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Ball bearing is a type of rolling-element bearing that uses balls to maintain the separation between the bearing races.

The purpose of a ball bearing is to reduce rotational friction and support radial and axial loads. It achieves this by using at least two races to contain the balls and transmit the loads through the balls. In most applications, one race is stationary and the other is attached to the rotating assembly (e.g., a hub or shaft). As one of the bearing races rotates it causes the balls to rotate as well. Because the balls are rolling they have a much lower coefficient of friction than if two flat surfaces were sliding against each other.

Ball bearings tend to have lower load capacity for their size than other kinds of rolling-element bearings due to the smaller contact area between the balls and races. However, they can tolerate some misalignment of the inner and outer races.

There are several common designs of ball bearing, each offering various performance trade-offs. They can be made from many different materials, including: stainless steel, chrome steel, and ceramic (silicon nitride (Si3N4)). A hybrid ball bearing is a bearing with ceramic balls and races of metal.

Deep-groove radial bearing

A deep-groove radial bearing, the race dimensions are close to the dimensions of the balls that run in it. Deep-groove bearings support higher loads than a shallower groove. Like angular contact bearings, deep-groove bearings support both radial and axial loads, but without a choice of contact angle to allow choice of relative proportion of these load capacities.

An angular contact ball bearing

An angular contact ball bearing uses axially asymmetric races. An axial load passes in a straight line through the bearing, whereas a radial load takes an oblique path that acts to separate the races axially. So the angle of contact on the inner race is the same as that on the outer race. Angular contact bearings better support combined loads (loading in both the radial and axial directions) and the contact angle of the bearing should be matched to the relative proportions of each. The larger the contact angle (typically in the range 10 to 45 degrees), the higher the axial load supported, but the lower the radial load. In high speed applications, such as turbines, jet engines, and dentistry equipment, the centrifugal forces generated by the balls changes the contact angle at the inner and outer race. Ceramics such as silicon nitride are now regularly used in such applications due to their low density (40% of steel). These materials significantly reduce centrifugal force and function well in high temperature environments. They also tend to wear in a similar way to bearing steel—rather than cracking or shattering like glass or porcelain.

An axial or thrust ball bearing 

An axial or thrust ball bearing uses side-by-side races. An axial load is transmitted directly through the bearing, while a radial load is poorly supported and tends to separate the races, so that a larger radial load is likely to damage the bearing.

Conrad-style ball bearing 

The Conrad-style ball bearing is named after its inventor, Robert Conrad, who was awarded British patent 12,206 in 1903 and U.S. patent 822,723 in 1906. These bearings are assembled by placing the inner ring into an eccentric position relative to the outer ring, with the two rings in contact at one point, resulting in a large gap opposite the point of contact. The balls are inserted through the gap and then evenly distributed around the bearing assembly, causing the rings to become concentric. Assembly is completed by fitting a cage to the balls to maintain their positions relative to each other. Without the cage, the balls would eventually drift out of position during operation, causing the bearing to fail. The cage carries no load and serves only to maintain ball position.

Conrad bearings have the advantage that they are able to withstand both radial and axial loads, but have the disadvantage of lower load capacity due to the limited number of balls that can be loaded into the bearing assembly. Probably the most familiar industrial ball bearing is the deep-groove Conrad style. The bearing is used in most of the mechanical industries.

Self-aligning ball bearings

Self-aligning ball bearings, such as the Wingqvist bearing shown in the picture, are constructed with the inner ring and ball assembly contained within an outer ring that has a spherical raceway. This construction allows the bearing to tolerate a small angular misalignment resulting from shaft or housing deflections or improper mounting. The bearing was used mainly in bearing arrangements with very long shafts, such as transmission shafts in textile factories.[6] One drawback of the self-aligning ball bearings is a limited load rating, as the outer raceway has very low osculation (its radius is much larger than the ball radius). This led to the invention of the spherical roller bearing, which has a similar design, but uses rollers instead of balls. The spherical roller thrust bearing is another invention derived from the findings by Wingqvist.

Fully ceramic bearings

These bearings make use of both ceramic balls and race. These bearings are impervious to corrosion and rarely require lubrication if at all. Due to the stiffness and hardness of the balls and race these bearings are noisy at high speeds. The stiffness of the ceramic makes these bearings brittle and liable to crack under load or impact. Because both ball and race are of similar hardness, wear can lead to chipping at high speeds of both the balls and the race, which can cause sparking.


In general, ball bearings are used in most applications that involve moving parts. Some of these applications have specific features and requirements:

Computer fan and spinning device bearings used to be highly spherical, and were said to be the best spherical manufactured shapes, but this is no longer true for hard disk drive, and more and more are being replaced with fluid bearings.

In horology, the Jean Lassale company designed a watch movement that used ball bearings to reduce the thickness of the movement. Using 0.20 mm balls, the Calibre 1200 was only 1.2 mm thick, which still is the thinnest mechanical watch movement.

Aerospace bearings are used in many applications on commercial, private and military aircraft including pulleys, gearboxes and jet engine shafts. Materials include M50 tool steel (AMS6491), Carbon chrome steel (AMS6444), the corrosion resistant AMS5930, 440C stainless steel, silicon nitride (ceramic) and titanium carbide-coated 440C.

A skateboard wheel contains two bearings, which are subject to both axial and radial time-varying loads. Most commonly bearing 608-2Z is used (a deep groove ball bearing from series 60 with 8 mm bore diameter)

Many yo-yos, ranging from beginner to professional or competition grade, incorporate ball bearings.

Many fidget spinner toys use multiple ball bearings to add weight, and to allow the toy to spin.

In centrifugal pumps.

Railroad locomotive axle journals. Side rod action of newest high speed steam locomotives before railroads were converted to diesel engines.