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The Unique Story of Schaeffler’s Needle Roller Bearing Design

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Sep 23,2022


Dr.-Ing. E.h. Georg Schaeffler filed a patent for a component known as the cage-guided needle roller bearing (NRB) in 1950. A component offering a simple design, robust operation, and a very small design envelope that helped put Schaeffler on the map in the automotive and industrial markets. The company’s application expertise—from manual to automatic transmissions, followed later by e-mobility—evolved along with its NRB bearing technology.

The lightest and smallest option in the roller bearing family is the NRB, according to Victoria Bigham, NRB product line manager at Schaeffler. They provide instant advantages for bearing applications that require reduced weight and space. A needle roller is defined as two end faces and a lateral surface with a length approximately 3–11 times larger than diameter.

“As we look at different bearing applications, everything, in my mind, is just a fancy NRB,” Bigham said.“When you get into ball bearings, cylindricals, tapers, you’re using that same roller cage/raceway combination in theory. So, our job is to go after a variety of different applications to determine how we can best use our bearing expertise to enhance these components for our customers.”

In 1950, Dr. Schaeffler filed a patent application for the caged NRB, shortly after founding the company, then

known as Industrie GmbH, in 1946. The first practical tests involving cageguided needle roller bearings began in February 1950. The results were convincing—the components exhibited extremely low wear and friction. The application for a patent in September 1950 laid the foundation for the product's success. In February 1951, just one year after construction of the first prototype, the first volume production orders were obtained from automotive manufacturers. Industrial applications soon followed. 

“Schaeffler was the first to offer the separation between the rollers for large-scale production volumes,” Bigham added. “As the automotive industry was taking off, you were able to get the speed that you couldn’t get beforehand with a full complement roller bearing. The rise of the caged NRB essentially went together with the rise of the automotive industry.”

 With his invention, Dr. Schaeffler eliminated the serious disadvantages associated with the full-complement needle roller bearings that had previously been used as standard: The long needle rollers tended to move in a transverse direction during rotation of the bearing (skewing), which would then cause the bearing to jam. Furthermore, a substantial amount of sliding friction was generated between the counter-rotating needle rollers. 

Schaeffler’s development of the new needle cage overcame these disadvantages and permitted considerably higher speeds and less friction. This allowed engineers to substitute other bearing designs for cage-guided NRBs and significantly improve the performance of their applications. The use of needle roller bearings in mechanical and plant engineering, construction, and agricultural machinery, and in conveyor technology, was also being gradually introduced.

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