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Are you designing an application and trying to find the best bearing that will support its operational requirements?

If this sounds like you, you’ve probably come across some information about radial ball bearingsa.k.a. deep groove ball bearings, and are wondering if this is the right bearing for your application.

This radial ball bearing application guide was created to help you answer that question!

By the end of this article, you’ll know if you should choose a radial bearing for your application and the three things you need to know about radial ball bearings.

Radial Ball Bearings Are The Most Common Type of Bearing

The bearing world considers radial ball bearings to be the “duct tape” of bearings. Good for many different applications and easily found. Applications from skateboards to dental drills (more on that later) use radial bearings.

The reason they’re so popular is because they are widely available and support a broad range of:

  • Temperatures
  • Loads
  • RPMs
  • and more

At GMN Bearing USA, our ball bearing products proudly support operations in several industries and applications. To learn more, contact our in-house engineers!

Is a Radial Ball Bearing a Good Choice for Your Application?

Radial Load Animation by GMN Bearing USA

To answer this question, we have to first uncover the type of load your application will place on the radial ball bearing.

Radial ball bearings, just like angular contact ball bearings, carry radial loads (forces perpendicular to the shaft) in both directions. The difference is in how these two types of bearings handle the axial load.

Axial Load Animation by GMN Bearing USA

Radial ball bearings can also support axial loads in all directions, whereas angular contact bearings can support axial loads in only one direction.

Radial bearings don’t need to be purchased in pairs like angular contact bearings so they’re a good choice if space is limited in your application.

To recap, If your application needs ball bearing support for radial loads and axial loads in all directions, then a radial ball bearing is probably a good choice. Make sure you keep reading for 3 important things you need to know about radial ball bearings before you start using them in applications.

3 Things You Need to Know About Radial Ball Bearing Applications

There are three key pieces of information you should know about radial ball bearings before you start using them in your application. They are:

  1. Internal Clearance
  2. Bearing Fits on Shaft and Housing Units
  3. Radial Ball Bearing Material

1. Internal Clearance

Internal clearance is the amount of distance the inner ring moves relative to the outer ring from the geometric center of the bearing. Axial clearance is the allowable movement in the direction of the shaft and radial clearance is the allowable movement perpendicular to the shaft.

Knowing the internal clearance of your bearing is important because it affects the load distribution, vibration produced, and the rolling elements of the bearing.

These clearances have been standardized in the bearing industry and are represented as “C” numbers. The higher the number the more relative movement allowed between the inner and outer ring. Here are the standardized clearance ratings from tightest to loosest:

  • C2
  • CN
  • C3
  • C4
  • C5

The clearance of a bearing before it’s fitted on a shaft is called the initial clearance (or initial radial play).

The clearance of a bearing after it’s fitted on a shaft is called the operational clearance (or operational radial play).

2. Bearing Fits on Shaft and Housing Units

Internal clearance can be affected by the machined shaft and housing tolerances, not just after the application’s thermal effects, but before.

A tight press fit on a machined shaft that’s slightly bigger than the inner ring of the bearing will reduce the bearing clearance dramatically.

A reasonable rule of thumb is for every 3 microns of ID (bearing inner diameter) that’s press fit on the shaft, 1 micron of internal clearance is lost. The same rule of thumb applies to the housing tolerance too.

This may seem like a small number, but if a bearing only has 5 microns of internal clearance and a 15-micron press fit, the bearing could lock up at a low RPM.

If either the shaft or housing is pressing on both the inner and outer ring of the bearing, then be sure there’s enough internal clearance left for a successful operation, making sure to take the application loads and RPMs into account also.

Internal Clearance and Max RPM

The other thing to think about is the percentage of time you’ll be running the bearing at its maximum RPM limit.

For example, a common 608 radial ball bearing has a max speed rating of 40,000 RPM.  If your application is running at 35,000 RPM, then a tolerance analysis may tell you to leave ~5 microns available for some ball movement at this high of an RPM utilization.

Does your application allow some shaft movement and have low precision requirements? Then a more liberal tolerance strategy can be used. If your application is giving root canals, then the bearings need to be locked down to a couple of microns!

To conclude about internal clearance, choosing the right internal clearance for your application can be tricky. You’ll need to look at multiple metrics and calculations like:

  • Application temperatures
  • Mating part coefficient of thermal expansion
  • Rigidity requirements
  • Duty cycles of application forces
  • RPMs
  • A few other metrics may also be required

Not sure where or how to start? We’ve developed numerous engineering tools and automatic calculators that can help you find some of these answers.

