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Radial Air Bearings: A Solution for Frictionless Rotary Motion

Radial Air Bearings: A Solution for Frictionless Rotary Motion

Check Out Five Benefits of Radial Air Bearings

From the patent of the first radial bearing in 1869 for a bicycle, engineers have continued to evolve the design of radial bearings to manage rotary applications. As with any bearing application, managing friction has become a focal point. Its effects on performance, component life, and maintenance frequency and downtime can dramatically impact operations.

Fast forward to the 1900’s for the evolution of air bearings, offering a non-contact solution using pressurized air to provide lift/gap between the surfaces. Radial air bearings emerge as an alternative to traditional radial ball bearings for rotary-based operations. Removing friction, along with its associated wear and maintenance requirements, allows for improved operations, not to mention precision.

But radial air bearings are not all created equal. Let’s take a closer look at the designs available for radial air bearings and discover their implications for operations.

Air Distribution 101

Fundamental to air bearing design is the mechanism by which the air is distributed. Two major designs have evolved to date.

  1. Orifice Compensation
    Air is provided through one or more hole(s) or grooves to provide lift.
  2. Porous Media
    Air is delivered through a permeable material formed with millions of holes that allow the distribution of air.

The resulting difference is the evenness of the air distribution. Orifice technology can present pressure gradients, potentially causing damaging contact or contamination. In the event of an air supply loss, touchdown damage often occurs as surfaces make sudden contact. With the use of porous media, the air is evenly distributed, ensuring there is never any contact. Even during an air supply loss, air slowly bleeds out, resulting in a graceful touchdown removing concerns of damage.

The superiority of porous media is why it is New Way®’s choice for air bearing design for all its products. Our Porous Media Technology™ utilizes a porous carbon material inherent with millions of sub-micron holes. A thin yet robust air film is created across the entire bearing surface providing an even distribution. This removes the concern of pressure gradients and as a result is able to provide greater precision on a consistent basis.

New Way Radial Air Bearings—A Closer Look

Radial-Air-BearingsBuilt on this proven Porous Media Technology, New Way’s Radial Air Bearings provide a non-contact solution ideal for precision rotary applications. These radial air bearings provide support for rotating, round artifacts at varying speeds using a thin (5µm) layer of air. This thin air layer is amazingly stiff, creating a stable support for a ring, or bearing surface, while allowing for surface speeds of up to 100 meters-per-second.

New Way’s Radial Air Bearings can be configured to ride on the outer diameter or inner diameter of a rotating artifact for a given application, using concave and convex shapes using a radius cut along the length (L) or width (W) of the bearing, depending on your structural requirements. The bearings are specifically machined to the tight tolerances necessary to create non-contact motion. Radial air bearings also have the ability to accommodate axial loads when used in shaft applications.

By grouping radial air bearings together, their solution space is virtually limitless. Radial air bearings can be used in a number of configurations, such as:

  • Rings
  • Drums
  • Cylinders
  • Shafts
  • Discs

With both standard sizes and custom solutions available, we’re confident we can find the right sizes and configurations for your application.

Top Five Benefits of New Way Radial Air Bearings

The inherent use of New Way’s Porous Media Technology provides numerous benefits, but we’ve narrowed it down to the top 5 for you!

  1. No FrictionThe use of pressurized air to provide a stiff, stable support between rotating surfaces creates a non-contact operating environment.
  2. Increased Operating Time – No friction translates to no wear, allowing for increased operation time instead of maintenance downtime. A cost saving is realized as well for lubrication and component replacements.
  3. No Vibration – Traditional radial ball bearings emit vibration as a result of the ball movement and the inevitable contact that is still made. With radial air bearings, there are no moving parts to induce vibration. Additionally, the even distribution of air across the bearing face provides improved stability.
  4. Increased Precision – No contact and no vibration enable sub-nanometer precision positioning. The surface averaging effects inherent to the Porous Media Technology ensure consistent air dispersion, providing greater precision over radial ball bearings as well as air bearings with an orifice design.
  5. High Speed & Acceleration – No contact or moving parts allow for higher speeds and accelerations than radial ball bearings are able to offer.

As you can see, the ability to overcome friction creates a domino-effect of benefits. But the way in which friction is removed, through Porous Media Technology, is what sets New Way Radial Air Bearings apart. This differentiating technology makes them ideal for precision-related applications, which are becoming increasingly apparent in today’s high-tech world.

Let’s look at a few of the industries well-positioned to harness the benefits of these radial air bearings.

Five Industries Ideal to Use Radial Air Bearings

1. Web Handling – From packaging to flexible electronics, the web handling industry is growing at breakneck speeds. Radial air bearings concave and convex profiles are ideal for non-contact conveyance or turning of the substrate, as well as the ability to control web tension and direction. The increased operating time by using radial air bearings allows for greater production yield.

2. Astronomy – The large telescopes involved in astronomical turntables require stability to capture images at high magnification to allow for computation of precise locations/measurements. Vibrations can reduce the quality of the captured image, impacting the precision calculations. With the use of New Way’s Radial Air Bearings, there are no moving parts and vibration concerns disappear. Radial air bearings provide a smooth and silent operation ensuring the capture of images and measurements with high-precision.

3. Metrology – Metrology is where air bearings gained distinction for providing superior precision and positioning. Air bearings revolutionized Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMM) by providing straighter and frictionless motion. CMMs with radial air bearings provide greater precision than those with radial ball bearings.

4. Optics & Photonics – Optics and photonics are now embedded in our everyday life from products such as:

  • TV
  • Phone
  • Computer
  • Internet

Optics & photonics is also integral to services we take advantage of, such as:

  • Medical Imaging
  • Energy solutions
  • Government technologies ensuring national security

Radial air bearings are able to provide the accurate positioning, stability and repeatability demanded by these products and services.

5. Inspection – Manufacturers across numerous industries rely heavily on inspection systems to avoid defective products from making it to the consumer. These systems need the ultra-high precision that only New Way Radial Air Bearings offer.

This is far from an exhaustive list, rather, it provides an idea of the broad range of industries in which radial air bearings can be used. Regardless of industry, New Way enjoys the opportunity to work directly with customers to understand their application and develop solutions to their challenges.

Ready to Give Radial Air Bearings a Spin?

Let us help you realize the benefits of radial air bearings and improve the operation of your rotary motion application. In addition to our off-the-shelf set of standard size radial air bearings, New Way has more than 30 years experience developing custom solutions for our customers. Contact us today for your complimentary consultation so we can get you on the path to Frictionless Motion™.

Contact us today for a complimentary consultation