What is a Machine? – An Essential Guide

A machine is any device that does work. Machines make our lives a bit easier because they reduce the amount of energy, power, and time we need to get one thing done by magnifying our input force.

A machine can increase the magnitude, or the distance of a force but not both at the same time.

Machines come in many sizes, shapes, and forms. Some machines are simple in their makeup and use, while others are very complex.

What is A Machine?

A machine is any physical system with ordered structural and functional properties. It may represent a human-made or naturally occurring device molecular machine that uses power to apply forces and control movement to perform an action.

The machine is a device that has a unique purpose, that augments or replaces human or animal effort for the accomplishment of physical tasks. This broad category encompasses such simple devices as the inclined plane, lever, wedge, wheel and axle, pulley, and screw (the so-called simple machines) as well as such complex mechanical systems as the modern automobile.

Machines can be driven by animals and people, by natural forces such as wind and water, and by chemical, thermal, or electrical power, and include a system of mechanisms that shape the actuator input to achieve a specific application of output forces and movement. They can also include computers and sensors that monitor performance and plan movement, often called mechanical systems.

Renaissance natural philosophers identified six simple machines which were the elementary devices that put a load into motion and calculated the ratio of output force to input force, known today as mechanical advantage.

Modern machines are complex systems that consist of structural elements, mechanisms, and control components and include interfaces for convenient use.

Examples include a wide range of vehicles, such as automobiles, boats, and airplanes; appliances in the home and office, including computers, building air handling and water handling systems; as well as farm machinery, machine tools, and factory automation systems and robots.

What is Machine

Operation Of a Machine

The operation of a machine may involve the transformation of chemical, thermal, electrical, or nuclear energy into mechanical energy, or vice versa, or its function may simply be to modify and transmit forces and motions. All machines have an input, an output, and a transforming or modifying and transmitting device.

Machines that receive their input energy from a natural source, such as air currents, moving water, coal, petroleum, or uranium, and transform it into mechanical energy are known as prime movers. Windmills, waterwheels, turbines, steam engines, and internal combustion engines are prime movers.

In these machines the inputs vary; the outputs are usually rotating shafts capable of being used as inputs to other machines, such as electric generators, hydraulic pumps, or air compressors. All three of the latter devices may be classified as generators; their outputs of electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic energy can be used as inputs to electric, hydraulic, or air motors.

These motors can be used to drive machines with a variety of outputs, such as materials processing, packaging, or conveying machinery, or such appliances as sewing machines and washing machines.

All machines of the latter type and all others that are neither prime movers, generators, nor motors may be classified as operators. This category also includes manually operated instruments of all kinds, such as calculating machines and typewriters.

In some cases, machines in all categories are combined in one unit. In a diesel-electric locomotive, for example, the diesel engine is the prime mover, which drives the electric generator, which, in turn, supplies the electric current to the motors that drive the wheels.

Mechanism of a machine

According to the definition, both forces and motions are transmitted and modified in a machine. The way in which the parts of a machine are interconnected and guided to produce a required output motion from a given input motion is known as the mechanism of the machine.

The piston, connecting rod, and crankshaft in a reciprocating engine constitute a mechanism for changing the rectilinear motion of the piston into the rotary motion of the crankshaft.

Although both forces and motions are involved in the operation of machines, the primary function of a machine may be either the amplification of force or the modification of motion. A lever is essentially a force increaser, while a gearbox is most often used as a speed reducer.

The motions and forces in a machine are inseparable, however, and are always in an inverse ratio. The output force on a lever is greater than the input force, but the output motion is less than the input motion.

Similarly, the output speed of a gear reducer is less than the input speed, but the output torque is greater than the input torque. In the first case, a gain in force is accompanied by a loss in motion, while in the second case a loss in motion is accompanied by a gain in torque.

Although the primary function of some machines can be identified, it would be difficult to classify all machines as either force or motion modifiers; some machines belong in both categories. All machines, however, must perform a motion-modifying function, since if the parts of a mechanical device do not move, it is a structure, not a machine.

Types of machines

Machines come in two kinds — Simple Machines and Complex Machines.

Simple Machines

A simple machine is a tool, device, or object with few moving parts that help us do work. Simple machines have been in use for a very long time. Early humans used simple machines to push, pull, lift, divide, and crush things. They used simple machines to row rafts over water, build houses, split firewood, and carry heavy items from place to place. Today, there are simple machines everywhere and all around us.

There are six types of simple machinesthe inclined plane, the wedge, the screw, the lever, the wheel and axle, and the pulley. These six have specific features and do unique jobs, even though some may work in similar ways. Some simple machines may be a combination of simple machines.



Simple machines, unlike complex ones, do not work on their own. They only increase the pull or push (force or effort) that a person uses, increase or decrease the distance, or change the direction of a movement so that more work is done. They can:

  • Transfer a force from one place to another
  • Change the direction of a force
  • Increase the magnitude of a force
  • Increase the distance or speed of a force

Features of a simple machine:

  • They do not use electricity
  • They have one or fewer moving parts
  • They give us a mechanical advantage
  • Even though they make work easier for us, they still need input (force or effort) from a person.
  • They make tough jobs easier by changing the force, direction, or speed of a movement.

Complex Machines

Simple machines are different from complex (or compound machines). Complex machines, like trucks, wagons, or bicycles, use many moving parts. They combine many simple machines such as levers, pulleys, and gears to get work done.

Now, we shall look at each example of a simple machine.