The incredible benefits of plastic linear bearings have been discussed at length within blogs and articles across the web, but the main ones that I like to focus on the most are:
- Self-Lubricating and Maintenance-Free
- They work well in dirty environments
- They are quiet - especially compared to ball bearings
If you have made it this far, yet are unfamiliar with what a linear plain bearing is, please read my recent post, “What the Heck is a Linear Plain Bearing” before continuing further.
Where can you find applications that use this type of bearing technology?
Well, just about everywhere—I seriously could go on for ages and ages talking about all of the different applications and industries where I have seen this technology being used since 2000. Instead, I am going to highlight just a few of the more involved industries so that I don’t lose you! In the future, I will be posting more blogs that examine certain industries further in-depth, so hold on to your shorts for those! By doing this, I will tie in the above benefits for each industry with the hope that this will help you find similar applications for your equipment. But, let’s get started by discussing some of the more-involved industries I mentioned earlier—just letting these come to mind; they are in no particular order:
- Lab Automation and Medical Apparatuses
From gas chromatography, liquid handling, and water testing, as well as hospital beds and nursing equipment, this is a large sector. Despite having different applications and environments, these applications still have a lot in common since they each generally prefer to use plastic linear bearings mainly due to fact that there is no risk for the exposure of external lubrication within a sensitive lab or hospital setting, which could contaminate the chemistry, or even the patient! Plastic linear bearings are also very quiet compared to rolling-element bearings, reducing the overall decibels produced within labs that are often crowded by machinery. The fact that they are lightweight also makes them well suited for mobile or moving equipment, like stretchers, wheelchairs/scooters, and medical carts and beds. The medical industry is full of applications that benefit from grease-free plastic linear bearings.
Packaging and Food Processing
Ok, this is another big sector. From filling machines and cartooning, and conveying equipment, to products that are used for slicing meat and producing cheese, plastic linear bearings are truly a good friend. There is the obvious, “yes, there is no messy oil that could potentially contaminate the food or ruin the final packaging”, but there are also a range of other benefits. Since machinery within this sector is often exposed to caustic washdown, plastic linear bearings are ideal because not only is there no maintenance needed to re-administer grease or oil to the bearings, which would have been washed away under pressure, but they are also extremely corrosion-resistant. Additionally, plastic linear bearings are well-suited to work on softer 300-series shafting unlike ball bearings that need hardened steel rails or guides—learn more about shaft materials from one of my previous posts. Another major benefit to consider, which I have witnessed first-hand within factories that produce candy—in particular the gummy kind— is that there is sugar and corn starch everywhere and ball bearings would not even last a day! However, since plain linear bearings don’t attract this debris, they basically wipe the particles away as they travel along a rail or shaft. Plastic linear bearings are even available in FDA-compliant materials to keep the health inspectors happy—I mean, I still wouldn’t eat them or anything, but if you did, you would be fine, I suppose (AGAIN, I do not endorse eating plastic bearings). Learn more about plastic linear bearings at work in applications within the Packaging and Food sectors.
- Fitness Equipment
Weight stacks, seat adjustments and other equipment-adjustments are perfect examples of applications that benefit from linear and plastic bearings in general. Not only do plastic linear bearings keep people clean while they lose weight, they also maintain the same consistent coefficient of friction over time—my personal favorite benefit of plastic linear bearings. Have you ever stayed at a typical business hotel and used the on-premise gym? Have you ever sat on a bike seat or other machine and heard or felt that horrible grinding noise due to inconsistent motion produced from mal-lubricated ball bearings? I don’t think most hotels have a maintenance plan for their recumbent bikes—yeah, I’m pretty sure they don’t—however, many commercial gyms do, and they can save maintenance time and cost by eliminating the need for external lubrication altogether. Also, the fact that these linear bearings are so durable means that they can handle the shock and high static loads that even the largest human can push upon them. Additionally, they are nice and quiet so you can hear the TV or music through your headphones. Check out our fitness equipment industry page to learn more about plastic linear plain bearings in workout equipment and to possibly get inspired to hit the gym!
Vertical farming, kiosks, and in-plant automation projects can easily become low-cost and maintenance-free. Many companies that are looking to automate on a dime can do so with the huge cost savings that linear plain bearings have to offer, especially when considering the full range of linear actuators, gantry-robots, drive-controllers, and full-on Delta Robot systems that are available. The idea that you can automate a process within your plant and see the return of investment in just over a few months, instead of years, appeals to many manufacturing engineers. In a similar notion, the idea that you can buy a completely maintenance-free bearing system for your automated kiosk/vending machine that is located at a rest stop somewhere out in the boondocks is a massive factor to consider for those who design such machines.
- Aircraft/Marine and transportation machinery
Fly light and dry with plastic linear bearings. Aircraft, on-highway trucking, and boat manufacturers are always looking for ways to shed weight—being able to offer airplanes and boats that have increase fuel efficiency is a major goal which is made possible through the use of plastic linear bearings, especially when paired with lightweight aluminum, or carbon fiber, rails or shafts (yes, carbon fiber linear shafting and rails are a thing!) Some other major benefits that we have seen before also apply to these sectors: no risk of messy lubrication getting on passengers, extreme corrosion-resistance even in salt water (especially with 316 stainless offerings available), and shock resistance. These bearings are not only used when producing shock-attenuation seats that are built within military and marine vehicles, but also when producing aircraft seats, head/footrests, food trays, or monitor slides that could be impacted during landings or turbulence. With the introduction of self-driving cars and trucks, the need for shock-absorbing interior-cab applications is revving up within the automotive industry as well.
So, there you have it—five industries that I have seen greatly benefit from linear plain bearings, and how! Stay tuned for more posts focused on other industries where plastic linear bearings play an important and beneficial role.
To learn more about plastic linear bearings, check out our linear bearings and slides page. If you are interested in speaking to an expert about plastic linear bearings for your application, please do not hesitate to reach out to Matt Mowry, drylin® Product Manager.