A stroke of genius
© Schaeffler
June 2020

A stroke of genius

By Stefan Pajung
70 years ago, Dr.-Ing. E. h. Georg Schaeffler filed a patent application for the cage-guided needle roller bearing that has revolutionized bearing technology until today.

70 years ago, Dr.-Ing. E. h. Georg Schaeffler revolutionized bearing technology. His idea was to enhance guidance of the needles in a needle roller bearing by means of a cage. Testing began in February 1950. The results were convincing, as the components exhibited extremely low wear and friction. The patent application was filed in September 1950 and shortly afterwards the first production contracts were awarded. “With this invention, my father laid the foundation for the rapid growth of our company. The cage-guided needle roller bearing is one of the most important innovations in our company’s history as an automotive and industrial supplier,” says Georg F. W. Schaeffler, Family Shareholder and Chairman of the Supervisory Board. “The development of this product impressively shows what distinguishes us: for the cage-guided needle roller bearing, we used the full gamut of synergies to serve all relevant target markets with this innovative product and to generate real customer value – both in the automotive and the industrial sector.”

The cage-guided needle roller bearing is one of our most important innovations

Georg F. W. Schaeffler,
Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Schaeffler AG and Shareholder of the Schaeffler Group
Higher rotational speeds, lower friction

With his invention, Georg Schaeffler eliminated major disadvantages of the previously used full-needle roller bearings: The long needle rollers tended to skew, which resulted in jamming. In addition, a lot of friction was generated between the counter-rotating needle rollers. The cage-guided needle roller bearing made it possible to achieve higher rotational speeds while simultaneously reducing friction and made an invaluable contribution especially to the development of smaller, more powerful and lower-priced automobiles. In mechanical engineering, in construction and agricultural machines, and in handling technology, needle roller bearings were gradually gaining traction as well.

Ancestor and descendant:
A stroke of genius
A replica of the first cage-guided needle
roller bearing from 1950
A stroke of genius
A modern XZU conical thrust cage needle
bearing for lightweight robots
Continuing to be indispensable

In electric mobility, needle roller bearings are essential to the functioning of numerous electrified gearboxes. An example of an application is the Schaeffler e-axle transmission for the Audi e-tron that has been produced since 2018. In industrial applications as well, the utilization of needle roller bearings has made it possible to downsize the areas of the joints to reduce weight and achieve more compact designs in lightweight robots for which there is an increasing demand. The most recent example is Schaeffler’s XZU conical thrust cage needle roller bearing that is used as both an articulated arm bearing for lightweight robots and cobots and as a main bearing support in precision gearboxes for speed reducers in robotic joints. “The future will continue to see things moving by mechanical means. The cage-guided needle roller bearing is central to this – a perfect component. It is cost-efficient and makes ideal use of space,” says Schaeff­ler’s Chief Operating Officer Andreas Schick.

The future will continue to see things moving by mechanical means. The cage-guided needle roller bearing is central to this – a perfect component!

Andreas Schick,
Chief Operating Officer Schaeffler
Technological development

What began with an ingenious idea of Georg Schaeffler’s has undergone a continuous evolution by Schaeffler’s engineers in terms of performance capabilities and diversity of product types over the past 70 years. Compared to a solid needle roller bearing from the nineteen-fifties, service life has increased fifteen-fold and static load-carrying capacity tripled while the dimensions have remained the same. The massively improved performance density delivered by the needle roller assembly offers significant downsizing potential for energy-conserving and resource-saving applications. The variety of product types has consistently grown as well: Today, Schaeffler’s needle roller bearing portfolio encompasses more than 15,000 variants for a wide range of requirements. The length of the wires used in the annual production of 60 billion needle rollers would suffice to wind them around the equator 18 times. Nearly 170 million needle rollers are produced from them per day. 100 billion needle roller bearings have been produced at Schaeffler since the patent application was filed in 1950.