Complex Machines: Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:03 Definition of a…
  • 0:50 The Six Simple Machines
  • 2:52 Types of Complex Machines
  • 3:39 Example of Complex Machines
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

After completing this lesson, you'll understand how a stapler is a complex machine made up of two simpler machines. You'll learn about the six simple machines that combine in various ways to make some pretty cool complex machines that you use every day.

Definition of a Complex Machine

Look around you, and you are sure to find examples of complex machines at work. Just look at your stapler on your desk. That's a complicated machine. Why? Because the definition of a complex machine is a machine made up of two or more simple machines that make your work easier to do.

Take your stapler. Doesn't this complex machine make your work of stapling a few pieces of paper together easier? Can you imagine stapling them together without the use of a stapler? You'd be standing there with a little piece of wire and a hammer and trying to hammer the wire through your pieces of paper. Doesn't sound so easy, does it? Looking at it this way, your little stapler now seems like a pretty mighty tool.

The Six Simple Machines

The funny thing is, that little stapler, which now seems like a very powerful tool, is actually just a combination of two simple machines. Surprisingly, there are only six simple machines that are used to make complex machines.

1. The Lever

You have the lever which is a plank that rests on the tip of a triangular platform. The platform lets the plank move up and down when pushed down on one side. The platform, or fulcrum, can be placed anywhere underneath the plank. To make it easier to lift heavy items, the fulcrum is moved closer to the object while you push on the other end. A good example of such a lever is a crowbar. A see-saw is an another example of a lever, but in that case, the fulcrum is in the middle.

2. The Inclined Plane

The inclined plane is like the ramp that movers use to roll things from the ground up into their trucks.

3. The Wheel and Axle

You know what a wheel is. Almost anything that turns and goes uses a wheel, like your bicycle. The axle is the rod that runs through the wheels. It helps the wheel and gears rotate.

4. The Wedge

You also have a wedge, which is triangular in shape. The sharp end is used to split things apart. An axe, for example, is a wedge with a handle.

5. Pulley

A pulley is a tool used to make lifting things easier. It uses a rope that goes around a wheel. You pull one side of the rope, and the pulley makes it easier to lift a load attached to the other end of the rope.

6. Screw

Lastly, you have the screw. Screws are used to screw things together. Your house is built with screws, and if you look at the bottom or sides of your computer, you'll see screws that are keeping the cover of your computer on.

Believe it or not, all complex machines are made using a combination of these six simple machines.

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