Ball bearings may appear simple but companies are continually trying to find ways of improving the design and manufacturing of these mechanical components. The goal is to create ball bearings that are more durable, effective, and cost-efficient than their predecessors. It comes down to the materials and manufacturing.
Listed below are some of the emerging innovative trends in ball bearings, and their recommended applications.
1. Quieter chrome steel bearings
Chrome steel is a common material used to make ball bearings. With the newer versions, additional melting steps are added to the manufacturing process. This results in a machine component with extremely fine grains. The fine grains make the ball bearings produce less noise when in motion. Steel has also undergone a number of innovations.
The modified metal alloy produces ball bearings that are hardier, more weather resistant and features a longer fatigue life.
2. Durable tungsten carbide
The use of more traditional ball bearings made out of stainless steel is limited to a number of industries. They cannot be used in mechanisms, situations or environments where the bearings are subject to high loads, extreme temperatures or constant impact and wear.
Ball bearings used in hydraulic valves and similar applications need to be replaced on a regular basis. The development of tungsten carbide and other similar hardy metals has changed this.
Tungsten carbide features a number of desirable properties. As a material, it is resistant to wear and corrosion. It is also suitable for use in environments where the metal is subject to high temperatures, high stress, high impact, and low lubrication. This makes tungsten carbide ball bearings more desirable in a wide variety of industries and applications.
3. Plastic technology
In the past, ball bearings made out of plastic were restricted to applications that didn’t involve supporting heavy loads. Different types of plastic have become available over the years, with some types having a longer fatigue life. Although their use is still restricted to situations where there is low stress and temperatures, the new plastic ball bearings feature better resistance against corrosion, require minimal lubrication, and are stronger.
Furthermore, the newer models are water-resistant and quick to manufacture. With these desirable features, businesses are finding more applications for this type of ball bearings.
4. Units with sensors
One of the latest trends involves installing sensors inside the ball bearings to improve performance. These sensors collect digital data on acceleration, deceleration, rotation speed, capacity to carry load and axial movement. These types of ball bearings are currently being used in electric motors, conveyors, forklifts and road rollers among others.
5. Specialized bearings
Certain industries are designing and manufacturing their own ball bearings. The aim is to create ball bearings that are in line with the industry’s specific needs. For instance, the wind energy sector requires high quality ball bearings that last long and require minimal maintenance. This is to lower maintenance costs and carbon emission levels.
6. More demand for integrated units
Integrated bearings are specialized types that are designed to handle large loads. Its design makes it possible to reduce the number of ball bearings in a single assembly. This can help reduce the production cost of equipment, and improve the reliability of the machine while making the product more efficient.
Integrated bearings are currently being used in the aerospace and automotive industries.
7. Alternative materials
Some businesses are looking into creating ball bearings out of materials besides the usual metal and plastic. Out of all the alternative materials, ceramic holds the most potential. Much like plastic, the material is lightweight and also reduces friction plus energy consumption.
Ball bearings may seem like small, insignificant components but their design and production can change how machines function. These tiny parts are being used in a wide range of machines and industries including commercial and military aircrafts, dental, medicine, car racing and in industries that utilize high technology among others.
With developments in technology and the manufacturing process, vendors are producing better, lighter, more reliable and durable ball bearings. The result is more efficient machines that require minimal maintenance.
Hassanein Alwan is the Marketing Director of Mineral Circles Bearings with more than 10 years' experience in the bearing industry's technical support division, strategic business development consultancy as well as sales and marketing.
With a degree of Master of Science in Engineering from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and an International Diploma in Business from the University of Cambridge, he started his career in Sweden as a Machine Safety engineer for Gröna Lund and as SAAB Aerosystems' Aeronautical engineer. Today, he serves as a member of the Know Your Market Committee after joining EPTDA in 2013.