Belt drives have been used for more than 200 years for conveyance of materials and transmission of load. There are three basic types of power transmission belts – flat belts, V-belts, and synchronous belts. Flat belts have a rectangular cross section and are efficient due to low bending losses, low creep, and high modulus of elasticity of traction layers. V-belts are trapezoidal in cross section and are used in industrial applications because of their relative low cost, ease of installation, and wide range of sizes. These belts work as friction-fit drive elements, using the friction between the belt and the pulley to transmit power. They have a higher power transmission capacity than flat belts as the slip between the belt and pulley is negligible, while the higher friction on the belt flanks substantially lowers the loads on the bearings.
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Synchronous belts provide similar engagement as gears or chains, where the toothed profile meshes with corresponding grooves in the pulleys. They are used in applications where indexing, positioning, or a constant speed ratio is required. In internal combustion engines, they are used to drive camshafts, fuel injection pumps, balancer shafts, and water pumps. The new trend in the automobile industry is to downsize engines, thereby reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Downsizing of engines mandates the use of high horsepower engines. This has made rubber transmission belts crucial to automobile manufacturers.
Compared to chain drives, rubber transmission belts have low noise operation and stable and non-slippery drive. They do not require lubrication and are light in weight. Thus, rubber transmission belts help save energy. Transmission belts can be homogeneously made of rubber or they can be reinforced by aramid, steel, or nylon fibers for high strength applications. Different types of rubber materials are used depending upon the specific application environment. Synthetic rubber, a crude oil by-product, is widely used in transmission belt applications as compared to natural rubber. Chloroprene-based rubber transmission belts are flame resistant and are used for difficult working conditions such as underground mining pits. Ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) based rubber transmission belts are resistant to acid, oxygen, and ozone belts. They are used for high-temperature applications in foundries, cement works, steelworks, lime kilns, and brickworks. Nitrile-based rubber transmission belts operate at high temperatures and are resistant to oil and grease. Silicone rubber belts are resistant to chemicals, greases, and oils and have an exceptional anti-adhesive effect. Styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) transmission belts are resistant to abrasion and have good antistatic properties. Natural rubber transmission belts are used for general purpose applications and have low level of damping. Most transmission belts used in automobiles are made up of blends of the rubbers mentioned above.
The rubber transmission belt market is fragmented with a number of manufacturers scattered throughout the world. Asia Pacific is the largest manufacturer of rubber transmission belts with China being the dominant player in the market. Countries such as India, Thailand, and Malaysia use a significant proportion of natural rubber in their rubber belt formulations. However, since synthetic rubber prices have fallen in the last couple of years due to the drop in crude oil prices, the use of synthetic in rubber transmission belts is set to rise in the countries mentioned above. The U.S. is increasing its production of synthetic rubber belts as exploration of shale gas has led to a fall in prices of synthetic right. Among the consumers of rubber transmission belts, China is the leader, followed by the U.S. and Japan. Europe is witnessing a higher demand due to the increasing use of rubber transmission belts by automobile manufacturers in the region. Among the types of rubber, SBR transmission belts account for the largest market share in terms of volume. Among the belt types, the usage of synchronous belts is rising significantly in vehicular and industrial applications.
Key players operating in the rubber transmission belt market are Gates Corporation, TEC Belting Company, Bando Chemical Industries, Ltd., New England Belting Company, Belt corporation of America, Hsin Yung Chien Co., Ltd, Volga Transmissions Pvt. Ltd, PIX Transmissions Pvt. Ltd., Royal Auto International and J.K. Fenner (India) Limited.
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