September 15th, 2021
Bearing technology has come a long way in the approximately 6,000 years of its history. From simple wheel bearings to the latest in NORGLIDE® modular sliding bearing technology. See how dependable friction control and long-lasting bearing performance products from Saint-Gobain began.
The history of bearings began about 6,000 years ago with the first use of the wheel. While the round object was a historical breakthrough in itself, it needed a way to be fixed to a cart to become a practical transportation technology.
The plain bearing was introduced after the wheel to make it possible to transport heavy goods and transform the wheel into the essential technology that it is today. At its most basic, a plain bearing needs to accomplish the following tasks:
The plain bearing design fulfills all of these requirements, but not efficiently. Though thousands of years old, the technology has remained remarkably similar to the original design. The materials have changed to accomplish the goals more efficiently, but modern bearings must handle the same tasks as the very first bearings.
Two major issues with traditional plain bearing designs:
Lubricants were used to reduce these two issues, but bearings were still high-wear items that needed to be replaced frequently. Over the course of history, inventions improved the wear-resistant and low-friction features of these key components.
The story of Saint-Gobain NORGLIDE® Bearing manufacturing starts with Max Alfred Pampus. In 1919, Alfred founded the company Pampus. The company moved into PTFE processing and began importing semi-finished and finished PTFE programs in 1948.
In 1966, the company constructed a manufacturing plant in Schiefbahn. The increased capacity of this modern facility enabled the manufacture of the most advanced program of fluoro plastic goods in Europe.
The innovative processing of PTFE materials expanded and the company began to establish worldwide contacts. This was aided by a new administrative building in Schiefbahn to handle global communication and industrial connections.
The Pampus group was taken over by the Performance Plastics business sector of Norton Company USA in 1982. After 8 years of leadership under the Norton Company USA, Saint-Gobain took the reins of the company in 1990. The company name changed to Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Pampus GmbH in 2001, and it continues to create innovative products to overcome industry challenges.
PTFE and other material innovations impact a number of industries. From plain bearings to NORGLIDE® Bearings, these innovations have directly impacted the automotive industry and been behind other applications in bicycles, scooters, robotics, automation and industrial sectors. They have all enjoyed the advancements in bearing technology.
PTFE, or polytetrafluoroethylene is a synthetic polymer that was accidentally discovered in 1938. The fluorinated polymer was first popularized as a coating for cookware, but it was noticed that PTFE as a soft plastic had some weaknesses; it deteriorated with high wear and suffered from cold flow under load. That limited the use of PTFE at that time. Different strategies have been pursued to overcome this. One solution was created by the Czechoslovakian research organization SVÚM in the late 1960s which they called METALOPLAST®; a PTFE foil reinforced by a metal mesh.
The “iron curtain” made communication between Eastern Europe and Western Europe difficult at that time. Fred Harig, the managing director of Pampus realized the importance of this technology and was able to purchase the recipe and METALOPLAST® name.
Before using METALOPLAST® on an industrial scale, several improvements were needed to obtain a reliable and high-performing material. As a result, in 1972, Fred Harig filed a patent using these improvements to create a revolutionary bearing material in the automotive industry.
This innovative polymer was first experimented with in bearing construction in 1943. As PTFE is known as non-stick-material a proper connection between PTFE and metal is always a challenge. In 1951 the company Glacier patented a material with a layer of porous bronze, where the open cavities are filled with PTFE. This was a great step forward to fix PTFE mechanically on a metal surface.
Glacier (now GGB) further improved this process and introduced DU® in 1956. These steel-backed bearings were based on PTFE technology, the first of their kind. The flexible METALOPLAST® (now NORGLIDE® MP) was then developed and patented between 1969 and 1971 to close the gap between the stiff DU® materials and the soft PTFE foils. The first laminated PTFE bearings based on gluing technology (NORGLIDE® M / T / SM) were patented in 1987.
NORGLIDE® materials are pioneers in more environmentally friendly bearing technologies as they were designed without heavy metals, like lead or chromium (VI), from the very beginning. The first lead-free alternative to DU® was developed in 1995, following the initiatives for eco-friendlier products in automotive bearing manufacturing.
Another example for eco-friendlier production was to stop using Perfluorooctanoic Acid, or PFOA, an adjuvant used in the production process of PTFE. When this chemical was found to be a critical substance and environmental concern in 2009, the manufacturing process was carefully monitored to minimize the environmental impact. For the production process of NORGLIDE® materials PFOA has no positive effect; so, using PFOA-free PTFE has no influence on the performance of NORGLIDE® materials.
One of the first opportunities to see how METALOPLAST® could be used in the automotive industry was door hinge manufacturing for Volkswagen. This technology could counter a common door hinge issue and create a long-lasting, quality ride.
The classic Beetle design was highly successful, but it suffered from door drop over its lifetime. This meant that the door would start to sag over time and create a maintenance issue. The goal was to create a hinge that didn’t need routine lubricant or repairs but would retain noise-free, stable performance over the course of its lifetime.
Innovative side door hinges use a PTFE-based composite material – flexible but strong, to create a reliable product. These new hinges were successful in creating a maintenance-free bearing for the Volkswagen Golf I.
Our team at Saint-Gobain has continued to improve upon the METALOPLAST® design until it was officially launched as NORGLIDE® in 1990. From there, the modular sliding bearing underwent a number of types and material structures to fit customer specifications.
What started with the NORGLIDE® T and M models quickly expanded over the years to include alternative models. From 1990 to 2014 and beyond, new models of sliding bearings offer enhanced performance characteristics and various applications in the industry.
Today, there are a number of models available for use in an automotive application. Here are the common model names that you can choose from as you look for a high-quality sliding bearing:
Each type of bearing uses PTFE or another friction-reducing polymer mated with a durable metal backing. The exact polymer and backing can vary to meet the requirements of your particular process. The compound can include aromatic polyester, carbon, graphite, glass and other fillers.
The metal backing can be steel, stainless steel, aluminum, bronze-cladded steel, or aluminum-cladded steel. Your product end-use plays a major role in selecting the optimal backing and coating materials for the optimal sliding bearing.
In addition to these styles, you can also choose a number of shapes and geometries of these iconic bearings. Consider your specific application and clearance requirements before selecting the optimal shape:
The shape is affected by the application and the desired outcome. Bearings are used to reduce friction in a range of moving parts. Consider the clearance and interference of components that may affect the optimal bearing geometry.
Regardless of the geometry chosen, the same basic dual-layer design of polymer and steel is used to create NORGLIDE® Bearings.
Thanks to the PTFE material, these bearings have minimal maintenance and minimal friction. By working with our design team we find a bearing design that offers the minimum coefficient of friction for solid materials.
The self-lubricating nature of these bearings ensures maintenance-free performance for years of use. Low-friction design ensures dry-running and stability, even in high-load settings.
Choose bearings that compensate for misalignment and reduce noise in operations. Building on the durability and smooth performance of NORGLIDE® Bearings offer impressive vibration damping and corrosion reduction.
Explore the latest bearing technology features with our team at Saint-Gobain. Contact us today to discuss bearing history and recent innovations. See how our engineering team can help you create a customized component to overcome your automotive challenges. Fill out our online form or email us at email@example.com for more information about our sliding bearing products.