Introduction to Bearings

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Bearings form an essential component of a large number of machines that we use in our daily life. If these machines worked without them, we would be required to replace their components frequently, as they would get worn out too often due to friction. Here you’ll find out how they work, what are the different types of bearings, as well as a couple of other interesting facts about them.

The Basics

The idea behind bearings becomes quite simple if you understand that it is easier to roll things than sliding them. The wheels of a car are a kind of big bearings. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to maneuver your car if it was provided with skies rather than wheels?

When you slide something over a surface, friction naturally comes into play and that slows it down. However, friction is considerably reduced among two rolling surfaces.

We can substantially overcome friction by using bearings containing smooth metallic balls/rollers, sandwiched between an inner and out metallic surface against which the balls rotate. These balls/rollers bear the thrust and the device spins smoothly.


Bearings come in various designs and types for different types of applications. The most usual are ball and roller bearings. Then, we have roller thrust and ball thrust bearings, followed by tapered roller thrust bearings.

Ball bearings

They are easily the most often used bearings. You can find them in every item, from skates to car wheels and even electronic drives. They are capable of bearing thrust, as well as radial loads. They are frequently used where the load is low.

In their case, the load is transferred from the external race to the balls, and from there to the internal race. Since balls are spherical, these make a point contact with the external and internal race, allowing the item to rotate smoothly. Since balls make only a point contact, they can’t withstand much load. Therefore, if such a bearing gets overloaded, the balls go out of shape or get cracked, thus making the bearing worthless.

Roller Bearings

Applications that need to transmit heavier loads or radial loads, like in case of conveyor belts, necessarily need to use roller bearings. As the name suggests, in the place of balls, they contain rollers in cylindrical shape. Since the contact area of a roller is certainly much bigger than a ball or a sphere, these bearings have more contact area between the inner and outer casing. As a result, they are capable of supporting bigger loads, compared to ball bearings. However, this design can’t take a lot of thrust load.

Needle bearings are variants of roller bearings. They contain cylinders with very small diameters. As a result, the bearing can be fitted even in tight places.

Ball Thrust Bearing

Sometimes, we need bearings that need not withstand a lot of radial load and work at low speeds, as in the case of bar-stools and turntables. For such applications, ball thrust bearings are often used.

Roller Thrust Bearing

In applications with large loads, as in the case of transmission gears of a car, or the housing of rotating shafts, we use roller thrust bearings. Most transmission drives have helical gears with angled teeth, resulting to thrust loads that need to be supported on bearings.

Tapered Roller Bearings

Applications having large radial and thrust loads require the support of tapered roller bearings. Such bearings are often used in the hubs of cars. Typically, they are mounted in pairs and face in opposite direction, enabling them to hold thrust in either direction.

For some high-tech applications, special bearings need to be designed. Some examples of such bearings include giant roller bearings and magnetic bearings.

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