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Needle Roller Bearings - information from LM Components

While the basic design of a needle roller bearing has not changed much in sixty years, continuous developments have resulted in new cage designs that provide five times the service life and double the static load rating of their original counterparts.

Design engineers will already be familiar with the technical advantages provided by a needle roller bearing, the ability to handle relatively high loads in a compact design envelope. This technical advantage has made the needle roller bearing the preferred choice of bearing in a wide variety of industrial and automotive power transmission applications for many years.

What is a needle bearing

A needle roller bearing is a bearing that uses small cylindrical rollers. These rollers are used to reduce friction of a rotating surface. Compared with ball bearings, needle roller bearings have a large surface area that is in contact with the bearing raceway journals.

The structure of a needle roller bearing comprises an inner race, a needle cage which orientates and contains the needle rollers, the needle rollers themselves, and an outer raceway. There are many different designs of needle roller bearing, including drawn cup, precision race, caged roller, and thrust roller.

The function of a caged needle roller bearing is to support radial loads and rotational speeds. A cage guides and retains the rollers. Caged designs normally come in single and double row designs, with a wide variety of cage materials being available, including steel, plastic and aluminium. Multiple row bearing designs boost load carrying capacity.

Needle bearing cages

Cages, whether steel or plastic, can be made in many different constructions, including solid cage, single split and split halves, which is two piece. These cages can also incorporate lubrication passages and other custom designed features.

Common applications for caged needle roller bearings are gearboxes, automotive power transmission systems, two and four stroke engines, planetary gear sets and air compressors.

No matter which type of the four main types of needle roller bearing is selected for an application, engineer consider a variety of factors before making their decision as early in the design phase as possible: the size or design envelope, type of load, load capacity, speed, temperature, misalignment, housing and shaft specifications, service life and lubrication requirements.

The Schaeffler Group

In 1949, The Schaeffler Group founders invented a new type of needle roller bearing, the caged needle roller bearing.

It was while manufacturing bearings for the United States military that Schaeffler first considered how to overcome the disadvantages of full complement needle roller bearings. At that time, bearing designs with rolling elements had a tendency to skew, particularly at high running speeds, and so suffered from an increase in frictional resistance and became very hot. In addition, the bearing locked easily where clearance was tight. The Schaeffler solution was to guide the needles axially in a cage.

The caged needle roller bearing overcame these disadvantages whilst also offering high speeds and low friction. Schaeffler developed the idea until it was ready for mass production and then set out to convince customers of the advantages of this new needle bearing.

The Schaeffler caged needle roller bearing is still in use in its original design today. Although, the original design has not stagnated over the years, but has been improved continuously and adapted to meet increasingly different demands.

The caged needle roller bearing has made a real contribution to the development of smaller, more efficient and cost effective vehicles. It would be hard to imagine an automotive transmission system that did not use needle roller bearings.

15,000 variants of needle bearings

At present, needle roller bearings are manufactured in more than 15,000 variants, with new designs customised to meet the special requirements of customer applications.

Machined needle roller bearings form the core of the range, particularly with the recent introduction of the Schaeffler X-life premium quality standard. Needle roller bearings produced to X-life quality now offer a 13 per cent increase in dynamic load rating compared to conventional bearings, which corresponds to a fifty per cent increase in service life.

These improvements mean less lubricant stress, reduced friction and lower bearing temperatures, which results in a more energy efficient bearing. Also, the increase in performance capacity enables the bearing to be downsized for the application, with corresponding reductions in the weight of the bearing and its space requirements.

In the unlikely event that application requirements exceed even X-life bearings, further technical performance improvements can be gained through the use of new bearing coatings and materials.

Another project currently being undertaken at the Schaeffler Automotive Division involves the redesign of a high speed planetary gear set for an automatic gearbox transmission on a new hybrid electric passenger vehicle.

Needle roller bearings in the automotive industry

Schaeffler stated that the automotive industry today is under increasing pressure to produce more fuel efficient vehicles with lower CO2 emissions. One method of achieving this is to improve the fuel consumption of the vehicle by reducing friction across the complete drive train. This means reducing the weight of the overall vehicle by reducing the weight of individual components. Vehicle manufacturers now require bearings and other engine components that provide better friction characteristics, and so this is where the advantages of the caged needle roller bearing comes into play.

A special design of cage for the needle roller bearing and improved features that improve the bearings lubrication flow characteristics and have resulted in a lower friction design of bearing, which has enabled the planetary gear set for the electric differentials to be reduced in size, weighing seventeen per cent less than the original system. The bearings, in combination with optimised oil flow through the carrier, have enabled twenty per cent higher running speeds of up to 8,000 revolutions per minute.

The cage was custom designed for the application. Due to a restricted design envelope, the cage needed to be smaller to accommodate the shaft and the housing bore of the gear is finished to support a bearing raceway. If not, an outer or inner ring would have been required.

Caged needle roller bearings can be assembled in many varieties for the customer. These include single split designs, half shell types, and single split with diagonal spring bar connections.

Design improvements in needle roller bearings

More recently, cage design improvements were focused on thinner designs with reduced mass. Other improvements included new design features that helped to move the lubricant more effectively around all the areas of the bearing, leading to improved oil flow.

In the early days, cages were designed simply to guide the rolling elements. Although, more recently, needle roller bearings are being provided with improved cage designs, including special recessed cages.

Precession helps spread wear among all the rollers and distributes lubricant around the bearing. False brinelling is a often seen failure mode for caged needle roller bearings, particularly in power transmission applications. These failure modes are commonly caused by micro vibration and movements between the rolling elements and the raceway journals, creating metal to metal contact conditions.

The end result of improvements such as those outlined, has led to the latest bearing caged roller designs being able to offer up to twenty five per cent higher static load capacities for a similar size bearing, which means more than double the dynamic load rating. For applications with multiple small movements, bearing life typically increases from three to five times.

So if you want to learn more about the benefits of needle roller bearings and their applications, why not contact LM Components today?

Further Information

If you would like to know more or are interested in a quote we would be happy to help. Phone us on 01438 791 076, email us at or fill in our enquiry form and we will be in touch as soon as possible.

LM Components
BTC, Bessemer Drive
Herts SG1 2DX

Contact LM Components on 01438 791 076

01438 791 076

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