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What is a Ball Screw?

Patrick Roland
By Patrick Roland
Updated May 17, 2024
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A ball screw is a highly efficient type of nut and bolt that provides smooth movement. Its unique design, consisting of many ball bearings inside a sleeve, is used in industries such as robotics and aeronautics. Great care is taken to create ball screws, and their high price reflects this care. These complex machines are, however, not as popular in other industries because of restrictions and the possibility of a breakdown.

The ball screw design is unique in the field of screws, nuts and bolts. It consists of a long threaded rod, known as the shaft, that is crafted to have its thread precisely spaced tightly together. The most complex portion of this two-part system is the screw element. The screw acts as a nut that goes over the threaded shaft but is different from traditional nuts because it is a self-contained unit with hundreds of tiny ball bearings aligned inside. When the screw is placed over the threaded shaft, the bearings easily roll down the threads.

The ease with which a ball screw moves up and down the shaft is its main purpose. The ball bearing screw system provides 90 percent efficiency when operating. Compared to the 50 percent efficiency of traditional system, ball screws operate with much less need for force. This lower exertion of force is perfect for many mechanical devices that use a ball screw to accommodate moving parts.

A ball screw nut and shaft system is used in many industries that need accuracy and dependability for those moving parts. One of the biggest users of this device is the airplane industry. An average plane, with its various flaps and in-flight adjustable elements, uses many ball screws for such adjustments. Robotics is another industry that has found the ball screw useful because of the fluid movement that this system provides.

The ball screw has found a home in many different areas, but it is not a perfect fit for every industry. Critics' biggest worry about this system is its cost, because ball screws tend to have significantly higher prices than traditional methods. Industries such as mining also avoid this system if there are debris and particles in the air, because the ball bearing system needs to be kept immaculately clean in order to function properly. Finally, hand-fed machine tools also have proved to be a poor match for ball screws because of the inability to regulate the feeding stiffness of a servo motor.

AboutMechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Rundocuri — On Apr 27, 2014

@talentryto- I have some experience putting together robots as a hobby, and the ball screw is ideal for these projects. The fact that the ball screw is very versatile and mobile makes it the perfect tool for building robots because they need to be flexible to move.

By Talentryto — On Apr 26, 2014

My nephew has an interest in robotics, and is trying to organize a team at his high school. Students that sign up will be able to share their interests and talents in robotics by building small robots from scratch. Are ball screws effective for use in small robots?

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