The world owes a lot to water, not only because it is responsible for sustaining life on Earth, but also because steam power has shaped the dynamics of rail transport. If you ever read the history of steam power, you will be surprised to know how crucial it has been throughout the centuries. When James Watt, a Scottish inventor, first displayed the immense power of steam in his developed form of steam engine, called Watt's steam engine, the world had already knocked on the doors of the industrial revolution. The world has witnessed various designs and technological advancements in the construction of these engines, but the basic principle of the working mechanism of this device has never changed.
Basic Construction and How a Steam Engine Works
The most important part of a steam engine is the steam boilers, or more commonly called the steam generators. The basic requirement for this engine is the boiling of the water, and the associated processes are attained by burning combustible materials. For example, such materials like coal were used in many old steam engines. Nowadays, even nuclear and geothermal energy sources are utilized for the boiling of water. The enclosed chamber, where the boiling process occurs, is supplied with air, so as to support the combustion of the fuel that is being used. This is called the combustion chamber or firebox. More precisely, the term boiler or steam generators is used to refer to the pressure vessels, which are used to boil the water. The term boilers was frequently used in the earlier times, but today, it is more popularly known as the steam generators. Generally, there are two type of boilers, the fire-tube and the water-tube boilers.
The motor unit is hailed as the driver of the steam engine, as it is the place where the heat is converted into mechanical work. This unit receives the influx of steam at a very high temperatures and pressure, and also allows the steam to exit at low temperature and pressure ranges, thereby creating a pressure difference. This energy is utilized in the mechanical work of the steam engine wheels, as it is the place where the heat is converted into mechanical work. A startling fact about water is that when it is converted into steam, water expands to about 1600 times than its usual volume. The enormous force produced by this conversion process forms the backbone of the steam engine power. The water from the firebox is transferred to the pressurized boiler, where it boils and is converted into steam. This steam is then passed through the motor unit that contains a piston inside a cylinder, which is used to push the steam to the working machinery. The powered machines drive the steam engine, and the resultant heat energy is converted into mechanical work. Crankshafts are also attached to the power machinery, to convert the linear motion of the pistons into rotatory motion.
The basic principle of conversion of heat energy into mechanical work has been craftily employed in the working of steam engines.