How Bearings Work

By: Karim Nice

Some Interesting Uses

There are several types of bearings, and each has its own interesting uses, including magnetic bearings and giant roller bearings.

Magnetic Bearings

Some very high-speed devices, like advanced flywheel energy storage systems, use magnet bearings. These bearings allow the flywheel to float on a magnetic field created by the bearing.


Some of the flywheels run at speeds in excess of 50,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). Normal bearings with rollers or balls would melt down or explode at these speeds. The magnetic bearing has no moving parts, so it can handle these incredible speeds.

Giant Roller Bearings

Probably the first use of a bearing was back when the Egyptians were building the pyramids. They put round logs under the heavy stones so that they could roll them to the building site.

This method is still used today when large, very heavy objects like the Cape Hatteras lighthouse need to be moved.

Earthquake-Proof Buildings

The new San Francisco International Airport uses many advanced building technologies to help it withstand earthquakes. One of these technologies involves giant ball bearings.

The 267 columns that support the weight of an airport each ride on a 5-foot-diameter (1.5-meter) steel ball bearing. The ball rests in a concave base that is connected to the ground. In the event of an earthquake, the ground can move 20 inches (51 cm) in any direction. The columns that rest on the balls move somewhat less than this as they roll around in their bases, which helps isolate the building from the motion of the ground. When the earthquake is over, gravity pulls the columns back to the center of their bases.

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