What are rolling contact bearings?

A rolling-element bearing, also known as a rolling bearing, is a bearing which carries a load by placing rolling elements (such as balls or rollers) between two bearing rings called races. The relative motion of the races causes the rolling elements to roll with very little rolling resistance and with little sliding.

One of the earliest and best-known rolling-element bearings are sets of logs laid on the ground with a large stone block on top. As the stone is pulled, the logs roll along the ground with little sliding friction. As each log comes out the back, it is moved to the front where the block then rolls on to it. It is possible to imitate such a bearing by placing several pens or pencils on a table and placing an item on top of them. See "bearings" for more on the historical development of bearings.

A rolling element rotary bearing uses a shaft in a much larger hole, and cylinders called "rollers" tightly fill the space between the shaft and hole. As the shaft turns, each roller acts as the logs in the above example. However, since the bearing is round, the rollers never fall out from under the load.

Rolling-element bearings have the advantage of a good tradeoff between cost, size, weight, carrying capacity, durability, accuracy, friction, and so on. Other bearing designs are often better on one specific attribute, but worse in most other attributes, although fluid bearings can sometimes simultaneously outperform on carrying capacity, durability, accuracy, friction, rotation rate and sometimes cost. Only plain bearings are used as widely as rolling-element bearings.

There are five types of rolling elements that are used in rolling-element bearings: balls, cylindrical rollers, spherical rollers, tapered rollers, and needle rollers.

Most rolling-element bearings feature cages. The cages reduce friction, wear, and bind by preventing the elements from rubbing against each other. Caged roller bearings were invented by John Harrison in the mid-18th century as part of his work on chronometers.[2]

Typical rolling-element bearings range in size from 10 mm diameter to a few metres diameter, and have load-carrying capacity from a few tens of grams to many thousands of tonnes.
Ball bearing
Main article: Ball bearing

A particularly common kind of rolling-element bearing is the ball bearing. The bearing has inner and outer races between which balls roll. Each race features a groove usually shaped so the ball fits slightly loose. Thus, in principle, the ball contacts each race across a very narrow area. However, a load on an infinitely small point would cause infinitely high contact pressure. In practice, the ball deforms (flattens) slightly where it contacts each race much as a tire flattens where it contacts the road. The race also yields slightly where each ball presses against it. Thus, the contact between ball and race is of finite size and has finite pressure. Note also that the deformed ball and race do not roll entirely smoothly because different parts of the ball are moving at different speeds as it rolls. Thus, there are opposing forces and sliding motions at each ball/race contact. Overall, these cause bearing drag.
Roller bearings
Cylindrical roller
A cylindrical roller bearing

Common roller bearings use cylinders of slightly greater length than diameter. Roller bearings typically have higher radial load capacity than ball bearings, but a lower capacity and higher friction under axial loads. If the inner and outer races are misaligned, the bearing capacity often drops quickly compared to either a ball bearing or a spherical roller bearing.

Roller bearings are the earliest known type of rolling-element-bearing, dating back to at least 40 BC.
Spherical roller
A spherical roller bearing
Main article: Spherical roller bearing

Spherical roller bearings have an outer ring with an internal spherical shape. The rollers are thicker in the middle and thinner at the ends. Spherical roller bearings can thus accommodate both static and dynamic misalignment. However, spherical rollers are difficult to produce and thus expensive, and the bearings have higher friction than an ideal cylindrical or tapered roller bearing since there will be a certain amount of sliding between rolling elements and rings.
Gear bearing
A gear bearing
Main article: Gear bearing

Gear bearing is roller bearing combining to epicyclical gear. Each element of it is represented by concentric alternation of rollers and gearwheels with equality of roller(s) diameter(s) to gearwheel(s) pitch diameter(s). The widths of conjugated rollers and gearwheels in pairs are the same. The engagement is herringbone or with the skew end faces to realize efficient rolling axial contact. The downside to this bearing is manufacturing complexity. Gear bearings could be used, for example, as efficient rotary suspension, kinematically simplified planetary gear mechanism in measuring instruments and watches.
Tapered roller
A tapered roller bearing
Main article: Tapered roller bearing

Tapered roller bearings use conical rollers that run on conical races. Most roller bearings only take radial or axial loads, but tapered roller bearings support both radial and axial loads, and generally can carry higher loads than ball bearings due to greater contact area. Tapered roller bearings are used, for example, as the wheel bearings of most wheeled land vehicles. The downsides to this bearing is that due to manufacturing complexities, tapered roller bearings are usually more expensive than ball bearings; and additionally under heavy loads the tapered roller is like a wedge and bearing loads tend to try to eject the roller; the force from the collar which keeps the roller in the bearing adds to bearing friction compared to ball bearings.
Needle roller
A needle roller bearing
Main article: Needle roller bearing

