3d illustration of thrust needle bearings

What Are Thrust Roller Bearings?

Thrust roller bearings are compact bearings designed to rotate between parts and reduce friction. They’re built to handle axial loads in both vertical and horizontal shafts, and help prevent shafts from drifting. Typically, they are contained in a two-piece cage which ensures that the rollers glide accurately.

In this article, we’ll discuss several aspects of thrust roller bearings, including their design, typical applications, and advantages.

Types of Thrust Roller Bearings

There are two major types of thrust roller bearings. The primary difference between the two is the roller element that is used in the design.

  • Cylindrical Thrust Roller Bearings: As the name suggests, cylindrical thrust roller bearings feature cylindrical rollers. In general, this type of thrust bearing offers good carrying capacity, but doesn’t bear the load that spherical bearings do. 
  • Spherical Thrust Roller Bearings: Featuring spherical rollers, this thrust bearing has the highest load rating density among thrust bearings. They’re self-aligning and thus accommodate misalignment. They also have a low coefficient of friction.

How Do They Work?

All thrust bearings share a similar purpose—to carry axial loads with minimal friction.

As previously mentioned, the rollers in thrust bearings can be spherical or cylindrical. The rolling elements are contained within cages and separated by consistently spaced pockets. When the elements roll, they are confined to raceways along a single axis. This prevents them from sliding out of position and causing bearing failure. The cages themselves don’t bear any load; their function is to keep the rollers in place.


Thrust roller bearings are usually integrated (or unitized) and have three important components.

  • Rollers: These may be cylindrical or spherical. They are most commonly made of stainless steel or ceramic.
  • Cage: The cage holds the rollers. They are usually stainless steel or brass, depending on the application.
  • Inner & Outer Rings: When aligned, the inner and outer rings form what’s called a raceway, which the rollers travel on. 

Industry Applications & Uses

Bearings in general have a wide array of industry uses. Thrust roller bearings find a lot of use in the automotive industry, but they’re also commonly used in marine, aerospace, agriculture, petroleum, and medical equipment industries.

Common applications for thrust roller bearings include drivetrains, machine tools, compressors, hydraulic pumps and all kinds of industrial machinery, especially machines that involve rotation. Essentially, they’re useful for any application that requires a compact bearing with a high axial load capacity.


  • Compact Design: The cross-section height of thrust roller bearings is similar to that of conventional thrust washers.
  • Economical: The simplicity of design is favorable for mass production. It also means they’re readily available in a wide assortment of choices.
  • Ease of Use: Integrated and cage-roller assemblies make them simple to mount in small spaces. Separable design allows the interchanging of components, such as the inner ring.
  • Wear Resistance: The surface-hardened cage provides high rigidity along with wear resistance.

Order Custom Thrust Roller Bearings from Universal Bearings

Which thrust roller bearing is right for your application? If you have questions, turn to Universal Bearings. Founded in 1959, we’re an ISO 14001-, ISO 9001-, and IATF 16949-certified manufacturer specializing in producing custom needle roller bearings. Contact us today to learn more about our capabilities or to schedule a design consultation.