# Lowest friction bearings

#### evi7538

Hello colleagues,

I'm designing a simple precision rotational mechanism for angular positioning of an optical element. I need a total rotation travel angle of about 50 deg at a low speed (a few seconds for the full travel) with about 4000 discrete positions over the travel angle. Any systematic positioning errors can be calibrated so I don't necessarily need an ultra-high positioning absolute accuracy. The most important parameter is high positioning repeatability, or low positioning noise. I need the repeatability below a few arc sec but the system has to be of small size and low cost so I can not use precision positioning stages. I tried a stepper with precision planetary gear and the positioning noise was terrible. I'm now thinking of using a stepper motor with small step angle (0.8 deg) in a microstepping mode (around 100 microsteps per step) and replacing the bearings with some high grade low friction ball bearings. Finding a stepper is not a problem, there is plenty of them available (e.g. NEMA 14 0.8deg steppers) but I need an advice on the bearings. I guess I need a bearing with the lowest friction and the highest friction evenness and repeatability. Basically, the positioning noise of the mechanism is proportional to (motor torque) / (friction noise). There are so many bearing options: ABEC classes from 1 to 9, types of steel, ceramic or steel balls, types of oil, cage types and cage materials (metal, nylon, Teflon). I guess the higher the ABEC class the lower the friction and positioning noise but what are the other right options to get the lowest friction and friction noise?

Are there any other types of bearings with even lower friction than ball bearings? Any magnetic or other types of bearings? I know about the air bearings (those are used in Michelson interferometers) but they need a pump and make the system expensive and bulky so it's not an option for me.

Thanks!

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#### anorlunda

Mentor
Gold Member

You can levitate the entire apparatus magnetically, as in maglev trains. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maglev.

However depending on the total weight, it may be big and power hungry. How much mass are you lifting?

Orientation matters also. Maglev lifts only vertically. What is the thrust orientation of that bearing?

#### evi7538

Thanks for the suggestion. The mass is very small but the axis orientation is unpredictable. Also, I'm looking for something available on the market that I can just buy from some supplier.

#### 256bits

Gold Member
It's no wonder that hard disk drives stay away from stepper motors due to their clunkiness and backlash from the gearing.

In case you don 't know about other methods,
You can also investigate voice coil actuators for the precision they provide.
An investigation of servo mechanisms, and possibly closed loop operation.

(Just out of the blue, an ammeter with its coil mechanism seems repeatable for moving that little arm along the scale ).

You don't say what torque is required though for the manipulation of the optical element.

#### jrmichler

Science Advisor
A definitive source of information on super precision rolling element bearings, from a top manufacturer: https://www.skf.com/binary/30-129877/0901d19680495562-Super-precision-bearings-catalogue---13383_2-EN.pdf. It has 422 pages of super precision bearing goodness.

Generally, the largest source of friction is the seals. If you can surround your bearings with filtered air (think in terms of filtration to less than one micron), then you don't need seals. Just lubricate with the appropriate oil per the recommendations in the catalog listed above.

#### evi7538

A definitive source of information on super precision rolling element bearings, from a top manufacturer: https://www.skf.com/binary/30-129877/0901d19680495562-Super-precision-bearings-catalogue---13383_2-EN.pdf. It has 422 pages of super precision bearing goodness.

Generally, the largest source of friction is the seals. If you can surround your bearings with filtered air (think in terms of filtration to less than one micron), then you don't need seals. Just lubricate with the appropriate oil per the recommendations in the catalog listed above.
Tanks for the good link! I think there are also non-contact seals available so they don't create contact friction. But there must be a cage in any bearing that keeps the balls in their place and that is the major source of friction I think. So Teflon cage might be the best option.

It's no wonder that hard disk drives stay away from stepper motors due to their clunkiness and backlash from the gearing.
In case you don 't know about other methods,
You can also investigate voice coil actuators for the precision they provide.
An investigation of servo mechanisms, and possibly closed loop operation.
(Just out of the blue, an ammeter with its coil mechanism seems repeatable for moving that little arm along the scale ).
You don't say what torque is required though for the manipulation of the optical element.
Right, voice coils, servo control and air bearings are used in Michelson interferometers and work great but that system is very expensive.
Steppers magnetically are actually more precise than rotational voice coils due to higher differential torque (the coils are actually very coarse steppers with one step per revolution). But in steppers it's the bearing that limits the precision.

#### jrmichler

Science Advisor
I think there are also non-contact seals available so they don't create contact friction.
There are, and they are called shields. The problem is that shields do not keep fine dust out of the bearing. I have a belt sander that was manufactured with shielded bearings. It did not last very long before the bearings seized up. I replaced them with sealed bearings, and it has been working well since.

there must be a cage in any bearing that keeps the balls in their place and that is the major source of friction I think
Not quite. With the right amount of the right oil, cage friction is very small. SKF has (or had) a bearing calculator somewhere on their site that will calculate the friction for any of their bearing. My recollection is that most of the friction is from seals, followed by rolling friction proportional to the load on the bearing. If low friction is important, you will need to find that calculator and spend some time with it. Do not expect good advice from their tech support service (BTDT and learned the hard way).