Needle roller bearings use very long and thin cylinders. Often the ends of the rollers taper to points, and these are used to keep the rollers captive, or they may be hemispherical and not captive but held by the shaft itself or a similar arrangement. Since the rollers are thin, the outside diameter of the bearing is only slightly larger than the hole in the middle. However, the small-diameter rollers must bend sharply where they contact the races, and thus the bearing fatigues relatively quickly.
CARB toroidal roller bearings

CARB bearings are toroidal roller bearings and similar to spherical roller bearings, but can accommodate both angular misalignment and also axial displacement.Compared to a spherical roller bearing, their radius of curvature is longer than a spherical radius would be, making them an intermediate form between spherical and cylindrical rollers. Their limitation is that, like a cylindrical roller, they do not locate axially. CARB bearings are typically used in pairs with a locating bearing, such as a spherical roller bearing.This non-locating bearing can be an advantage, as it can be used to allow a shaft and a housing to undergo thermal expansion independently.

Toroidal roller bearings were introduced in 1995 by SKF as "CARB bearings".The inventor behind the bearing was the engineer Magnus Kellström.


Metric rolling-element bearings have alphanumerical designations, defined by ISO 15, to define all of the physical parameters. The main designation is a seven digit number with optional alphanumeric digits before or after to define additional parameters. Here the digits will be defined as: 7654321. Any zeros to the left of the last defined digit are not printed; e.g. a designation of 0007208 is printed 7208.

Digits one and two together are used to define the inner diameter (ID), or bore diameter, of the bearing. For diameters between 20 and 495 mm, inclusive, the designation is multiplied by five to give the ID; e.g. designation 08 is a 40 mm ID. For inner diameters less than 20 the following designations are used: 00 = 10 mm ID, 01 = 12 mm ID, 02 = 15 mm ID, and 03 = 17 mm ID. The third digit defines the "diameter series", which defines the outer diameter (OD). The diameter series, defined in ascending order, is: 0, 8, 9, 1, 7, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The fourth digit defines the type of bearing:

    0. Ball radial single-row
    1. Ball radial spherical double-row
    2. Roller radial with short cylindrical rollers
    3. Roller radial spherical double-row
    4. Roller needle or with long cylindrical rollers
    5. Roller radial with spiral rollers
    6. Ball radial-thrust single-row
    7. heavy vehicle bearings prepared
    7. Roller tapered
    8. Ball thrust, ball thrust-radial
    9. Roller thrust or thrust-radial

The fifth and sixth digit define structural modifications to the bearing. For example, on radial thrust bearings the digits define the contact angle, or the presence of seals on any bearing type. The seventh digit defines the "width series", or thickness, of the bearing. The width series, defined from lightest to heaviest, is: 7, 8, 9, 0, 1 (extra light series), 2 (light series), 3 (medium series), 4 (heavy series). The third digit and the seventh digit define the "dimensional series" of the bearing

There are four optional prefix characters, here defined as A321-XXXXXXX (where the X's are the main designation), which are separated from the main designation with a dash. The first character, A, is the bearing class, which is defined, in ascending order: C, B, A. The class defines extra requirements for vibration, deviations in shape, the rolling surface tolerances, and other parameters that are not defined by a designation character. The second character is the frictional moment (friction), which is defined, in ascending order, by a number 1–9. The third character is the radial clearance, which is normally defined by a number between 0 and 9 (inclusive), in ascending order, however for radial-thrust bearings it is defined by a number between 1 and 3, inclusive. The fourth character is the accuracy ratings, which normally are, in ascending order: 0 (normal), 6X, 6, 5, 4, T, and 2. Ratings 0 and 6 are the most common; ratings 5 and 4 are used in high-speed applications; and rating 2 is used in gyroscopes. For tapered bearings, the values are, in ascending order: 0, N, and X, where 0 is 0, N is "normal", and X is 6X.

There are five optional characters that can defined after the main designation: A, E, P, C, and T; these are tacked directly onto the end of the main designation. Unlike the prefix, not all of the designations must be defined. "A" indicates an increased dynamic load rating. "E" indicates the use of a plastic cage. "P" indicates that heat-resistant steel are used. "C" indicates the type of lubricant used (C1–C28). "T" indicates the degree to which the bearing components have been tempered (T1–T5).

While manufacturers follow ISO 15 for part number designations on some of their products, it is common for them to implement proprietary part number systems that do not correlate to ISO 15.

Previous   [Return Home] [Print] [Go Back]   Next


Contact Us

Hi, how can I help you?debbie