Optimizing Machinery Efficiency:  A Guide to Selecting Bearings for Specific Applications across Diverse Industries

Jeanette PfeiferWritten by Jeanette Pfeifer

Credit:  Oleg Zhukov 

In the world of engineering and mechanical design, the choice of bearings plays an indispensable role in determining the efficiency, reliability, and longevity of various industrial and mechanical applications. Bearings, serving as the interface between moving parts, not only support loads but also minimize friction, enabling smooth operation within machines. However, the diversity of applications demands a nuanced understanding of factors that influence the selection of the right bearing. Here, we delve into the pivotal considerations when choosing bearings tailored to specific applications. 

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Image: ResearchGate, Rotordynamic Analysis of a Centrifugal Pump for Automotive Applications 

Load Type and Magnitude 

Understanding the nature and magnitude of the load is fundamental. Bearings are designed to withstand radial, axial, or a combination of both loads. For instance, radial loads are typical in applications like conveyor belts, while axial loads predominate in thrust applications like gearboxes or automotive transmissions. Selecting a bearing capable of managing the anticipated load type and intensity is critical to prevent premature wear or failure. 

Radial Load 

  • Definition: A radial load refers to a force applied perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the axis of rotation or the centerline of a bearing. It acts in a direction that is radial or tangential to the circumference of the bearing. 

  • Characteristics: Radial loads are typical in applications where the primary force is directed perpendicular to the shaft or rotating element. These loads are common in applications like electric motors, wheels, pulleys, and most machinery where the primary load is transmitted through the circumference of the bearing. 

Axial Load 

  • Definition: An axial load (also known as a thrust load) refers to a force applied parallel to the axis of rotation or the centerline of a bearing. It acts in a direction along the bearing’s axis. 

  • Characteristics: Axial loads are prevalent in applications where the primary force is exerted parallel to the shaft or rotating element. Examples include thrust bearings in gearboxes, automotive transmissions, or any machinery where the load is applied along the axis of rotation. 

Combination Load 

  • Definition: A combination load is a situation where a bearing experiences both radial and axial forces simultaneously. This load exerts forces in both radial and axial directions on the bearing. 

  • Characteristics: Many real-world applications involve a combination of radial and axial forces acting on bearings. These could include applications like certain types of pumps, fans, or machine tools, where forces are applied in multiple directions due to the design and operation of the equipment. 

Screenshot 2024-01-22 at 4.00.44 PM Image: MDI, Advances in Bearing Lubrication and Thermal Sciences 

Speed and Operational Conditions 

Rotational speed refers to the velocity at which the inner or outer ring of the bearing rotates relative to the other. It is a critical factor in bearing selection and operation, significantly influencing performance, durability, and the overall functionality of mechanical systems. The rotational speed at which a bearing operates has several implications: 

1. Dynamic Effects: High rotational speeds create dynamic effects within the bearing. Centrifugal forces, for instance, become increasingly significant as rotational speed increases. These forces can affect the distribution of the load within the bearing, impacting its performance and longevity. 

2. Temperature Generation:
Increased rotational speed leads to higher temperatures within the bearing due to friction and the associated heat generated. This rise in temperature can affect the lubrication properties, potentially leading to lubricant breakdown or accelerated wear if not adequately managed. 

3. Lubrication Considerations:
Bearing lubrication becomes more critical at higher speeds. Proper lubrication is essential to reduce friction, dissipate heat, and prevent metal-to-metal contact between rolling elements and raceways. Inadequate lubrication at high speeds can result in premature wear, overheating, and ultimately bearing failure. 

4. Precision and Balance: High-speed bearings often require more precision in manufacturing and assembly to maintain proper balance and minimize vibration. Even slight imbalances at high speeds can lead to increased stress on the bearing components, causing premature failure. 

5. Material and Design Selection: Bearings designed for high-speed applications often employ specific materials and designs to handle the increased forces, temperatures, and dynamic effects. This might involve the use of specialized materials, advanced lubricants, or unique cage designs to maintain stability and performance. 

The rotational speed at which a bearing operates greatly influences its performance and longevity. High-speed applications necessitate bearings designed to withstand increased centrifugal forces and temperature fluctuations. Additionally, environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and exposure to contaminants (dust, chemicals, or moisture) must be considered to ensure the chosen bearing can function optimally under these conditions. 

Understanding the rotational speed requirements of a particular application is crucial when selecting bearings. Manufacturers provide maximum recommended speeds for their bearings based on factors like bearing type, size, material, lubrication, and application conditions. Exceeding these recommended speeds can lead to premature wear, reduced service life, and potential catastrophic failure. 

