Towards Factory Power

WATT’S ROTATIVE STEAM ENGINE

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Matthew Boulton intended that steam power should be applied to drive factory machines as well as pump water. James Watt’s rotative steam engine first developed in the 1780s provided a solution.

The early Newcomen engine design had been applied to power-rotating machinery, but its movement was not smooth enough for many industrial applications – although it had been used for raising coal out of mines where some irregular movement was not significant. Watt sought a smooth and controlled rotative engine as well as features, such as flywheels, which would smooth the force from the piston as it was moved by the varying pressures across it.

The first task was to move from driving the piston in one direction to powering it each way. This was known as double acting and needed a design which would direct steam alternately to each end of the cylinder while the other end was connected to the condenser. A technically advanced valve gear, however, would also be needed to control the movement of steam through the engine. Watt developed his doubleacting valve gear to control steam flow from the boiler to the condenser, above and below the piston in the cylinder.

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