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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 Bearings—A 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, and more.

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.
A06 on Magnetic Properties.
C28 on Advanced Ceramics.
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 Materials.
--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 on Friction.

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 DoD’s 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 today’s 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 bearings.

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, ASTM’s experience in the conversion of MILSpecs—culled from years of work with other industry sectors such as plastics and others—will 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 F34 subcommittees.)

But there’s 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

Peter Ward of P.C. Ward Consultants, Peterborough, N.H., has worked in ball bearings for 35 years as a metallurgist, tribologist, and design engineer. He is currently a consultant in bearing design, materials, tribology, failure analysis, and new product development and education.


Rolling Element Bearing Group Subcommittees

Ceramic Ball
General Purpose

New ASTM Committee F34

Turbine Engine Bearing
Automotive/Industrial    Bearing
Preservation, Cleaning, and    Packaging
Rolling Element
Strategic Planning