If you don’t find manual calculations interesting, then contact us. Our bearing engineers would geek out love to professionally help you with your analysis.

3. Radial Bearing Material

Bearing Cage Material

GMN bearing with phenolic resin cage

Radial ball bearing cages are commonly made from either:

  • Phenolic (TA cage) is a good choice for most applications since it supports max operating temperatures up to 248°F (120°C)
  • Strip Steel (J cage or “ribbon cage”) is a good choice for an application that may have increased operating temperatures. A J cage made of strip steel can support max temperatures of around 428°F (220°C)

Phenolic material is made of layered fibers, like fiberglass on a corvette or a boat, but the phenolic fibers made for a bearing are tightly controlled without voids, inclusions, or porosity.

There are other less common cage material options, like injection molded plastics or other machined cages made with various metals, plastics, or even glass. We recommend, that if your application is operating in a room temperature environment, then a J or TA cage will be best. Plus, these cages will save you from having supply chain issues and cost headaches.

Sealing a Radial Bearing

The best ‘plug and play’ option is to buy your radial bearing sealed and grease lubricated for life.

There are two different types of sealing closures for radial bearings:

  • Shields: A metal cover either stamped or fastened with a c-clip to the outer ring of a bearing
  • Seals: A rubber cover that contacts both the inner and outer ring of a bearing
Shield Material

GMN Radial Bearing with shield

The most common type of shield is the Z shield made of a low-cost metal that’s stamped or c-clipped to the outer ring of the radial bearing. If stamped, then the bearing can’t be regreased in the field. If the shield is fastened with a c-clip then you can regrease and re-shield the bearing as needed.

Shields (including Z-shields) do make contact to the outer ring of the bearing but not the inner ring, like a seal. Shields usually cause less friction and drag when compared to a seal.

Seal Material

The most common type of radial bearing seal is the RS seal made of a low-cost metal that’s coated with rubber. This seal will contact the inner and outer race of the bearing which could slow down the speed of rotation and produce extra heat during operation.

Both the RS seals and Z shields are low-cost options that work well with an application that has operating temps < 212°F (100°C). There are many different types of materials available for the sealed radial ball bearing and most can support high or low operating temperatures, chemical exposures, and dirty environments.

To learn more about internal clearance, bearing fits on shaft and housing units, and materials of radial ball bearing applications, contact GMN Bearing USA!

Best Applications for a Radial Bearing

After taking all this information into consideration, now we will look at the applications that generally work best using a radial ball bearing.

The most common industrial application that uses radial ball bearings is an electric motor. This is because radial bearings carry loads and movement between the shaft and housing in both axial directions. An axial direction is defined as rotating, or moving, in the direction of the axis. Radial bearings can accept load in both directions along the axis (back and forth), whereas an angular contact bearing can’t.

A lower cost electric motor may have a bit of electrical flux that’s offset from the rotor to the stator. This could cause some axial force to get produced within the motor to the shaft. A radial bearing can handle this kind of sporadic force with no issues. Even if that flux happens to change directions, a radial ball bearing can handle that because it supports axial loads in both directions.

This comes in handy for many pumps where liquids surge or cavitate and cause the axial load to switch directions for just a second before going back to its original direction.

Other kinds of simple applications that rely on radial ball bearings include:

  • Wheels
  • Conveyor systems
  • Bicycles and skateboards

Not all radial bearing applications are slow. In fact, most handheld rotating dental tools are made with radial bearings and can spin well over 100,000 RPM, some even close to 200,000 RPM. The next time you hear the buzz of the dental drill, remember radial ball bearings are present, keeping that tool steady.


This article has covered a lot and hopefully shed some light on radial ball bearings. When it comes to choosing one for your application, remember “first things first,” check the type of load that your application will place on the bearing support.

Next, understand the type of internal clearance that your application will require of the radial bearing and pay attention to how it fits on the shaft. Finally, choose the type of radial ball bearing cage material and shields that will support the operating environment.

If you’d like to talk to an engineer about radial ball bearings or want to double-check if your bearing is right for your application, reach out to our onsite engineers either using our contact us form or by giving us a call at 800.323.5725.

See our full line of GMN radial ball bearings or ORS ABEC 5 radial ball bearings and request pricing and availability today.

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