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Simple Machines

Mechanical Advantage

The term mechanical advantage is used to described how effectively a simple machine works. Mechanical advantage is defined as the resistance force moved divided by the effort force used. In the lever example above, for example, a person pushing with a force of 30 lb (13.5 kg) was able to move an object that weighed 180 lb (81 kg). So the mechanical advantage of the lever in that example was 180 lb divided by 30 lb, or 6.

The mechanical advantage described here is really the theoretical mechanical advantage of a machine. In actual practice, the mechanical advantage is always less than what a person might calculate. The main reason for this difference is resistance. When a person does work with a machine, there is always some resistance to that work. For example, you can calculate the theoretical mechanical advantage of a screw (a kind of simple machine) that is being forced into a piece of wood by a screwdriver. The actual mechanical advantage is much less than what is calculated because friction must be overcome in driving the screw into the wood.

Sometimes the mechanical advantage of a machine is less than one. That is, a person has to put in more force than the machine can move. Class three levers are examples of such machines. A person exerts more force on a class three lever than the lever can move. The purpose of a class three lever, therefore, is not to magnify the amount of force that can be moved, but to magnify the distance the force is being moved.

As an example of this kind of lever, imagine a person who is fishing with a long fishing rod. The person will exert a much larger force to take a fish out of the water than the fish itself weighs. The advantage of the fishing pole, however, is that it moves the fish a large distance, from the water to the boat or the shore.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Linear expansivity to Macrocosm and microcosmSimple Machines - Levers, Mechanical Advantage, Pulleys, Wheel And Axle, Inclined Planes, Screws, Compound Machines - Wedges