A belt is a loop of flexible material used to mechanically link two or more rotating shafts, most often parallel. Belts may be used as a source of motion, to transmit power efficiently, or to track relative movement. Belts are looped over pulleys and may have a twist between the pulleys, and the shafts need not be parallel. In a two pulley system, the belt can either drive the pulleys normally in one direction (the same if on parallel shafts), or the belt may be crossed, so that the direction of the driven shaft is reversed (the opposite direction to the driver if on parallel shafts). As a source of motion, a conveyor belt is one application where the belt is adapted to continuously carry a load between two points.
Belts are the cheapest utility for power transmission between shafts that may not be axially aligned. Power transmission is achieved by specially designed belts and pulleys. The demands on a belt drive transmission system are large and this has led to many variations on the theme. They run smoothly and with little noise, and cushion motor and bearings against load changes, albeit with less strength than gears or chains. However, improvements in belt engineering allow use of belts in systems that only formerly allowed chains or gears.
Belt drive, moreover, is simple, inexpensive, and does not require axially aligned shafts. It helps protect the machinery from overload and jam, and damps and isolates noise and vibration. Load fluctuations are shock-absorbed (cushioned). They need no lubrication and minimal maintenance. They have high efficiency (90-98%, usually 95%), high tolerance for misalignment, and are inexpensive if the shafts are far apart. Clutch action is activated by releasing belt tension. Different speeds can be obtained by step or tapered pulleys.