piston in a master cylinder. The piston forces hydraulic fluid through metal tubing into a cylinder in each wheel where the fluid's pressure moves two pistons that press the brake shoes against the drum.

The Vacuum Brake System

The vacuum brake system, or vacuum brake, depends upon the use of a vacuum to force a piston in a cylinder to hold a brake shoe off a drum; when the vacuum is destroyed, the shoe is released and presses on the drum. In an automotive power brake system, extra pressure can be exerted on the hydraulic master cylinder piston by a vacuum brake's piston.
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air brake

[′er ‚brāk]
(mechanical engineering)
An energy-conversion mechanism activated by air pressure and used to retard, stop, or hold a vehicle or, generally, any moving element.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Air brake

A friction type of energy-conversion mechanism used to retard, stop, or hold a vehicle or other moving element. The activating force is applied by a difference in air pressure. With an air brake, a slight effort by the operator can quickly apply full braking force. See Friction

The air brake, operated by compressed air, is used in buses; heavy-duty trucks, tractors, and trailers; and off-road equipment. The air brake is required by law on locomotives and railroad cars. The wheel-brake mechanism is usually either a drum or a disk brake. The choice of an air brake instead of a mechanical, hydraulic, or electrical brake depends partly on the availability of an air supply and the method of brake control.

In a motor vehicle, the air-brake system consists of three subsystems: the air-supply, air-delivery, and parking/emergency systems. The air-supply system includes the compressor, reservoirs, governor, pressure gage, low-pressure indicator, and safety valve. The engine-driven compressor takes in air and compresses it for use by the brakes and other air-operated components. The compressor is controlled by a governor that maintains air compression within a preselected range. The compressed air is stored in reservoirs. The air-delivery system includes a foot-operated brake valve, one or more relay valves, the quick-release valve, and the brake chambers. The system delivers compressed air from the air reservoirs to the brake chambers, while controlling the pressure of the air. The amount of braking is thereby regulated. In the brake chambers, the air pressure is converted into a mechanical force to apply the brakes. As the pressure increases in each brake chamber, movement of the diaphragm pushrod forces the friction element against the rotating surface to provide braking. When the driver releases the brake valve, the quick-release valve and the relay valve release the compressed air from the brake chambers. The parking/emergency system includes a parking-brake control valve and spring brake chambers. These chambers contain a strong spring to mechanically apply the brakes (if the brakes are properly adjusted) when air pressure is not available. During normal vehicle operation, the spring is held compressed by system air pressure acting on a diaphragm. For emergency stopping, the air-brake system is split into a front brake system and a rear brake system. If air pressure is lost in the front brake system, the rear brake system will continue to operate. However, the supply air will be depleted after several brake applications. Loss of air pressure in the rear brake system makes the front brake system responsible for stopping the vehicle, until the supply air is depleted.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

air brake

1. a brake operated by compressed air, esp in heavy vehicles and trains
2. an articulated flap or small parachute for reducing the speed of an aircraft
3. a rotary fan or propeller connected to a shaft to reduce its speed
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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