A Short History of Roller Bearings

January 20, 2021 12:56 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Roller bearings make modern inventions possible. Any machine in motion uses bearings to smooth out operation and reduce friction and wear and tear. While we associate mechanical bearings in Lubbock, TX with current cotton harvesting technology, they have actually been around longer than most people realize. Here is an overview of the history of bearings and their everyday functions.

Ancient bearings

Rollers eased material movement before humans invented the wheel and continued even when wheel technology was available. People realized that placing logs under heavy objects makes it easier to move them from point A to point B. Cave drawings tell these stories and offer this early engineering documentation. Homes, walls and other fortifications benefited from rollers.

Ancient Egypt also understood this roller concept. Tomb drawings showed wooden rollers moving blocks to build pyramids. They also documented using lubrication to smooth out motion and move material quicker. Egyptians used wood, but also experimented with bronze, zinc and other metals. Bronze and zinc worked well for mechanical bearings for a while, but they proved too soft for machinery developed in the Industrial Age.

Industry and manufacturing

Improved metalwork processes also produced better mechanical bearings. Preferences moved from wood or bronze bearings to steel ones.

Philip Vaughan filed the first patent for a ball bearing in 1794, and that blueprint still serves as the basic bearing design today. Modern ball bearings helped machines run efficiently, and that, in turn, created more machines for manufacturing. Water mills used bearings to make drawing water easier, and tiny bearings provided better timekeeping for watches.

In 1869, Jules Suriray filed a patent for a radial ball bearing for metal bicycles. This design proved useful for new bearing types that led to more machines. These developments included self-aligning bearings that set a new standard for innovation and machine efficiency.

Ball bearings continued to improve with the growth of the automotive, machine tool and military industries. Rolling elements transitioned from balls to rollers, tapered rollers and spherical rollers as bearings faced more demand. Later, bearings supported greater loads and forces, which allowed manufacturing continued expansion.

Today, there are nearly endless options. You can choose between ball bearings, taper rollers, spherical rollers and both unmounted and mounted bearings. There are also cylindrical, deep groove, angular contact and thrust ball bearings, which often prove essential for cotton mills or gins.

Besides shapes and sizes, there is also improved durability. Modern metallurgy allows for water- and wear-resistant varieties. Bearings operate at higher speeds and temperatures without any compromise to their structure. You now find bearings in dental drills, Mars rovers, oil drilling machines and automobiles. As manufacturing technology continues to evolve, it is expected that bearing design will develop as well.

M.B. McKee Company, Inc. offers mechanical bearings in Lubbock, TX. We run our business in the middle of cotton country and know which bearings will help your cotton mill or cotton gin work its best. Get in touch with us today if you require mounted or unmounted bearings for your machinery.

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