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Wheels, Bearings, & Axles
The wheel is probably the single most important invention of all time. It is so commonly seen and used that most don’t take the time to marvel at its simplicity or importance.
The wheel and axle acts as a lever rotating around the fulcrum or the center point. So in a way a wheel is one continual lever that never ends. The whee'ls capacity for moving a load increases with its diameter in the same way that a lever's ability to lift a load increases as its distance from the fulcrum is increased. (Larger radius = more leverage) The oldest wheel was found in Mesopotamia and is believed to be over 5,500 years old. What would the world look like today without that discovery?
Wheels aren’t just on your car or wheelbarrow, they can be found in your computer, electric motors, and power generators. If you put a few teeth around the circumference of a wheel, you have a gear. The same principles of leverage apply but the possibility of slippage is eliminated. Add a few wheels opposing each other and wrap a cable, rope, or belt around it and you have a pulley system, magnifying the humble wheel's ability without limit.
In appliances such as washers, the circumference of the wheel or tub within the appliance spins at very high speeds due to transmission gearing (wheels) to cause the water within your clothing to be squeezed out through small holes and then pushed out by another wheel (the pump).
Of almost equal significance is a wheel or series of wheels called a bearing. A bearing is a support placed against one or more moving components, bearing weight or strain, allowing them to move easily. Actually, a bearing is not always a wheel. It can also come in the form of a stationary material designed to reduce friction, such as a dryer's drum felt. Bearings are often used to decrease the amount of friction generated between a wheel and its axle or fulcrum. That is because when things slide, the resistance between them causes friction - a force that counteracts motion energy, creates heat, and can destroyeven the hardest of materials. But if the two surfaces can roll over each other, the friction is greatly reduced. Front loading washing machines have a rear bearing that not only supports the entire weight of the inner tub but also reduces friction as the tub rotates more than 1000 times a minute during the final spin cycle. Bearings don’t need to be round they can also be constructed from a piece of material that resists friction, such as nylon or felt. This type of bearing is commonly used to reduce friction between a rotating dryer drum and stationary supporting components.
Axles are both a fulcrum and a bearing for a wheel. The wheel would not be half as useful without an axle. The axle enables us to attach a stationary load, such as the seating area in your car onto rotating wheels. It also enables us to harness the wheel's ability as a circular lever in a stationary application such as a pulley. Imagine life without the humble axle.