By ELIAS E. RIES.
The object of this paper is to lay before you the results of some recent experiments in a comparatively new field of operation, but one that, judging from the results already attained, is destined to become of great importance and value in its practical application to various branches of industry.
I say "comparatively new" because the underlying principles involved in the experiments referred to have, to a certain extent, been employed (in, however, a somewhat restricted sense) for purposes analogous to those that form the basis of this communication.
As indicated by the title, the subject that will now occupy our attention is the use of the electric current as a means of increasing and varying the frictional adhesion of rolling contacts and other rubbing surfaces, and it is proposed to show how this effect may be produced, both by means of the direct action of the current itself and by its indirect action through the agency of electro-magnetism.
Probably the first instance in which the electric current was directly employed to vary the amount of friction between two rubbing surfaces was exemplified in Edison's electro-motograph, in which the variations in the strength of a telephonic current caused corresponding variations in friction between a revolving cylinder of moistened chalk and the free end of an adjustable contact arm whose opposite extremity was attached to the diaphragm of the receiving telephone. This device was extremely sensitive to the least changes in current strength, and if it were not for the complication introduced by the revolving cylinder, it is very likely that it would to-day be more generally used.
It has also been discovered more recently that in the operation of electric railways in which the track rails form part of the circuit, a considerable increase in the tractive adhesion of the driving wheels is manifested, due to the passage of the return current from the wheels into the track. In the Baltimore and Hampden electric railway, using the Daft "third rail" system, this increased tractive adhesion enables the motors to ascend without slipping a long grade of 350 feet to the mile, drawing two heavily loaded cars, which result, it is claimed, is not attainable by steam or other self-propelling motors of similar weight. In the two instances just cited the conditions are widely different, as regards the nature of the current employed, the mechanical properties of the surfaces in contact, and the electrical resistance and the working conditions of the respective circuits. In both, however, as clearly demonstrated by the experiments hereinafter referred to, the cause of the increased friction is substantially the same.
In order to ascertain the practical value of the electric current as a means of increasing mechanical friction, and, if possible, render it commercially and practically useful wherever such additional friction might be desirable, as for example in the transmission of power, etc., a series of experiments were entered into by the author, which, though not yet fully completed, are sufficiently advanced to show that an electric current, when properly applied, is capable of very materially increasing the mechanical friction of rotating bodies, in some cases as much as from 50 to 100 per cent., with a very economical expenditure of current; this increase depending upon the nature of the substances in contact and being capable of being raised by an increased flow of current.
Before entering into a description of the means by which this result is produced, and how it is proposed to apply this method practically to railway and other purposes, it may be well to give a general outline of what has so far been determined. These experiments have shown that the coefficient of friction between two conducting surfaces is very much increased by the passage therethrough of an electric current of low electromotive force and large volume, and this is especially noticeable between two rolling surfaces in peripheral contact with each other, or between a rolling and a stationary surface, as in the case of a driving wheel running upon a railway rail. This effect increases with the number of amperes of current flowing through the circuit, of which the two surfaces form part, and is not materially affected by the electromotive force, so long as the latter is sufficient to overcome the electrical resistance of the circuit. This increase in frictional adhesion is principally noticeable in iron, steel, and other metallic bodies, and is due to a molecular change in the conducting substances at their point of contact (which is also the point of greatest resistance in the circuit), caused by the heat developed at that point. This heat is ordinarily imperceptible, and becomes apparent only when the current strength is largely augmented. It is therefore probable that a portion of this increased tractive adhesion is due directly to the current itself aside from its heating effect, although I have not as yet been able to ascertain this definitely.
The most economical and efficient results have been obtained by the employment of a transformed current of extremely low electromotive force (between ½ and 1 volt), but of very large volume or quantity, this latter being variable at will, so as to obtain different degrees of frictional resistance in the substances under observation.
These experiments were originally directed mainly toward an endeavor to increase the tractive adhesion of the driving wheels of locomotives and other vehicles, and to utilize the electric current for this purpose in such a manner as to render it entirely safe, practical, and economical. It will be apparent at once that a method of increasing the tractive power of the present steam locomotives by more than 50 per cent. without adding to their weight and without injury to the roadbed and wheel tires, such as is caused by the sand now commonly used, would prove of considerable value, and the same holds true with respect to electrically propelled street cars, especially as it has been found exceedingly difficult to secure sufficient tractive adhesion on street railways during the winter season, as well as at other times, on roads having grades of more than ordinary steepness. As this, therefore, is probably the most important use for this application of the electric current, it has been selected for illustrating this paper.