The pyramids of ancient Egypt, barstools, gearsets in car transmissions, and the earthquake-proof San Francisco International Airport all have one unlikely thing in common: bearings. While relatively simple to understand, the difference that using a bearing makes can be massive. And the reason is simple: according to basic physics, things that roll meet less frictional resistance than things that slide. Aptly named, bearings “bear” the load by using smooth metal for the balls or rollers, and the inner and outer surfaces they roll against to minimize the contact area and allow for less friction and smoother movement.
There are many different types of bearings which can be classified into three categories defined by their type of loading: radial, thrust, or a combination of both. While radial loads act at the right angles of the shaft, thrust loads act parallel to the axis of rotation. Radial loads require bearings such as roller bearings which use cylinders to hold heavy loads, or their thinner counterparts, the needle bearing. On the other hand, thrust loads can be handled with roller thrust bearings or ball thrust bearings which are commonly found in gearsets and barstools respectively. And finally, combination loads can use ball bearings for smaller loads and tapered roller bearings for larger loads like car hubs require.
Of course, beyond the examples already listed, many other technologies require bearings of all kinds to function, notably aviation technology. From the common ball bearing to the slightly less common tapered bearing and needle bearing, aviation technology has its uses for bearings of all sorts. With the diverse options in bearings on the market today, finding the right bearing to suit your aviation needs may seem daunting.
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