Thrust bearings were introduced by George Michell, an Australian engineer in 1905. Thrust bearings are rotary bearings which allow rotation amongst parts like other bearing types. They are typically designed to withstand axial loads. Thrust bearings comprise two raceways or washers and rolling components. The washers may be grooved in some cases, especially for ball bearings. The ball thrust bearings are a particular kind of rotary ball bearings and are composed of balls as the rolling element which are supported in a ring. They have two main categories – single direction ball thrust bearings and double direction ball thrust bearings. They are generally used in applications where low axial loads and higher speeds are prevalent; they should not be subjected to radial loads.
Applications that involve high speeds call for additional arrangement for lubrication in order to reduce friction and wear of these bearings. Machined brass cages and pressed steel cages are typically used for single direction ball thrust bearings. The ball thrust bearings are prone to misalignment. Hence the manufacturers make use of sphered groove on the washer to reduce the chances of misalignment. The ball thrust bearings are made up of different material, such as stainless steel and chrome steel.
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The advent of technologies have propelled the quick adoption of the various types of ball thrust bearings. Several developments and innovations have taken place which are enhancing the performance and aim to reduce the limitations of these bearings. The challenge of misalignment is reduced by introducing spherical grooves or aligning seats. Higher grade material is being used in the manufacturing of these bearings making them more durable and can withstand friction. Arrangement for self-lubrication helps in reducing time taken to manually lubricate the bearings and improves efficiency by limiting the friction and wear coefficients. Recently, manufacturers of ball thrust bearings are opting for advanced grease technology which extend the life and performance as well. All these aspects have raised the bar of the adoption of the ball thrust bearings thereby contributing to the growth of the ball thrust bearings market.
However, the main limitation of using ball thrust bearings lies in the fact that they cannot withstand heavy axial loads and are unsuitable for bearings any radial load. Hence, in various industries, they are used in applications which have higher speeds but low axial loads. Another aspect that can hamper the adoption of these bearings is the innovation and development of new thrust bearings such as magnetic thrust bearings, fluid film thrust bearings and spherical thrust bearings, in which limitations of ball thrust bearings are eliminated. These bearings have zero friction and can withstand higher loads and higher speeds as well.
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Ball thrust bearings are used in a wide range of applications in various fields such as automotive, aerospace applications, marine equipment, petroleum production, mining, power generation, cement processing, power transmission, wind turbines, material handling systems, metal recycling and aggregate crushing. They are also used in fluid control valves, oil and gas rotary tables, machine tools, screw jacks, vertical openers in the weaving and spinning machines, machine tool spindle tail stock, spindles, fans, blowers, gear boxes, powered jacks, vertical pumps, low speed reducers, vertical centrifuges, crane hooks, lathe tailstocks, turn tables etc.
The key companies in the spherical roller bearing market include Schaffler, SKF, Timken Company, JTEKT, NSK Ltd. and NTN Corporation. Other players are Aurora Bearing, AST Bearings LLC, FYH Bearing, Baltic Bearing Company, Nachi Europe GmbH and Precision Bearings Pvt. Ltd.