Machine element refers to an elementary component of a machine. These elements consist of three basic types:
1. structural components such as frame members, bearings, axles, splines, fasteners, seals, and lubricants,
2. mechanisms that control movement in various ways such as gear trains, belt or chain drives, linkages, cam and follower systems, including brakes and clutches, and
3. control components such as buttons, switches, indicators, sensors, actuators and computer controllers. While generally not considered to be a machine element, the shape, texture and color of covers are an important part of a machine that provide a styling and operational interface between the mechanical components of a machine and its users.
Machine elements are basic mechanical parts and features used as the building blocks of most machines. Most are standardized to common sizes, but customs are also common for specialized applications.
Machine elements may be features of a part (such as screw threads or integral plain bearings) or they may be discrete parts in and of themselves such as wheels, axles, pulleys, rolling-element bearings, or gears. All of the simple machines may be described as machine elements, and many machine elements incorporate concepts of one or more simple machines. For example, a leadscrew incorporates a screw thread, which is an inclined plane wrapped around a cylinder.
Many mechanical design, invention, and engineering tasks involve a knowledge of various machine elements and an intelligent and creative combining of these elements into a component or assembly that fills a need (serves an application).