A Mechanical Advantage Overview

Written By: Lance Piatt

Mechanical Advantage Overview

Mechanical Advantage is a measure of the force multiplication achieved by using a tool. In most cases, this involves using pulleys, but that isn’t always the case. The purpose is to show how we can achieve more work with less people AND that sometimes having more people can actually be dangerous. An overeager group of strapping young men and women on a given mechanical advantage system can yield an explosion of power, that when not desired, could actually create problems.

We’ll start this course by getting an overview of what mechanical advantage theory is and how progressions work to build advantage into a system sequentially. Now, the word “theory” should grab your attention; it’s a vacuum word, and we don’t work in vacuums. Life throws all kinds of stuff at us and systems are no different. So, we’re aiming at introducing you to the personality and characteristics of mechanical advantage systems. And yes, we’ll be covering much more in the advanced section under Technician.

Most systems in place are used during either raise or lower systems, so we’ll focus on these two areas. However, we all know that while these make up roughly 70%-80% of our mechanical advantage needs, there are other areas we want to make you aware of. We’ll cover, in-depth, things like horizontal systems and elevated system later, but we’ll touch briefly on these here to give you some circumspection.

There are three categories of mechanical advantages using pulleys: SimpleCompound, and Complex.

  1. Simple MA: A Simple MA consists of a pulley system that has a single haul connection between the load and the haul team.
  2. Compound MA: A Compound MA is a simple mechanical advantage system pulling on the haul line of another simple mechanical advantage. Multiplying the two systems will give the total advantage.
  3. Complex MA (see more below)

5 Rules to Help Determine Simple & Compound Mechanical Advantage Systems:

There are five rules that can be used to determine simple and compound mechanical advantage systems.

  1. Rule #1: If the pulley closest to the haulers is on the anchor, the pulley is only considered a change of direction (cd). The same rule applies to ANY pulley system.
  2. Rule #2: If the rope used in the pulley system is tied to the anchor, the ideal mechanical advantage (IMA) will be EVEN (i.e., 2:1, 4:1. 6:1, etc.)
  3. Rule #3: If the rope used in the pulley system is tied to the load, the ideal mechanical advantage (IMA) will be ODD (i.e., 1:1, 3:1. 5:1, etc.)
  4. Rule #4: To determine the IMA of a simple pulley system, count the ropes between the anchor and the load. Do not count the ropes between two anchors.
  5. Rule #5: A simple MA pulling on the haul line of another simple MA is called a compound MA system.

Complex MA

A Complex MA system is neither simple or compound, and the above rules will not work in determining the system. The only way in determining the mechanical advantage of a complex MA system is by calculating the “tension units”. See “Critical Thinking On Mechanical Advantage Systems” at the end of this section for further details.

The combinations of pulleys that can be incorporated in an MA system are infinite. With this in mind, how many pulleys are needed, and what are the characteristics of a quality haul system?

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Peace on your Days



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