#### evi7538

There are, and they are called shields. The problem is that shields do not keep fine dust out of the bearing. I have a belt sander that was manufactured with shielded bearings. It did not last very long before the bearings seized up. I replaced them with sealed bearings, and it has been working well since.
Thanks for the advice. I found that ASF offer rubber molded non-contact seal (type 3RU) and they claim that it does not make a contact and does not increase the torque while still protecting from the dust. That is probably the best sealing option I think:
https://dpk3n3gg92jwt.cloudfront.net/domains/ast_units/pdf/ENB-04-0556.pdf
Not quite. With the right amount of the right oil, cage friction is very small. SKF has (or had) a bearing calculator somewhere on their site that will calculate the friction for any of their bearing. My recollection is that most of the friction is from seals, followed by rolling friction proportional to the load on the bearing. If low friction is important, you will need to find that calculator and spend some time with it. Do not expect good advice from their tech support service (BTDT and learned the hard way).
Thanks, I found that calculator but for the low load that I have it gives zero for the frictional moment :) I think it depends on the application. I think in my case of very light load (~10-20g - weight of the optical element and the motor shaft) and non-contact seal the cage might be the only major residual source of friction.
https://dpk3n3gg92jwt.cloudfront.net/domains/ast_units/pdf/ENB-04-0573.pdf

#### evi7538

I think I found what I need: ceramic bearings from Boca Bearing. They claim that "Because ceramic is a glass like surface it has an extremely low coefficient of friction and is ideal for applications seeking to reduce friction."

#### Tom.G

Science Advisor
Wind-up pocket watches and wrist watches use shafts with pointed ends riding in a conical depression in sapphire bearings, they are also called jewel bearings. They have very low frictional losses because the lever arm at the point of contact is extremely small.

For heavier duty, I think if seen them with a sapphire ball embedded in the shaft ends; which you may need to handle the axial load with random orientation of your design.

Try: https://www.google.com/search?&q=sapphire+bearings
over 2 000 000 hits

Cheers,
Tom

#### evi7538

Wind-up pocket watches and wrist watches use shafts with pointed ends riding in a conical depression in sapphire bearings, they are also called jewel bearings. They have very low frictional losses because the lever arm at the point of contact is extremely small.

For heavier duty, I think if seen them with a sapphire ball embedded in the shaft ends; which you may need to handle the axial load with random orientation of your design.

Try: https://www.google.com/search?&q=sapphire+bearings
over 2 000 000 hits

Cheers,
Tom
That's a good find, thanks Tom!

#### Mech_Engineer

Science Advisor
Gold Member
I'm designing a simple precision rotational mechanism for angular positioning of an optical element. I need a total rotation travel angle of about 50 deg at a low speed (a few seconds for the full travel) with about 4000 discrete positions over the travel angle.
I work in this design space, you're right to be concerned about repeatability and hysteresis with sub-arcsecond angular resolution. Have you considered a flexure-based positioning solution? 50 degrees of travel sounds pretty large for optical positioning unless its a high-speed scanning application, but I've used flexure designs similar to flexure pivots with some success in sub-arcsecond applications.

Something like this: they're fricitonless so there is no positioning hysteresis, you just need to take into account the torsional spring rate in your actuator's design.

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#### Mech_Engineer

Science Advisor
Gold Member
In case you're interested, here is some reading on the subject as well regarding use of flexures for alignment tasks when high precision/accuracy and limited travel are needed:

"Slit Diaphragm Flexures for Optomechanics", Vukobratovich, Richard, Proc. SPIE 2542 (1995)
Many precision motion applications in optical engineering require limited ranges of travel. Often the linear range of travel is less than 1 mm, and the range of rotation is less than 5 degrees. Conventional rolling element bearings are not a good choice for providing motions of this type. The relationship between friction and torque in a rolling element bearing is non-linear for small ranges of travel (1,2). Hysteresis and rapid wear are other problems associated with rolling element bearings used for small ranges of travel (3,4).

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#### evi7538

In case you're interested, here is some reading on the subject as well regarding use of flexures for alignment tasks when high precision/accuracy and limited travel are needed:

"Slit Diaphragm Flexures for Optomechanics", Vukobratovich, Richard, Proc. SPIE 2542 (1995)
Mech_Engineer, thank you so much for the links. I've seen custom-made flexure designs in some Michelson interferometers but I did not know that flexure bearings are available as standard parts. This looks like a perfect solution to my problem!

#### Mech_Engineer

Science Advisor
Gold Member
Mech_Engineer, thank you so much for the links. I've seen custom-made flexure designs in some Michelson interferometers but I did not know that flexure bearings are available as standard parts. This looks like a perfect solution to my problem!
Pay close attention to your travel requirements and the flexure bearing's fatigue rating. A travel of +/- 25 degrees could be a bit farther than recommended for those bearings but they may be a good starting point.

#### MRFMengineer

Lots of great bearing options have been listed already.

