Air Bearings History

Air bearing history dates all the way back to the early 1800s. Below you will see a timeline that shows the development pattern that brought Bently Bearings to life and the development of the company since coming to market.


Wills Publishes Earliest Known Treatise
Rev. Wills publishes a work in the Cambridge Philosophical Society entitled “On the Pressure Produced on a Flat Surface When Opposed to a Stream of Air Issuing from an Orifice in a Plane Surface.”


Kingsbury’s Experiments Highlight Inherent Difficulties
A. Kingsbury experiments with a 6”diameter journal bearing supported on externally pressurized air. The practical problems of matching bore and shaft geometry and size to achieve a consistent .0005” gap all the way around were and are a manufacturing challenge. Small gaps are required when using air because the viscosity is so low. Kingsbury finds that the higher viscosity of water or oil works better with the relatively large gaps that can be manufactured at that time.


Westinghouse Receives Thrust Bearing Patent
G. Westinghouse receives a patent for an air thrust bearing used in a vertical steam turbine.

1950's & 60's

US National Labs Lead the Way
Although obscure, air bearings are an important enabling technology in meeting the exacting needs of the defense department and the nuclear power industry. US National Labs is a leader in the application of air bearings to ultra-precision machine tools.


Porous Media Air Bearings Are Developed
Porous air bearings are developed, and have their genesis inside the National Labs.


Air Bearings Revolutionize the Coordinate Measuring Machine
The Check Mate is the first CMM to employ air bearing technology, using a granite guide surface. Russ Shelton — known by some as the father of the CMM — used porous carbon air bearings on machines he built 40 years ago. Some of these machines are still in use today. This is because the air bearings provide straighter, frictionless motion. The smooth, silent operation is especially evident in the resolution of scanning or measurement on the fly-type machines.


IBM Commercializes Air Bearing Technology
Air bearing technology is commercialized when IBM uses air bearing spindles to produce large hard disc drives. The hard disc drive industry still relies almost exclusively on air bearing spindles for its spin stands.


Sheffield Develops Its Own Air Bearings for Its CMMs
Sheffield Corporation (now Giddings & Lewis Metrology) — a builder of CMMs — is one of the few companies to develop its own porous media air bearings. The company considers the technology an important technical advantage. Originally employed on the Apollo Machine in 1982, Giddings & Lewis Metrology continues to use porous media air bearings today.


The First Standard Air Bearing Product Line Is Introduced
Aeolus Air Bearings – the predecessor to New Way Air Bearings® — offers the first standard air bearing product line. For the first time, customers are able to choose from five sizes of inexpensive, readily-available, simple-to-employ air bearings.


Age of the Air Bearing Ushered In As Starrett Uses Commercial Products On Its CMMs
The L.S. Starrett Co. builds a rolling-element bearing CMM when it redesigns its machines to employ the advantages of air bearing technology. They elect to purchase New Way® Porous Media™ air bearings rather than developing their own. Today they continue to purchase New Way air bearings.

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