Thrust bearings are special types of bearings manufactured to support axial stresses while enabling rotary motion between two moving parts. In fact, thrust refers to the axial loads under which these types of bearings are designed to operate. They are available in a wide range of designs, including ball, roller, fluid, and magnetic variations. In the automotive sector, ball and roller thrust bearings are commonly found in wheel hubs, and manual transmissions can utilize what is popularly known as a throw-out bearing as a part of the clutch mechanism.
Ball thrust bearings consist of numerous balls that are held within two circular rails and are equipped to handle a relatively low amount of thrust. Tapered roller bearings, on the other hand, are similar in appearance, but provide more surface area and can handle higher levels of thrust in comparison. It is important to note that both of these types of thrust bearings often find use in wheel hubs. In general, bearings are required for the wheels to rotate and sustain the weight of the vehicle, ensuring that axial stresses are supported.
The other major use of thrust bearings includes manual transmissions. As previously mentioned, such uses require a throw-out bearing, also called a clutch release bearing, a specialized thrust bearing type. It rests on a spindle within the transmission and is activated by a fork when the driver pushes down on the clutch pedal. The fork presses it into the pressure plate, freeing the clutch disc and enabling the drive to shift or brake. Keep in mind that the pressure plate is bolted onto the flywheel and spins when the clutch release bearing contacts it. As such, the bearing may be exposed to high levels of thrust without breaking.
Apart from finding use in automotive applications, thrust bearings are found in a number of other industries. In fact, they are used anywhere that a bearing might be subjected to high levels of axial stress. For example, in rotorcraft and fixed wing aircraft, thrust bearings are integral parts of landing gears and rotors, two components that often endure a lot of stress during regular operation. While roller and ball bearings are frequently used in automotive and aerospace projects, fluid thrust bearings are utilized in the thrust block of ships. Usually, these bearings are smaller and more compact than ball or roller bearings, ensuring lower levels of friction. As a result, incredibly powerful engines can be created. Lastly, fluid thrust bearings also benefit marine and land-based power plants.
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