Air bearings, also known as aerostatic or aerodynamic bearings, are fluid bearings that use a thin film of pressurized gas to provide a low friction load-bearing interface between surfaces. The two surfaces do not touch, thereby avoiding the traditional problems associated with bearings such as friction, wear and tear, particulates, and lubricant handling. Instead, air bearings offer advantages such as a lack of backlash or static friction and high performance in high-speed applications. In aerospace, friction is a common problem encountered in nearly all operations. Air bearings are critical in reducing friction and preventing serious damage caused by it. This blog will explain the main benefits of air bearings as well as their four main applications throughout the aerospace industry.
The first benefit of air bearings is the improved product performance that results from their use. Without friction, engineers are able to ascertain a clearer, more realistic idea of a product’s performance. The use of air bearings allows for quicker identification of root causes and confidence in product design. This approach is beneficial from the earliest stages of component development and testing to the final integration of the completed product. Integration of advanced technologies in the aerospace industry can make it difficult to isolate problems, so the air bearing's ability to eliminate the problem of friction prevents an issue before it occurs.
Two other benefits of air bearings are that they eliminate induced vibration and reduce maintenance time & cost. With air bearings, because they are separated by fluid, there are no operating or moving parts to contribute to errors, or cause damage to sensitive components due to vibration. The use of air instead of traditional lubricants removes the need for complex periodic maintenance. With reduced wear and tear, less money is spent on repairs and components last much longer in general.
The benefits of air bearings have made them very popular for applications throughout the aerospace industry. The four most common uses for air bearings in aerospace are: attitude control system simulations, torque assessment, product line safety, and engine operation.
Attitude Control System Simulations
Air bearings have been used to provide a simulation environment for satellites for decades. The satellite effectively floats on a surface to provide a space-like environment for the satellite. This environment aids in the precision assessment for critical docking base and rendezvous situations. The precision necessary for these scenarios makes traditional bearings inadequate, because they produce too much friction to enable an accurate assessment.
Air bearings can also be used to test torque and power output. Because of stringent modern performance requirements, traditional bearings are not capable of providing a perfect reference point needed during testing. By removing the errors caused by friction, the resultant torque and power can be examined to accurately determine the engine’s performance.
Product Line Safety
Air bearings are commonly used to transport heavy loads within a production facility. Without friction, products are able to be lifted and floated in the assembly plant, thereby saving time and increasing safety for product line employees.
By utilizing air to separate the shaft from the bearing, instead of traditional lubricant, engine efficiency is increased. This increase in efficiency is achieved through the removal of friction and the inherent energy loss it creates. Additionally, removing the need for oil lubricant reduces maintenance time and cost, thereby allowing increased operation of the aircraft or extending the service-life of components used in space-based applications.
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