Home » Blog » The 3 Reasons Modern Rapid Prototyping Needs Air Bearings

The 3 Reasons Modern Rapid Prototyping Needs Air Bearings

The 3 Reasons Modern Rapid Prototyping Needs Air Bearings

At New Way Air Bearings®, we’ve long been a partner to the precision manufacturing industry in their pursuit of long-lasting motion solutions. Historically, our technology has been geared towards the existing manufacturing and inspection lines. Now, we want to turn our attention towards enabling manufacturers in rapid prototyping and first article production.

What is Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping allows for the quick production of a prototype asset or a first article, generally to test fit and finish, as well as feasibility and material properties of the item in question. Rapid prototyping techniques can be either additive (through processes like 3D printing) or subtractive (through processes like CNC machining).

 Monochrome image of 3d additive manufacturing producing a grid scaffold structure.

Additive Manufacturing

We’ve already covered extensive applicability of air bearings to additive manufacturing through our new 3D printing markets page and a dedicated blog post on the topic. For any additive manufacturing platforms, nanometer scale linear motion—enabled by such products as our flat round air bearings—is an enormous boon to the potential resolution of a print.

Subtractive Manufacturing

Subtractive manufacturing is the machining we all know and love. Starting from the fundamentals of milling and turning on hand operated mills and lathes, it then evolved into the 3-, 4- and 5-axis computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines which we commonly utilize for their rapid turnaround time and precise machining.

By converting part geometry into cutting instructions through G-code, we give the CNC coded instructions to rapidly and repeatedly produce parts. G-code can be written manually, but is more commonly created through software suites integrated into our CAD software, like Fusion 360 CAM.

3 Ways Air Bearings Benefit Rapid Prototyping

Air bearings shine in any environment which prizes speed, precision, and longevity, and Porous Media™ air bearings bring all these attributes in a fully integrated motion solution. Here are the top ways New Way Air Bearings can supercharge the rapid prototyping process.


Air bearings can operate at speeds of up to ten times those allowed by conventional ball and roller bearing elements. Roller elements must make contact with the guideway, and as such are often limited to 3-5m/s. Meanwhile, air bearings can reach speeds of up to 50 m/s. When paired with products like our air bushings and thrust bushings, this opens the door to ultra-high feed rate machining, in combination solid carbide end mills.

Precision Position

Among the benefits to robotic machining is the ability to manufacture parts with tolerances that are simply beyond the ability of a human operator to reliably match. Standard tolerances are often around 0.005”, and can go as low as 0.001” for high precision products.

As we demonstrated in Technical Report 3 – The Application of Damped Air Bearings for Machine Tools, air bearings demonstrate straightness of motion 10 times less than an equivalent roller bearing system. In the test, they varied only by 10 microinches, while the roller bearing setup showed a peak to valley error of almost 100 micro inches.

Finally, the inherent inertia in conventional bearing technology means they can never be positioned as accurately as air bearings. This trait is among the reasons New Way was tasked to develop an air bearing-based motion system for the Keck Observatory. The result was a system with 1.1 arcsecond resolution. For linear motion, our linear slides offer fully integrated motion, with precision only limited by the encoder driving the stage.

Particle and Fluid Sealing

CNC machining can be a messy business owing to the near gallons of cutting fluid which are expended during operations in order to cool the part and your tooling. An environment like this means the atmosphere inside the CNC is filled with fluid and micro-fine particles, all of which can and will eventually infiltrate a ball or roller bearing assembly, no matter how well sealed.

This infiltration necessitates replacing bearings, and leads to further machine downtime. Owing to the positive pressure exerted on the face of a Porous Media air bearing, they are naturally self-sealing (even able to operate under water). For messy environments where particle infiltration is a concern, products like our New-Seal come through, combining a bearing and seal in one through Porous Media, resisting fluid and particle infiltration up to 35 PSI.

Retrofit Ready

As we discuss the benefits air bearings bring to an already matured industry with well developed ecosystems of technology, we must also note the ease of retrofitting air bearings into existing systems. New Way has spent decades providing rebuild services and drop-in ready products to Checkmate Coordinate Measuring (CMM) machine rebuilders, as well as providing our services to help retrofit stereo lithography stepper machines. Our in-house engineering team has decades of experience creating bespoke products for our clients, and working with OEMs to successfully integrate our technology.

Contact Us

Want to learn more about how air bearings can revolutionize CNC machining and additive manufacturing? Already have an application in mind? Contact us today so we can learn about your application and find the right Porous Media air bearing product for you!

Learn More About the Porous Media Difference