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Plastic Bearing Design Winners Show Ruggedness, Precision

Plastic Bearing Design Winners Show Ruggedness, Precision

Winners announced at the National Design Engineering Show on Monday in Chicago, include pivot-housing bearings on a roller coaster, a pick-arm bearing in a potato planter, and slides to move a two-axis test-tube tray plus bearings for a three-axis probe to position and dispense fluids in immuno assays.

The first prizewinner in the First North American Plastic Bearing Design Contest, or manus (derived from Latin for hand or courage and initiative) was Six Flags Magic Mountain engineers' use of a plastic flange bearing on its X roller coaster. These function under various G loadings to pivot wheel bogies that turn seats in excess of 360 degrees in a vertical plane-all while the70-ft long, 30-ton trains carrying the seats ride along side, rather than on top of or below, the rail structure carrying the cars.

The engineers chose the flange bearings to increase the roller coaster's reliability with longer service life and reduced costs due to less frequent maintenance.

Harriston Industries second place entry of using an iglide plastic bushing gave its potato-picker arm bearing a whopping 500-600 % increased life, while costing 70-80 % less. Harsh conditions the bearing had to face included high abrasive volcanic ash concentrations in Washington and Oregon. In Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, high salt content in the air caused the orginal oil-impregnated brass bushings with graphite plugs to corrode and seize.

Third place was captured by Nova Biomedical's use of fixed and self-aligning plastic bearing slides and bushings in immuno-assay equipment. In this, a two-axis tray has to operate in an incubated environment, which requires highly repeatable and accurate positioning to ensure precise optical measurements. A three-axis probe depends on plastic linear rail bearings to move accurately for dispensing fluids in test tubes within the tray for absorption colorimitry reactions.

The plastic bearings' minimal service and long life at elevated temperature, with periodic exposure to salt water, were vital in their selection.


Harriston Industries engineers specified an iglide plastic bushings for their down-in-the-dirt use on a potato planter that has to function in soil ranging from salty to abrasive volcanic dust. The plastic bearings thwart corrosion and wear on their second-place entry in the manus contest.

President of igus Frank Blase (left) and manus first prize winner Jeff Hudgins of Six Flags discuss the latter's roller coaster applications of plastic bearings. Hudgins team won $5,000 for their maintenance saving design.

Six Flags engineers used a plastic flange bearing on the X coaster to pivot bogey wheels that allow seats to rotate more than 360 degrees under high G loadings.

The noted plastic bearings keep Nova Biomedical's third-place medical assay equipment running quietly in around-the-clock use in an incubated environment.
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