If you want to invest some time and money on the motion control side adding a rotary encoder, brushless motor and motion controller+motor drive, would do quite a bit to improve repeatability over a stepper.

#### evi7538

Lots of great bearing options have been listed already.

If you want to invest some time and money on the motion control side adding a rotary encoder, brushless motor and motion controller+motor drive, would do quite a bit to improve repeatability over a stepper.
Thank you for your suggestions. I don't understand why a brushless motor would be better than a stepper in microstepping mode. Would a stepper with similar size and current have higher angular differential torque (since the same holding torque is applied over a small step angle as compared to a motor with similar magnetic torque where the angle is much larger?). My understanding is that the positioning noise is proportional to the torque noise from bearings divided by the differential magnetic torque, so for motors with comparable bearings, size and current the stepper should have lower positioning noise. Am I missing something?

I can use an encoder on brushless or stepper motor but I don't think they can have positioning accuracy down to a few acrsec. Or can they?

#### Mech_Engineer

Science Advisor
Gold Member
The main problem with micro-stepping is you don't have closed-loop position feedback, and the smaller the step the more likely a stall condition or missed steps will occur. Speed can also be an issue with a micro-stepping, in addition to potential vibration during operation.

A direct drive rotation stage will struggle to achieve arc-second resolution, it depends on what encoders are available on it.

#### evi7538

The main problem with micro-stepping is you don't have closed-loop position feedback, and the smaller the step the more likely a stall condition or missed steps will occur. Speed can also be an issue with a micro-stepping, in addition to potential vibration during operation.

A direct drive rotation stage will struggle to achieve arc-second resolution, it depends on what encoders are available on it.
Understood by at an arcsec precision how would you implement a closed-loop feedback? Encoders are not good enough at that level of precision.

I agree about speed and missing steps but in my case of very low speed this is not an issue. As long as the magnetic torque per microstep is a few times larger than the bearing friction torque there will be no missing steps or stalling at low speed. The point is, as I said above, steppers have much higher magnetic torque per the same angular increment compared to servos or brushless motors. therefore the same bearing friction causes proportionally smaller angular positioning error/noise.

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Arc second resolution is readily achievable with an external optical encoder, several companies make them, such as Renishaw: https://www.renishaw.com/en/atom-encoder-series--37564 (~$500?) Even if you used a stepper, at least you could monitor the actual position not just commanded position. There are several methods for reading the encoder position. The encoder should be rigidly mounted close to your sample, not on the motor if possible. I am not sure how your system is laid out. #### evi7538 Arc second resolution is readily achievable with an external optical encoder, several companies make them, such as Renishaw: https://www.renishaw.com/en/atom-encoder-series--37564 (~$500?)

Even if you used a stepper, at least you could monitor the actual position not just commanded position. There are several methods for reading the encoder position.

The encoder should be rigidly mounted close to your sample, not on the motor if possible. I am not sure how your system is laid out.
Thank you for the link, that is interesting. Still too big and expensive for my design. If nothing else works I can still use those, but before I go there I want to explore simpler/cheaper solutions. I plan first to try a fine pitch stepper in miscrostepping mode with high grade ceramic mini-bearings, that is the easiest thing to do. My calculations tell me that it should be good enough for a few arcsec precision. But if that is still not good enough, I plan to try jewel or flexure bearings with a stepper.

#### MRFMengineer

What is the microstepping resolution for your motor? What motor are you using?

#### evi7538

What is the microstepping resolution for your motor? What motor are you using?
It's a standard NEMA 14 with 0.8 deg full step and 4 oz-in holding torque. I'm driving it with 16-bit DAC + power amp so I can make as many microsteps as I need, and I need about 100 per full step.

#### Tom.G

Science Advisor
It's a standard NEMA 14 with 0.8 deg full step and 4 oz-in holding torque. I'm driving it with 16-bit DAC + power amp so I can make as many microsteps as I need, and I need about 100 per full step.
As suspected, there is a drawback to microstepping; torque decreases inversely with number of microsteps.

Incremental torque/microstep as the number of microsteps/full step increases
Microsteps/
full step
% holding
torque/microstep

1 ..... 100.00%
2 ...... 70.71%
4 ...... 38.27%
8 ...... 19.51%
16 ...... 80% 9.80%
32 ...... 4.91%
64 ...... 2.45%
128 .....1.23%
256 ..... 0.61%
The table shows the significant impact of the incremental torque/microstep as a function of the number of microsteps/full step.

from: https://www.machinedesign.com/archive/microstepping-myths
found with: https://www.google.com/search?&q=stepper+motor+torque+versus+microstep

Cheers,
Tom

edit: fixed typo at 16 steps

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#### Baluncore

Science Advisor
But if that is still not good enough, I plan to try jewel or flexure bearings with a stepper.
Robust galvanometer coils and the spinners in gyrotheodolites are suspended by a thin vertical bronze tape. If you fix one end of the tape in tension, mount your item part way along a tape, then turn the far end with the motor, you will get low bearing noise with a ratiometric angular reduction.

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