Nonfiction of nonfriction

March 1, 2007
Rolling elements to move heavy items date back to ancient Egyptians, who used logs to roll stone pieces to pyramid construction sites. Later, Romans used

Rolling elements to move heavy items date back to ancient Egyptians, who used logs to roll stone pieces to pyramid construction sites. Later, Romans used simple ball bearings in nautical applications.

Fast forward 1,500 years: During his employment as a hydraulic engineer for the Duke of Milan, Leonardo da Vinci spent much time analyzing linkages, gears, and other mechanical transmission modes — including bearings. A century later, Galileo detailed a caged bearing system — to prevent the contact and accumulation of bearing rollers. These bearing designs were perfected, patented, and put into large-scale production in the 1700s.

Wood changes

Originally bearings were made of wood — most commonly of heavy, hard, oily Lignum Vitae native to Central America and the West Indies. The natural oils in this wood serve as cutting fluid during manufacture. Once in use, Lignum Vitae bearings were lubricated with animal fats. These bearings were commonly used in wet applications: propeller-driven vessels, water wheels, and pumps.

Today in turbine-type applications, one can still find wooden bearings. But because lignum vitae is not as available as it once was (the trees take hundreds of years to mature) modern companies manufacture bearings out of rock maple impregnated with petroleum wax instead.

Innovation snowballing

During the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine became a practical power source for the newly invented cylinder-boring mill. This machine made large-scale production of quality iron much easier, spurring the development of more precise machine tools and industry in general — and in turn, new bearing designs. Later in the 1800s, Henry Bessemer devised an economical steel-making process that further increased the material's use.

Pedal to the metal

With machines going faster than ever, bearing materials had to withstand resulting heat. In 1839, Isaac Babbitt invented a bearing that included a layer of low-melting tin or lead alloy. This layer goes liquid under high startup temperatures to provide slippery lubrication — and resolidifies once bearing speed stabilizes. Babbitt metal increased the use of metal bearings.

With the inventions of the 1900s — motorcars, robotics, and faster machine tools — bearings have only become more essential on production lines.

Future is plastics

Polymers, from tortoise shell and animal horn to the synthetics first engineered 150 years ago, have been used for myriad applications. But the relatively low cost of many synthetic polymers is what really spurred their use in industry. For example, the nonstick coating polytetrafluoro-ethylene (PTFE) used on pots and pans also works well on increasingly cost-effective bearings.

Sponsored Recommendations

From concept to consumption: Optimizing success in food and beverage

April 9, 2024
Identifying opportunities and solutions for plant floor optimization has never been easier. Download our visual guide to quickly and efficiently pinpoint areas for operational...

A closer look at modern design considerations for food and beverage

April 9, 2024
With new and changing safety and hygiene regulations at top of mind, its easy to understand how other crucial aspects of machine design can get pushed aside. Our whitepaper explores...

Cybersecurity and the Medical Manufacturing Industry

April 9, 2024
Learn about medical manufacturing cybersecurity risks, costs, and threats as well as effective cybersecurity strategies and essential solutions.

Condition Monitoring for Energy and Utilities Assets

April 9, 2024
Condition monitoring is an essential element of asset management in the energy and utilities industry. The American oil and gas, water and wastewater, and electrical grid sectors...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Machine Design, create an account today!