"We can make bearings that fit into a wrist watch, on up to bearings that are 2-Â½ feet in diameter that are used in giant electricity-generating windmills," says Richard Kay, Champion Bearings CEO and chief engineer.
"What we typically produce are custom-made, ceramic, specialty ball bearings for high-tech applications.Our bearings can be used for harsh environments, for high-speed applications, machinery with high loads, high- and low-temperature applications, and for machinery used in a vacuum.We also do a lot of work for other bearing manufacturers that can't handle the more precision work with special requirements." Champion Bearings has been in the forefront of bearing technology since the company's inception in 1979, when Richard Kay, a graduate of Michigan Tech University, started the company in Palm Springs.Much of his approach to bearing manufacturing has to do with the theories of tribology, the science of friction, wear, and lubrication, a discipline in which he earned an honorary degree from MIT.
"I don't have any proprietary technology because I don't believe in hiding what I do," says the company's CEO."If the technology's going to get out, it will get out.My ion-deposition process could be called proprietary, but it's so complex that I doubt if anyone could figure it out."
With Bearings Like These, Who Needs Oil and Grease? Kay
believes that ceramic bearings can even play a part in reducing the use of fossil fuels in the industrial sector."If manufacturers in the U.S. converted from steel bearings to ceramic bearings in just one size of bearing, I feel the country could save over one million barrels of oil per year," says Kay
."To back up my theory, I went to the Federal Trade Commission
to see how many metal ball bearings are sold in the U.S. in one year.They told me it was 600,000,000.If they are all Â¼-inch or ?-inch, I figure it would take one million barrels of oil to lubricate them." Kay
explains that hydrocarbon lubricants smooth out the surface of metal bearings, which have peaks and valleys that are visible under a microscope.Hydrocarbon or fluorocarbon lubricants are often used to fill in the valleys to keep the peaks from touching.But he
believes there's a better way of handling micro-weld adhesion.
"The area of contact is so miniscule that, for example, a force of ten pounds on the bearing generates a pressure of over a million pounds per square inch," Kay
In one test that Kay
tested a flywheel with a load using ceramic bearings and races, which are mounted on a trunnion.He
brought the flywheel up to 7,000 rpm, and then measured the coast down time."It took 350 seconds for it to stop rotating," Kay
maintained."When I did this with metal bearings and races with oil and grease on them, they slowed down in less than 60 seconds.So this is a huge amount of torque and energy being absorbed by the system."
Ion Deposition Process Provides Dry Film Lubrication Richard Kay
small staff do all of the designing, engineering, and prototype manufacturing in his
small plant in Palm Springs, using mostly CNC milling machines and lathes.About four years ago, Kay
was asked to make a ceramic ball bearing component for an electric motor that goes into a mechanical heart."Six people are walking around on the east coast todayâ€"completely wellâ€"using the heart that has our bearings inside it," Kay
"We do a lot of work for Maxum Motors
, both AC
and DC motors, and with Optical Coating Laboratories Inc.
, (OCLI), a company that makes optical lenses, many of which are used in vacuum chambers," says Kay
"In one instance, a customer had some seals that were leaking oil, so we added Teflon
seals to the bearing," Kay
explained."We also make angular [contact] ball bearings with a Teflon
Design and engineering is a key element for precision, high-tech bearing applications.When designing a new bearing, Kay
first asks his
client about the environmental conditions in which the bearing will be used.Is the environment hot or cold?
In one test, Kay
took a Â¼-inch diameter ceramic ball bearing, put it on a steel plate, and hit it with a 35-pound sledge hammer.He
could not break it or even put a scratch on it.
Engineered plastics, such as PEEK
, and Vespel
are also used extensively at Champion
.The company has recently developed a Teflon molybdenum disulfide material suitable for retainers.Kay
recently talked to ten engineers at OCLI
convinced them to use a zirconia ceramic for a particular bearing application.
"The thermal expansion characteristics of zirconia are almost identical to their stainless steel housings," Kay