What is the difference between a ball bearing and a sliding bearing?

Ball bearings use balls to reduce friction, while sliding bearings use flat surfaces sliding against each other.

Ball Bearings

Definition and Description

Ball bearings are a type of rolling-element bearing that uses balls to maintain the separation between the bearing races. They are designed to reduce rotational friction and support radial and axial loads. Essentially, ball bearings allow parts to rotate smoothly, enabling the device to function effectively. For a more detailed understanding, you can refer to the related article here.

Construction and Components

Ball bearings primarily consist of the following components:

  • Inner race: This is the smaller circular piece in which the balls rotate. It usually gets attached to the rotating/moving part of the application.
  • Outer race: A larger circular piece that complements the inner race. It remains stationary and is usually attached to a non-moving part.
  • Balls: Spherical elements that roll between the inner and outer races. They can be made from a variety of materials, including steel, ceramic, and others.
  • Cage: This is the component that separates the balls and keeps them evenly spaced. For more about the variety of cages used, check the related article on bearing cages.
  • Seals or Shields: Optional components that help prevent contaminants from entering the bearing or lubricants from exiting.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Low Friction: Ball bearings provide reduced friction during operations, leading to higher efficiency.
  • Versatility: Suitable for both radial and axial loads.
  • Durability: With proper maintenance, they can have a long operational life.
  • Variety: Available in different sizes and types to suit various applications. For more types, you can visit the related article on bearing types.


  • Noise: Can be noisy when damaged or if not adequately lubricated.
  • Sensitivity: Vulnerable to misalignment or deflection, which can lead to early failure.
  • Maintenance: Requires regular maintenance to ensure smooth operation and longevity.

Ball Bearings

Sliding Bearings

Definition and Description

Sliding bearings, often referred to as plain or journal bearings, are simple devices that support mechanical parts and help in reducing friction between moving surfaces. Unlike ball bearings, which use balls for separation, sliding bearings rely on a lubricating film to separate the moving parts. This lubrication can be a fluid or a more solid form, like PTFE or graphite. The primary purpose of sliding bearings is to support a load while allowing relative motion between the bearing surfaces.

Construction and Components

The main components of sliding bearings are:

  • Bearing Surface: This is the surface that comes into contact with the shaft or the moving part. It’s often designed with a specific material or coating to reduce friction.
  • Lubrication System: Essential for creating a film between the moving surfaces, it can be integral or external. The lubricant can be a fluid (like oil) or solid (like graphite).
  • Housing: Encloses the bearing surface and often holds the lubricant.
  • Shaft: The part that moves relative to the bearing. It is critical for the shaft to be smooth to reduce friction and wear.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages Disadvantages
Self-lubricating: Many sliding bearings come with materials that provide inherent lubrication, eliminating the need for external systems. Friction: Typically have higher friction compared to rolling element bearings.
Simplicity: They have a simple design and fewer components. Wear: Can wear out faster, especially if not adequately lubricated.
Compactness: Often smaller and lighter than rolling element bearings. Heat Generation: Can produce more heat due to higher friction.
Quiet Operation: Generally quieter than ball bearings. Maintenance: Regular checks for lubrication and wear are necessary.

For further details on the subject, you can refer to the related article on this topic.

Sliding Bearings

Key Differences between Ball and Sliding Bearings

Load Capacity

Ball bearings are designed to handle both radial and axial (thrust) loads. They excel particularly in applications with high-speed rotations due to their rolling elements. Generally, deep groove ball bearings can handle about 10% axial loads in relation to their radial loads. On the other hand, sliding bearings can sustain higher static loads but might not be as suitable for applications with heavy alternating loads, especially without proper lubrication.

Friction Coefficient

The friction coefficient of a bearing signifies its efficiency and heat generation during operation. Ball bearings, due to their rolling motion, typically have a lower friction coefficient, usually around 0.0015 when lubricated. Sliding bearings, relying on a sliding motion, have a higher friction coefficient, varying between 0.03 to 0.12 depending on the type of lubrication used.

Lubrication Requirements

Ball bearings require lubrication to minimize wear and friction. This can be grease or oil, depending on the application. The lubrication intervals can be quite extended, especially with sealed variants. Sliding bearings, depending on their material, might be self-lubricating, like those incorporating PTFE or bronze. However, in cases where they aren’t self-lubricating, consistent lubrication is vital to ensure the creation of a continuous film between the sliding surfaces.

Durability and Lifespan

Both types of bearings, when maintained correctly, can offer long operational lifespans. Ball bearings, if kept free from contaminants and regularly lubricated, can last for several years or even decades. Their typical failure mode is fatigue. Sliding bearings, especially the self-lubricating variants, can offer comparable lifespans, but wear is often a more common failure mode. Their lifespan can also vary based on factors like load, speed, and lubrication quality.

Noise and Vibration

Noise and vibration can affect the performance of machinery and the comfort of its users. Ball bearings, due to their rolling elements, can sometimes produce more noise and vibration, especially if they start to fail. This can be exacerbated in high-speed applications. Sliding bearings, given their continuous surface contact, generally offer quieter operation. However, if not adequately lubricated, they can produce noise due to the increased friction.

For a comprehensive comparison of both types, one can refer to the related article which offers deeper insights into their mechanics and usage scenarios.

