Definition and Uses of Plastic Roller Bearings

March 30, 2016

In a cross-discipline move that shouldn’t come as a surprise to any forward-thinking design engineer, plastic roller bearings are on the move, both figuratively and literally. Advanced engineering plastics make this measure a practical alternative to standard metal rolling elements, likely because new classes of plastic are delivering mechanical characteristics that meet and sometimes exceed those of a comparable alloy.

The Key Characteristics of Plastic Roller Bearings

Almost as robust as steel, plastic rolling components are resistant to abrasive forces. Plastic can function in chemically active environments due to a synthetic molecular structure that emphasizes chemical inertness. It’s also lighter than an alloy, even an aluminium alloy that has been heat-treated to highlight a strengthened molecular backbone. Far from conquered, metal-reinforced rolling elements do cope with higher loads and shearing forces more efficiently than their plastic cousins, but plastics are always improving.


Defining Hybrid and Pure-Bred Examples

As briefly covered in an earlier article, plastic has either entirely replaced metal in some bearings or bonded with the friction-cancelling product to create a hybridized variant, one made of metal or ceramic rolling elements and a cage made from self-lubricating plastic. The metal races and metal rolling elements hold steady when a large or transient load is applied, but the plastic race takes on every bit as much responsibility, acting as a smoothened housing that distributes the balls evenly around the concentrically arranged rings.

All-Plastic and All Functional

The applications for plastic roller bearings grow as the days pass. Non-magnetic scanning rooms in hospitals use the form to entirely eliminate the magnetic effects that would corrupt a scan. Chemical facilities use motors and rotating shafts supported by these plastic variants to drive pumps, which guarantees the processing station is free of corrosion and metal fatigue. Imagine one of the countless freighters or offshore oil rigs using one of the plastic products. The salt air and viscous petroleum won’t hinder the shafts as they spin, which equals improved performance over a long lifespan. And so it is with maritime applications, but medical facilities, laboratories and operating theatres, enjoy the same benefits, a chemical neutrality that’s difficult to add to iron.

In an age where experimental biotechnology and sensitive pharmaceutical equipment contends with stringently supervised food production facilities, this neutrality factor is important, but so is the lightweight nature of the substance, an attribute that places maintenance-free polymer-based roller bearings in aeronautical applications and the shaft-driven assemblies that are bound to the space technology sector.

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