The Differences Between Roller Bearings and Ball Bearings

Blog | September 17th, 2019

Different from ball bearings, cylindrically fashioned roller bearings are built to handle heavier loading effects. Basically, those tubular rolling elements are more capable of distributing force over a larger area. They can, therefore, process heavier rotating weights. Not to be outdone, since spheres curve equally in all directions, they’re better at tackling thrust forces. Equipped with contrasting force-managing attributes, maybe it’s time we weighed in on the ball versus roller bearing issue.

Ball vs Roller Bearing Dynamics

To be fair, there’s no real issue here. Both bearing types have earned their place in contrasting applications, that’s all. For ball bearings, their all-around load handling features hit an application sweet spot. The rolling spheres can spin in any direction while handling moderately heavy thrust and radial loads. Conversely, roller bearings contain purpose-oriented components. One dimension of the classic sphere shape has been zeroed out to leave a cylindrical shape, one that’s uniquely qualified as a more efficient load dispersing bearing profile. Put simply, the long cylindrical aspect of the bearing elements is there to spread heavy radial loads. However, not as rich in point-to-point angular contact zones, roller bearings are not usually in contention as a fitting when thrust loads are present in a chosen application.

A Reversal in Application Perspective

Of course, this whole issue can be viewed from a second perspective. Engineers generally use two opposing design approaches. There’s the ever-popular general-purpose methodology, which prefers simpler, easy to facilitate solutions. If a conventional shafting architecture requires a versatile bearing type in all likelihood, a pair of sturdy ball bearings will suit the job very well indeed. Still, that design methodology won’t always yield good results, not if the job in question requires heavy-duty shaft support. Used to impart precision-based spin, roller bearings add that feature while also simultaneously performing their load-distributing functions. Incidentally, if a thrust load is introduced into a roller bearings’ usage area, there are ways to improve the design. Tapered rollers can be used here as hybrid rolling elements.

Let’s finish with a few manufacturing caveats. Ball bearings are easier to construct, but that general-function attribute sometimes prevents them from being used in job-specific areas. Next, roller bearings come loaded with adjustable dimensional features. While balls can be made of different materials and be large or small, they don’t change much. With rollers, there’s the length of the cylinder, the cage separator and race shoulders to consider. As an upshot of those design intricacies, cylindrical bearing elements can be built to match heavy industrial usage fields. That feature becomes all the more important when the rollers receive a tapered profile, one that adds thrust force handling attributes to the design.

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