How do self lubricating bearings work?

2 mins read

Self lubricating bearings, also known as maintenance-free bearings, are engineered to operate without the need for external lubrication.

(Image credit: Igus)

Unlike traditional bearings that rely on grease or oil, these bearings come with built-in lubrication. But how do they achieve this? In an online post, Igus explores how they work:

  • Lubricant Impregnation: picture a bearing with a special sliding layer. Within this layer lies an infused lubricant—either liquid (such as oil) or solid (like graphite or molybdenum disulfide). The choice of lubricant depends on factors like operating temperature and load.
  • Gradual Release: as the bearing operates, the lubricant is gradually released through tiny pores in the sliding layer. Think of it as a controlled diffusion process. This consistent release ensures that the bearing surface remains well-lubricated even as wear occurs.
  • Running-in Surface: at the top of the sliding layer, you will find a “running-in” surface. During startup, this surface provides low-friction performance until the impregnated lubricant reaches the main bearing surface. It’s like a gentle introduction before the full lubrication kicks in.

Why are self lubricating bearings better than ones that require lubrication?

Self lubricating bearings offer several advantages over traditional bearings that require lubrication:

  • Cost-Effective: since these bearings have lubrication built into them, they generally don’t require much additional maintenance or upkeep and require no additional lubrication or oiling. This eliminates the labour costs surrounding repairs, upkeep and the cost of replacing parts.
  • Increased Efficiency: in these bearings, lubrication is constant, causing reduced friction and wear. Self-lubricating bearings can work smoothly and efficiently with little to no maintenance, increasing productivity and reducing downtime. Because these bearings allow machines to work more smoothly, there is less energy consumption associated with them, reducing energy costs.
  • Reduced Downtime: with no need for additional lubrication and their inherent lubrication abilities, these bearings are much less likely to fail due to friction or inadequate lubrication. The machines that self-lubricating bearings are integrated into can also operate much longer without unexpected failures causing costly downtime.
  • More Environmentally Friendly: traditional oils and lubricants are not needed in self lubricating bearings in any way, meaning the waste they produce and the harmful effects they have on the environment are eliminated.


Industries that commonly use self lubrication

Self lubricating bearings are essential in various industries, which is why igus® bearings are predominantly used.

Below are a few industries that use igus self lubricating bearings and why:

  • Aerospace: imagine a spacecraft hurtling through the cosmos. In this harsh environment, regular maintenance is impractical. Enter self-lubricating bearings. They keep satellite components functioning smoothly without astronauts having to grease them up in zero gravity.
  • Industrial Machinery: in factories and manufacturing plants, machinery operates tirelessly. Self-lubricating bearings reduce downtime by eliminating the need for frequent lubrication checks. Whether it’s conveyor belts, robotic arms or heavy-duty presses, these bearings keep production lines humming.
  • Automotive: self lubricating bearings contribute to ensuring your car drives smoothly and you remain in comfort. From wheel hubs to suspension systems, they enhance durability and reduce maintenance hassles. Plus, they handle extreme temperatures and road conditions with ease.
  • Medical Devices: precision matters in medical equipment. Self lubricating bearings find their place in surgical robots, MRI machines and prosthetic limbs. Their silent operation and reliability are critical for patient care.