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 Bearing Type and Configuration 

There is a wide array of bearing types - ball bearings, roller bearings (cylindrical, tapered, spherical), needle bearings, and thrust bearings, each with specific designs suitable for varying applications. For instance, ball bearings are well-suited for moderate radial and axial loads, while roller bearings excel in heavier load capacities. Moreover, the configuration, such as single-row, double-row, or sealed bearings, must align with the application’s requirements for load distribution and maintenance. 

Here are four examples of bearing types and configurations tailored to specific applications: 

Deep Groove Ball Bearings in Electric Motors 

  • Application: Electric motors in various industries such as automotive, appliances, and machinery. 

  • Bearing Type: Deep groove ball bearings are commonly used in electric motors due to their ability to handle radial loads efficiently. They have low friction and can operate at high speeds, making them ideal for applications where rotational speed is essential. 
  • Configuration: Single-row deep groove ball bearings are frequently employed in electric motors. They have a simple design, offering high radial load capacity and moderate axial load capacity. Sealed variants are often utilized to prevent contamination and retain lubrication, ensuring longer service life. 

Tapered Roller Bearings in Automotive Wheel Hubs 

  • Application: Automotive wheel hubs and transmissions. 

  • Bearing Type: Tapered roller bearings are well-suited for handling both radial and axial loads in automotive applications. They have the ability to support high radial and thrust loads, making them ideal for wheel hub assemblies subjected to both radial and axial forces. 

  • Configuration: Double-row tapered roller bearings are often used in wheel hub assemblies. This configuration provides increased load capacity and rigidity compared to single-row bearings. Seals or shields are utilized to protect against contaminants and maintain lubrication in harsh automotive environments. 

Spherical Roller Thrust Bearings in Heavy Machinery 

  • Application: Heavy machinery and industrial equipment like mining equipment, crushers, and construction machinery. 

  • Bearing Type: Spherical roller thrust bearings are designed to handle heavy axial loads in combination with significant radial loads. They accommodate misalignment and shaft deflection, making them suitable for applications with dynamic and variable loading conditions. 

  • Configuration: These bearings typically feature two rows of rollers with a common sphered raceway in the housing washer and the shaft washer. This configuration allows for high load capacity and self-alignment, crucial in heavy machinery subjected to varying loads and operating conditions. 

Needle Roller Bearings in Automotive Transmissions 

  • Application: Automotive transmissions, gearbox assemblies, and certain industrial machinery. 

  • Bearing Type: Needle roller bearings are known for their high load-carrying capacity with a small cross-section. They excel in applications with limited space and where high radial loads are present but axial space is constrained. 

  • Configuration: Needle roller bearings are available in various configurations, including single-row, double-row, and full complement types. In automotive transmissions, they are often used in compact spaces to support high radial loads while maintaining minimal axial space. 

These examples showcase how different bearing types and configurations are specifically chosen to suit the demands of various applications, considering factors such as load capacity, speed, space limitations, and environmental conditions. 

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Other Factors 

Lubrication and Maintenance Requirements 

Proper lubrication is crucial for reducing friction and wear within bearings. Understanding the lubrication needs of the application - whether it demands oil, grease, or specialized lubricants - is vital. Furthermore, considerations regarding maintenance intervals and accessibility for maintenance procedures play a significant role, particularly in applications where downtime must be minimized. 

Space and Installation Constraints 

The physical dimensions and installation space available within the machinery or system impact the selection of bearings. Compact spaces might necessitate bearings with smaller profiles or specific mounting configurations. Moreover, ease of installation and alignment procedures are crucial to ensure proper functioning and longevity. 

Cost and Longevity 

While cost considerations are essential, they should not overshadow the importance of longevity and performance. Investing in higher-quality bearings that align with the application’s demands might lead to reduced downtime and maintenance costs in the long run. 
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Selecting the right bearing for a specific application demands a comprehensive evaluation of load requirements, operational conditions, bearing types, lubrication needs, spatial constraints, and cost considerations. Collaborating with bearing manufacturers or consulting with experts can provide invaluable insights to ensure optimal performance and durability, ultimately contributing to the efficiency and reliability of machinery and systems across diverse industries. 


Bearing & Drive Systems is your premier source for all your bearings solutions. Visit our website today and learn more about how we can help you meet your customers’ needs whether it is locating those hard to find bearings, modifying existing bearings, or even bearing repair. Our highly knowledgeable sales representatives are always available to answer any questions you may have. 


Jeanette Pfeifer

Jeanette Pfeifer

Hi! I'm Jeanette. I am the Office and Content Marketing Manager here at BDS. I have been with BDS for over 4 years, but in the last 40 years, I have worked in the Industrial Distribution, Industrial Service, Food Distribution, Food Manufacturing, and Retail Sectors. Those years of experience have given me extensive insight into all aspects of business, and I enjoy writing and sharing that with our readers.

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