The difference between rolling bearings and plain bearings


Bearings play a crucial role in various machinery and equipment, enabling smooth and efficient movement. There are two major types of bearings commonly used in industrial applications: rolling bearings and plain bearings. While both serve the same purpose of reducing friction and supporting loads, they differ significantly in design, construction, and performance characteristics.

Rolling Bearings

Rolling bearings, also known as anti-friction bearings, are the most widely used type of bearings in modern machinery. They consist of inner and outer rings with rolling elements (balls or rollers) that allow relative motion between the rings. The rolling elements are separated by cages or retainers, which maintain their proper alignment. Rolling bearings offer several advantages:

  • High load-carrying capacity: The rolling elements distribute the load evenly over a large contact area, enabling high radial and axial load capacities.
  • Low friction: The rolling elements reduce friction between the rings, resulting in lower energy consumption and improved efficiency.
  • High speed capability: Rolling bearings can accommodate high rotational speeds due to reduced friction.

Plain Bearings

Plain bearings, also known as sleeve bearings or bushings, have a simple design and consist of a shaft rotating inside a cylindrical bore. Unlike rolling bearings, they do not have rolling elements but rely on a film of lubricant to reduce friction. Plain bearings offer the following advantages:

  • Simplicity and cost-effectiveness: Plain bearings have a less complex design, resulting in lower manufacturing costs.
  • Higher shock resistance: Plain bearings can handle higher shock loads and vibrations due to the absence of rolling elements.
  • Self-lubrication: The lubricant film between the shaft and bore provides self-lubrication, reducing the need for external lubrication.


Although both rolling bearings and plain bearings serve the same purpose, their differences are significant and should be considered when selecting the suitable type for specific applications. Here are some key factors to consider:

  1. Load capacity: Rolling bearings have a higher load-carrying capacity, making them suitable for heavy-duty applications with high loads.
  2. Friction and efficiency: Rolling bearings have lower friction, resulting in improved efficiency and reduced energy consumption compared to plain bearings.
  3. Speed capability: Rolling bearings can accommodate higher speeds due to reduced friction, making them suitable for high-speed applications.
  4. Maintenance and lubrication: Plain bearings require regular lubrication to maintain proper functioning, while rolling bearings usually come pre-lubricated and require less maintenance.
  5. Cost: Plain bearings have a simpler design and lower manufacturing costs, making them more cost-effective for certain applications.


In summary, both rolling bearings and plain bearings have their unique advantages and applications. Rolling bearings excel in high-load and high-speed applications, offering low friction and improved efficiency. On the other hand, plain bearings are cost-effective, handle shock loads better, and provide self-lubrication. Understanding the differences between these two types of bearings is crucial for selecting the most suitable option for specific machinery and equipment needs.

The difference between rolling bearings and plain bearings