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4 min read

Why Material Selection Matters for Bearings and Beyond

June 2, 2020

Why Material Selection Matters for Bearings and Beyond

Bearings and similar components often have serious implications for the performance and reliability of the design where they are employed. But in many cases, bearing selection is conducted based only on a vague, abstract preference for one material over the other.

In TriStar’s experience working with applications ranging from advanced military to food processing, taking the time to carefully match component materials to specific application demands can pay real dividends.

In this blog post, we take a look at why careful materials selection can offer serious value across a wide variety of use cases. If you’re looking for an overview of bearings, what they’re made of, and why they matter, please see our Bearings 101 page here.

Bearing Materials Selection: An Engineering Priority

Generalities about bearings materials can be limiting (and even dangerous). Sometimes, an organization will stick with a particular bearing type because it has “always worked for them.” But new applications put new environmental stresses on bearings.

Anything ranging from a dusty desert (where particulates can rapidly stick to lubricated metal bearings) to a corrosive cleaning chemical (like those used in food processing plants) can cause an otherwise reliable material to fail.

Meanwhile, misconceptions about material limitations can prevent an organization from taking advantage of the best materials available. Sometimes, for example, we run into a vague belief that plastics can only be used in low-load, load temperature applications. But this couldn’t be further from the truth: as you can see in our materials database, polymers can thrive when faced with a wide variety of loads, temperatures, and environmental risks. With this knowledge in hand, engineers can take advantage of self-lubricating polymers in a huge range of applications.

Priorities for Effective Bearing Selection

  • Careful material selection: performance characteristics can vary widely within a broad material category like polymers. It’s important to resist broad generalizations and look at specific data points on material properties. In many cases, materials can even be customized specifically to your application. Materials like TriSteel take advantage of the desired properties of multiple materials at once, another great reason to resist generalization about materials.
  • Application-specific engineering: there is no “best” bearing material. Rather than relying on a wholesale preference for one material over the other, it’s important to consider the performance requirements and operating environments of each application. Different components within the same design can even call for very different materials. TriStar works hand-in-hand with client engineers to find the best solution for each application.
  • Consideration of full TCO: finding the right bearing is about more than just preventing catastrophic failures. It’s important to consider how material selection will affect broader operational concerns like maintenance schedules. Or to consider the costs of dealing with massive amounts of grease often required by traditional metal bearings. With one client, for instance, we were able to save over $300,000 per year in downtime losses and reduced maintenance expenses, just by changing a simple material.

Materials Matter: Advantages of TriStar’s Advanced Materials for Bearings

  • Self-lubricating design means lower lubrication costs, less maintenance, and cleaner operation.
  • Vibration and impact resistance is vital for service life. Transferring less vibration throughout the machine can be beneficial for the service life of other components as well, while also reducing noise from metal on metal contact.
  • Superior strength and wear resistance. They also wear and age more predictably and gradually, reducing the risk of a sudden, catastrophic failure that can damage far more than the bearing.
  • Low friction coefficients help improve performance and increase component life.
  • Corrosion resistance maximizes service life while enabling production in conditions that are acidic, wet, or full of abrasive particulate matter.
  • Polymers offer minimal moisture absorption. This trait helps reduce bearing expansion, even in wet environments.
  • These materials are capable of handling high loads yet are lightweight, with a compact strength-to-weight ratio for good durability and flexible design options
  • Our materials are approved for regulation-intensive applications like food processing and pharmaceuticals, giving manufacturers a path to speedy, simplified regulatory compliance.

Using The Right Materials to Build the Best Product

The advantages of effective bearing material selection can go beyond obvious failure modes of the bearing itself. These critical components can play a huge role in how much heat, vibration, and even electricity are transferred throughout the broader design where they are incorporated.

Within a complex machine, issues like excessive vibration can have detrimental effects on the reliability of a design even when the bearing is still operating properly. This can result in sub-optimal performance (or excessive failure) that is very hard to pin down. TriStar often finds bearing replacement options that solve chronic reliability issues within a mechanical design.

If you’re interested in chatting with the TriStar team about finding the perfect material to tackle your engineering challenge (or just building a longer-lasting product) you can reach out using the button below.

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Bearings 101: What They Are, How They Fail, and Why They Matter

Dave Biering

Written by Dave Biering

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