3D printed bearing cages: Bowman disrupts bearings industry with high-performance parts

Bowman manufactures 3D printed industrial parts with HP 3D Printing technology.



Industrial 3D Printing

Sector: Machinery and equipment


HP 3D High Reusability2 PA 11


To produce an industry-leading range of industrial split roller bearings that are easier to assemble and enhance performance.



HP Multi Jet Fusion technology

HP Jet Fusion 4200 3D Printer


With HP MJF, Bowman engineers invented a new design for 3D printed bearing cages and seals, which allowed them to improve aspects of the bearing.



The search for disruptive technology

Bearing cages can be one of the most significant factors in bearing performance, and they're also the most complex part of a bearing. 

Bowman International is a leading manufacturer and supplier of plain bearings in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. 

Its standard range of bearing cages traditionally would have been produced using steel, bronze, or aluminum, all of which can result in noise and vibration during operation, compromising the material’s durability and the quality of the part. 

Extremely complex geometries made it impossible for Bowman to use traditional processes like Injection Molding to produce the thousands of bearing cages they needed to manufacture per month.

Bowman initially used SLS to 3D print tooling and parts, but this technology increased the likelihood for warping and inconsistent mechanical properties in the final part, so it was not suitable to produce reliable 3D printed tooling. 

Faced with this challenge, Bowman sought new ways to design and manufacture their parts and subsequently opted for HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology to take prototyping into production, and then on to volume production, particularly for bearing cages and seals.

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“We see an enormous future with HP MJF technology.
What we’re doing opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”

Jacob Turner, Head of Additive Production, Bowman International


3D printed bearing cages with HP Multi Jet Fusion

Using the design capabilities of 3D printing, specifically with HP MJF, engineers at Bowman invented a new patent-pending design for 3D printed bearing cages and seals, which in turn allowed them to modify other aspects of the bearing.

“Since creating a more complex design, this has allowed us to simplify the other components within the bearing assembly,” said Chris Perry-Westlake, Production Engineer at Bowman. 

“By doing this, we have been able to reduce the number of different components in stock by up to 75%.” 

The use of HP 3D HR PA 11 material allowed Bowman to 3D print parts that:

  • Feature enhanced elongation at break, which is critical when assembling parts
  • Show improved performance
  • Require less maintenance and fewer spare parts
  • Are easier to assemble and cheaper to manufacture, which is a major advantage when used in potentially harsh industrial environments

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Improvements in 3D printed industrial parts

Bowman continued to 3D print bearings with HP MJF “due to the fact that we could produce 5 to 7 times more components within the same time frame,” said Perry-Westlake.

Traditionally 3D printing bearings required a lead time of 12 to 14 weeks, but using HP MJF technology to 3D print these industrial parts resulted in a lead time of only one week. 

By 3D printing bearing cages with HP MJF technology, Jacob Turner, Head of Additive Production for Bowman, noted that “we’re able to take the entire bearings load capacity to 30 or 40 or even 50% higher, extending the life of a traditional split bearing by 3 to 5 times."

The newly designed split roller bearing now features 3D printed bearing cages that not only increase the radial load capacities by 70%, but also increase axial load by 1,000%, and 3D printed seals offer better wear properties and enhanced ease of use.

“For us, HP Multi Jet Fusion was a massive step forward in terms of output, the number of parts we could make, and the isotropic properties,” said Turner.

Bowman’s advanced design and manufacturing capabilities now focus on supplying JHB Split bearings to the global market and developing new applications within both additive manufacturing and 3D printed bearing design.

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Industrial 3D Printing case studies

  1. All images are data courtesy of Bowman Additive Production
  2. HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solutions using HP 3D High Reusability PA 11 provide up to 70% powder reusability ratio, producing functional parts batch after batch. For testing, material is aged in real printing conditions and powder is tracked by generations (worst case for reusability). Parts are then made from each generation and tested for mechanical properties and accuracy.