A bearing is a machine element that constrains relative motion and reduces friction between moving parts to only the desired motion. The design of the bearing may, for example, provide for free linear movement of the moving part or for free rotation around a fixed axis; or, it may prevent a motion by controlling the vectors of normal forces that bear on the moving parts. Many bearings also facilitate the desired motion as much as possible, such as by minimizing friction. Bearings are classified broadly according to the type of operation, the motions allowed, or to the directions of the loads (forces) applied to the parts. The term “bearing” is derived from the verb “to bear”; a bearing being a machine element that allows one part to bear another. The simplest bearings are bearing surfaces, cut or formed into a part, with varying degrees of control over the form, size, roughness and location of the surface. Other bearings are separate devices installed into a machine or machine part. The most sophisticated bearings for the most demanding applications are very precise devices; their manufacture requires some of the highest standards of current technology.
By far, the most common bearing is the plain bearing, a bearing which uses surfaces in rubbing contact, often with a lubricant such as oil or graphite. A plain bearing may or may not be a discrete device. It may be nothing more than the bearing surface of a hole with a shaft passing through it, or of a planar surface that bears another (in these cases, not a discrete device); or it may be a layer of bearing metal either fused to the substrate (semi-discrete) or in the form of a separable sleeve (discrete). With suitable lubrication, plain bearings often give entirely acceptable accuracy, life, and friction at minimal cost. Therefore, they are very widely used.
However, there are many applications where a more suitable bearing can improve efficiency, accuracy, service intervals, reliability, speed of operation, size, weight, and costs of purchasing and operating machinery.
Thus, there are many types of bearings, with varying shape, material, lubrication, principle of operation, and so on.
There are at least 6 common principles of operation:
- Plain bearing, also known by the specific styles: bushing, journal bearing, sleeve bearing, rifle bearing
- Rolling-element bearing such as ball bearings and roller bearings
- Jewel bearing, in which the load is carried by rolling the axle slightly off-center
- Fluid bearing, in which the load is carried by a gas or liquid
- Magnetic bearing, in which the load is carried by a magnetic field
- Flexure bearing, in which the motion is supported by a load element which bends.
Common motions permitted by bearings are:
- axial rotation e.g. shaft rotation
- linear motion e.g. drawer
- spherical rotation e.g. ball and socket joint
- hinge motion e.g. door, elbow, knee
Reducing friction in bearings is often important for efficiency, to reduce wear and to facilitate extended use at high speeds and to avoid overheating and premature failure of the bearing. Essentially, a bearing can reduce friction by virtue of its shape, by its material, or by introducing and containing a fluid between surfaces or by separating the surfaces with an electromagnetic field.
Combinations of these can even be employed within the same bearing. An example of this is where the cage is made of plastic, and it separates the rollers/balls, which reduce friction by their shape and finish.