Ball Bearing Industry Rolls to ASTM
by Peter Ward
New ASTM Committee to Standardize Rolling Element Bearings with
Implications for Many Industry Sectors and ASTM Committees
Rolling element bearings (a.k.a. ball bearings) are used in myriad
industrial and consumer products. Manufacturers and procurers
that formerly standardized rolling element bearings under the
aegis of a DoD working group have come to ASTM to meet their standards
development needs. This shift highlights the benefits of the ASTM
process and the importance of Public Law 104-113, which mandates
the use of private sector standards development processes for
government standards needs.
ASTM has a new committee within its fold: F34 on Rolling Element Bearings. The formation of this committee within
the Society provides many advantages for ball bearing manufacturers,
U.S. government procurers and users, and other industries represented
by ASTM technical committees.
Rolling Element BearingsA Critical Product
The world market for these products is about $20.5 billion annually.
Ball bearings (30 to 52 millimetres in diameter) are used by the
auto industry for under-the-hood applications, electric motors
that run home appliances, power tools, machine tools, conveyors,
escalators, fans, and pumps. In addition, the market for small
bearings (those under 30 millimetres) is fast-growing. Known as
miniature and instrument bearings, they are critical to the Department
of Defense. These small bearings are used in gyroscopes, altimeters,
range finders, and other navigational equipment found in missile
guidance systems, aircraft, ships, and land vehicles. Recent growth
markets for ball bearings have been computer disc drives and peripheral
equipment, in-line skates, dental drills, windshield wiper blades,
On the supply side, 10 companies account for more than 80 percent
of production. The top ten share their location in Japan, the
United States, and Germany, which are by far the largest bearing
markets and production centers. On the demand side of the equation,
the number of user interests for these products is extensive due
to the broad range of applications for bearings in numerous finished
products. The users are small, medium, and large companies, with
significant impact in both the private and public sectors.
Several ASTM committees and subcommittees standardize materials,
processes, or products that are used in the manufacture or use
of ball bearings:
--Subcommittees of A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel, and Related Alloys: A01.06 on Steel
Forgings and Billets and A01.28 on Bearing Steels.
--Committee A06 on Magnetic Properties.
--Committee C28 on Advanced Ceramics.
--Committee G01 on Corrosion of Metals.
--D02.C0.05 on Load Carrying Capacity of Fluid Gear Lubricants,
a Subcommittee of D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants.
--Subcommittees of D20 on Plastics: D20.15 on Thermoplastic Materials and D20.16 on Thermosetting
--Subcommittees of Committee F04 on Medical and Surgical Materials and Devices: F04.03, Division
on Medical/Surgical Devices, F04.12 on Metallurgical Materials,
and F04.13 on Ceramic Materials.
--Subcommittees of Committee G02 on Wear and Erosion: G02.20 on Computerization in Wear and G02.50
Some of the standards developed by these ASTM committees are referenced
in and become an integral part of ball bearing specifications.
We look forward to becoming more familiar with, and a part of,
the overall ASTM family. This will allow all ASTM standards to
interact more seamlessly.
Alphabet Soup: The DoDs IBWG & REBG
Standardization is not new to the rolling element bearing community.
Until the use of solid-state glass cockpit type instruments, small
ball bearings had been the only way to achieve precise antifriction
movement for the mechanical device predecessors of todays flight
instruments. As early as the late 1960s, the Navy was worried
about the quality and misapplication of instrument bearings as
these flight navigational instruments were being refurbished and
bearings were replaced.
In response to this concern, a group of experts was formed to
field problems and resolve issues with bearing manufacturers and
original equipment manufacturers. This informal system helped
but, by the 70s, then-chairman David Stanley thought the group
would work better if it met with all service branches, government
procurement groups, and with bearing manufacturers all together
as part of the group. So in 1971, in accordance with a DoD memorandum
from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, the Instrument
Bearing Working Group (IBWG) was formed.
In 1980, instrument bearing manufacturers and users began to participate.
The bearing company representatives were happy to help, both to
tend to their strategic interests and learn about industry trends.
It was a good environment for engineers to get together and talk
about their industry.
In 1995, the IBWG approved a name change to the Rolling Element
Bearing Group (REBG), to reflect its expertise in dealing with
issues that transcend instrument bearings, such as packaging,
lubrication, ozone-depleting-chemical-free bearing cleaning, and
changes in government regulations and utilization of specifications
and standards when they apply, exempting airframe rolling element
The REBG had purview over documentation and standardization, exchange
of information, training and education, and research and development.
The training and education was introduced when people in the services
wanted to understand and learn about bearings and why specs specified
what they did. Technical presentations, briefings, and workshops
were available at the twice-yearly REBG meetings, which were held
at either a service instrument facility where the bearings were
used, or at a bearing manufacturer or a lubricant manufacturer.
Now, 30 years later, a new generation of bearing engineers and
military customers have become friends and associates, building
a great professional culture. (See sidebar right for a listing
of REBG Subcommittee areas.)
ASTM Provides a New Home
With the advent of Public Law #104-113 (the National Technology
Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995), which mandates that the
U.S. government use private sector standards developing organizations
for government standards needs, the REBG leadership found it needed
a new home outside the DoD. It has found that home in ASTM.
Moving the REBG activity into the new ASTM Committee F34 offers
the ball bearing industry a fresh start without losing the broad
expert input and the long list of existing standards the REBG
has compiled over the last nearly 30 years. While the REBG had
no mechanism for the automatic updating of existing standards
or the publication of new ones, ASTM provides that structure.
Additionally, ASTMs experience in the conversion of MILSpecsculled
from years of work with other industry sectors such as plastics
and otherswill expedite the first task of the new Committee F34:
the conversion of over 200 military standards and specifications
into ASTM documents. (See the sidebar for a listing of Committee
But theres much more to do than simply convert existing standards.
The rolling element bearing industry continually faces new challenges
in material and manufacturing technology and plans to write several
new standards. ASTM staff will work with F34 to identify standards
needs in product-specific markets. Some activities that are in
progress include standards for: porous polyimide and phenolic,
new grease and oil cleanliness issues, general instrument bearing
procurement, torque testing requirements, special packaging to
eliminate corrosion, silicon nitride, and ceramic ball, to name
just a few.
In related areas, ASTM staff is developing: 1) Technical and Professional Training courses focusing on quality control, maintenance, and refurbishing
of ball bearings and 2) an International Symposium on Rolling
Bearing Steel, scheduled for November 2001 in Dallas, Texas.
Members of the REBG are very proud and happy to comprise the new
F34 Committee on Rolling Element Bearings. This gives us a place
to continue our very necessary work of maintaining important ball
bearing standards as well as growing to include bigger ball bearings,
which are used in aircraft engines and gear boxes. In our new
ASTM home, we can continue our service to the family of bearing
customers that include the military services, aerospace and aeronautical
equipment manufacturers, turbine engine manufacturers, and other
specialized motion equipment manufacturers. //
Copyright 2000, ASTM