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Geneva mechanism 6spoke animation.gif

The Geneva drive or Maltese cross is a mechanism that translates a continuous rotation into an intermittent rotary motion. It is an intermittent gear where the drive wheel has a pin that reaches into a slot of the driven wheel and thereby advances it by one step. The drive wheel also has a raised circular blocking disc that locks the driven wheel in position between steps.



The name derives from the device's earliest application in mechanical watches, Switzerland and Geneva being an important center of watchmaking. The geneva drive is also commonly called a Maltese cross mechanism due to the visual resemblance.

In the most common arrangement, the driven wheel has four slots and thus advances for each rotation of the drive wheel by one step of 90°. If the driven wheel has n slots, it advances by 360/n° per full rotation of the drive wheel.

Geneva drive.svg

Because the mechanism needs to be well lubricated, it is often enclosed in an oil capsule.

Uses and applications

One application of the Geneva drive is in movie projectors: the film does not run continuously through the projector. Instead, the film is advanced frame by frame, each frame standing still in front of the lens for 1/24 of a second (and being exposed twice in that time, resulting in a frequency of 48 Hz). This intermittent motion is achieved using a Geneva drive. (Modern film projectors may also use an electronically controlled indexing mechanism or stepper motor, which allows for fast-forwarding the film.) The first uses of the Geneva drive in film projectors go back to 1896 to the projectors of Oskar Messter and Max Gliewe and the Teatrograph of Robert William Paul. Previous projectors, including Thomas Armat's projector, marketed by Edison as the Vitascope, had used a "beater mechanism", invented by Georges Demenÿ in 1893, to achieve intermittent film transport.

Geneva wheels having the form of the driven wheel were also used in mechanical watches, but not in a drive, rather to limit the tension of the spring, such that it would operate only in the range where its elastic force is nearly linear. If one of the slots of the driven wheel is occluded, the number of rotations the drive wheel can make is limited. In watches, the "drive" wheel is the one that winds up the spring, and the Geneva wheel with four or five spokes and one closed slot prevents overwinding (and also complete unwinding) of the spring. This so-called Geneva stop or "Geneva stop work" was the invention of 17th or 18th century watchmakers.

Other applications of the Geneva drive include the pen change mechanism in plotters, automated sampling devices, indexing tables in assembly lines, tool changers for CNC machines, and so on. The Iron Ring Clock uses a Geneva mechanism to provide intermittent motion to one of its rings.

Internal Geneva drive

Internal Geneva drive

Besides the external Geneva drive shown in the diagram above, there is also an internal Geneva drive. The external form is the more common, as it can be built smaller and can withstand higher mechanical stresses. The axis of the drive wheel of the internal Geneva drive can have a bearing only on one side. The angle by which the drive wheel has to rotate to effect one step rotation of the driven wheel is always smaller than 180° in an external Geneva drive and always greater than 180° in an internal one, where the switch time is therefore greater than the time the driven wheel stands still.

See also

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Wikipedia has an article on:


A Geneva wheel. Continuous rotation of the green drive wheel produces intermittent rotary motion of the red driven wheel.

Geneva wheel

Geneva wheels

Geneva wheel (plural Geneva wheels)

  1. A mechanism that translates a continuous rotation into an intermittent rotary motion.




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