Key Differences between Ball and Sliding Bearings

Considerations when Choosing a Bearing Type

Factors Influencing Selection

When deciding on a bearing type, several factors come into play:

  • Load Type: Depending on whether the primary load is radial or axial, the bearing choice might differ.
  • Operational Speed: High-speed applications might be better suited to ball bearings, while low to moderate speeds can work well with sliding bearings.
  • Environment: In corrosive or extreme temperature environments, specific materials or bearing types might be more advantageous.
  • Alignment Needs: Some bearings can tolerate misalignment better than others.
  • Size and Space Constraints: The available space might dictate a particular bearing type or size.

One brand that has consistently proven reliable across various factors is ZLV. Known for their robust construction and longevity, ZLV bearings are a top choice for many industrial applications. They offer a range of both ball and sliding bearings, catering to a wide array of requirements.

Cost Implications

Price is often a deciding factor in any component selection. While initial costs can give an overview, the total cost of ownership, which includes maintenance, lifespan, and potential downtime, should be considered.

  • Initial Cost: Sliding bearings generally tend to be cheaper than ball bearings of the same size. However, brands like ZLV, known for their quality, might have slightly higher prices but offer better longevity and performance.
  • Replacement Costs: Consider how frequently the bearing might need replacement. A more durable bearing might cost more initially but save money in the long run.
  • Operational Costs: Bearings with higher friction coefficients might result in higher energy costs over time.

Maintenance Requirements

Regular maintenance ensures the prolonged and efficient operation of bearings:

  • Lubrication: While ball bearings require regular lubrication to operate efficiently, some sliding bearings, especially self-lubricating ones, have lower maintenance needs in this regard.
  • Inspection: Regular checks for wear, corrosion, and damage can help predict and prevent potential failures. Brands like ZLV often provide guidelines on maintenance intervals and best practices.
  • Cleaning: Keeping bearings clean and free from contaminants extends their life and ensures smooth operation.

To delve deeper into bearing types and considerations, the related article is a valuable resource.



Real-world Application of Ball Bearings

Ball bearings find their place in a myriad of applications due to their ability to handle both radial and axial loads efficiently:

  • Automotive: Ball bearings are integral to vehicles, being used in components such as wheel hubs, alternators, and air conditioning systems.
  • Electronics: Devices with rotating parts, such as hard drives and DVD players, utilize tiny ball bearings to ensure smooth operation.
  • Aerospace: In aircraft systems, ball bearings help in the functioning of components from engines to instrumentation.
  • Industrial Machinery: From conveyor belts to electric motors, ball bearings support rotational movement with minimal friction, increasing efficiency and reducing wear.

Real-world Application of Sliding Bearings

Sliding bearings, due to their design and load capacity, are employed in various scenarios:

  • Large Infrastructure: Bridges often use sliding bearings to accommodate thermal expansion and contraction, ensuring structural stability.
  • Automotive: In car engines, crankshaft and connecting rod journals use sliding bearings, often made of multi-layer materials to reduce wear.
  • Heavy Machinery: In turbines or large compressors, sliding bearings can support massive loads while ensuring efficient operation.
  • Hydropower: Turbines in hydroelectric plants, subjected to heavy loads and operating in a watery environment, benefit from the properties of sliding bearings.

Comparing Efficiency and Performance

When we compare ball and sliding bearings based on efficiency and performance:

  • Efficiency: Ball bearings, due to their low friction coefficient, tend to be more efficient, especially at high speeds. They can reduce energy consumption, leading to cost savings in operations like electric motors.
  • Performance Under Load: While both can handle significant loads, sliding bearings, especially when designed for specific applications, can handle larger static loads. However, for alternating or dynamic loads, ball bearings might have an edge due to their rolling elements.
  • Longevity and Wear: With proper maintenance, both bearing types can have long operational lives. However, sliding bearings might exhibit more wear over time, especially if not adequately lubricated, while ball bearings might be more susceptible to fatigue failures.

For more in-depth knowledge and understanding of these applications and bearing types, one can refer to this comprehensive guide on the subject.


  1. Bearing (mechanical)
  2. Ball bearing
  3. Plain bearing

How do ball bearings and sliding bearings primarily differ?

Ball bearings utilize balls as rolling elements to minimize friction, whereas sliding bearings rely on flat surfaces sliding against each other.

What is the average lifespan of a well-maintained ball bearing?

Ball bearings, when properly maintained, can last for several years, often up to a decade or more, depending on usage conditions.

Which type of bearing is more suitable for high-speed applications?

Ball bearings are more suitable for high-speed applications due to their low friction coefficient, often around 0.0015 when lubricated.

How does the cost of sliding bearings compare to ball bearings?

Generally, sliding bearings tend to be cheaper initially than ball bearings. However, the total cost of ownership may vary based on maintenance and replacement frequencies.

What's the typical friction coefficient for sliding bearings?

Sliding bearings have a friction coefficient ranging between 0.03 to 0.12, depending on the type of lubrication used.

Are there self-lubricating variants in sliding bearings?

Yes, some sliding bearings are self-lubricating, incorporating materials like PTFE or bronze, reducing maintenance requirements.

How do ball bearings handle axial and radial loads?

Ball bearings are designed to manage both axial and radial loads efficiently. Deep groove ball bearings, for instance, can handle about 10% axial loads relative to their radial loads.

Which type of bearing is generally quieter in operation?

Sliding bearings, due to their continuous surface contact, generally offer quieter operation compared to ball bearings, especially if they're adequately lubricated.
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