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3 min reading time
Story 172 – 1993 – Innovation Quality Business model

The reinvention of the wheel

Slide bearings: Perfection of an ancient technology

Slide bearings are among the oldest technical achievements. Made of copper alloys, they played an important role in industrialisation. Today Wieland produces more than 100 million slide bearings made of innovative, lead-free alloys every year - mainly for the automotive industry.

Slide bearings are among the oldest technical inventions of mankind. As early as the Stone Age, drills were used, with their axle being supported by a hand-held bearing. From 3500 B.C. onwards, axial bearings for doors and stone bearings for potter's wheels have been known. The invention of the wheel was already groundbreaking before that, but its bearings were still quite primitive: the wooden axle was guided with plenty of clearance through a hub drilled into the wheel.

Around 1000 B.C., a groundbreaking discovery was made: it was discovered that bronze bearing bushes and pins significantly reduced friction in slide bearings, especially when the lead content in the copper alloy was high. It was not until the 15th century that Leonardo da Vinci scientifically studied the phenomena of friction and thus established tribology. Two centuries later Isaac Newton also made a fundamental contribution to the study of this field, as did the researchers Robert Hooke, Charles Coulomb and Heinrich Rudolph Hertz later on.

In the course of industrialisation, the demand for better slide bearings became ever greater, a trend which prompted Wieland to enter this technology around 1900. Initially, slide bearings were produced for carriage wheels as well as for the company's own machines, then bearing solutions for agricultural equipment as well as for construction machinery and the hydraulic industry were added. In 1946 Wieland supplied slide bearings for the automotive industry for the first time – to Ford. For a long time, however, slide bearings for the brake systems of trucks and other heavy vehicles as well as for axles of heavy-duty transporters dominated.

Slide bearing production at Wieland has experienced a real boom since the 1990s: At that time, diesel engines with direct injection and turbochargers started their triumphant advance in passenger car construction. Higher loads and temperatures place special demands on slide bearings which Wieland meets with its special brass. Due to the consistent development of new, highly loadable and lead-free bearing materials (such as the tin-nickel bronze Wieland L66), Wieland has become an attractive and globally recognised partner for the automotive industry.

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Slide bearings from Wieland

In 2019 Wieland produced 127 million slide bearings and thrust washers, 110 million of which were supplied to the automotive industry.