Linear Bearings Make Modern Movement More Bearable

by Amy Harris, IQS Editor

Driving cautiously to work this morning, I was surrounded by lake effect snowfall and well-below freezing temperatures. My appreciation of the beautiful view was soon replaced by a singular focus of staying on the road. As the back wheels of my car slipped going around the corners and took away my sense of control, it caused me to desire one thing: friction. Having grown up many miles away from snowy winters, the combination of slick roads and cold tires sometimes proves too much for my previous warm weather driving experience. At those times, all I need is some more resistance between my vehicle and the road to slow it down and provide traction, so that my wheels don’t move quite so smoothly across the glossy ice and the process of motion is slowed dramatically. For manufacturers of linear bearings however, the desire is exactly the opposite – they look for ways to reduce friction and to create the least amount of resistance possible in order to make transportation of goods and products smoother and faster.

Photo courtesy of ROLLON Corp.

From the mechanisms moving our cars and bicycles and strollers, to conveyor belts at grocery stores and airports, to the machinery in countless warehouses and factories manufacturing products and services we all use – movement and transportation are critical elements of many areas of daily life. Often the mechanical motion in industrial or manufacturing settings is supported by handy mechanisms known as linear bearings. Mostly used in straight line motion with the repetition of direction and speed, linear motion bearings provide a sliding contact between two surfaces enabling them to pass across each other with minimal friction. Think of it as marbles between two pieces of wood, or a panel of ice between tires and the road providing a smooth passage: the goal is to make the process of motion smoother and more efficient in order to cut down on energy expenditure.

Photo courtesy of Del-Tron Precision, Inc.

These bearings may seem relatively insignificant – it isn’t often you hear about the accomplishments of linear roller bearings, and yet let’s think about it: small tasks like opening a drawer, using a “Lazy Susan” or much larger tasks like the efficient running of a car engine and wheel mechanisms would be difficult, in some cases impossible, without the addition of linear ball bearings, linear rotary bearings, slide bearings and other varieties of bearings. The San Francisco International Airport has used ball bearings in a rather important preventative manner. In an attempt to ward off earthquake damage, the foundations of the terminals are resting on giant ball bearings – this will allow the ground and building in theory to be able to withstand the motion of an earthquake without the stress proving too much for the structure. The principle of bearings allowing surfaces to move across each other without causing damage is applied in large form in this architectural design.

Photo courtesy of Tusk Direct, Inc.

As with many industrial terms, it is easy to hear ‘linear bearings’ and think nothing of how much the small (or in the case of the San Francisco International Airport – large) tool affects countless processes in our lives. From something as small as a drawer opening or a microwave turntable, to the complexity of a computer hard drive or car engine, to keeping an entire airport building safer in case of an earthquake, bearings are an integral component of the mechanical process. I can’t promise to think about the joy of frictionless motion the next time my car starts to slide on the snow and my hands tighten on the steering wheel, but in the meantime, a little bit of industrial knowledge doesn’t hurt anyone does it?

Photos courtesy of ROLLON Corp.

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