Ball Screw - Preload Drag Torque


A ball screw is a mechanical linear actuator that translates rotational motion to linear motion with little friction. A threaded shaft provides a helical raceway for ball bearings which act as a precision screw. As well as being able to apply or withstand high thrust loads, they can do so with minimum internal friction. They are made to close tolerances and are therefore suitable for use in situations in which high precision is necessary. The ball assembly acts as the nut while the threaded shaft is the screw. In contrast to conventional leadscrews, ballscrews tend to be rather bulky, due to the need to have a mechanism to re-circulate the balls.

Another form of linear actuator based on a rotating rod is the threadless ballscrew, a.k.a. “rolling ring drive”. In this design, three (or more) rolling-ring bearings are arranged symmetrically in a housing surrounding a smooth (thread-less) actuator rod or shaft. The bearings are set at an angle to the rod, and this angle determines the direction and rate of linear motion per revolution of the rod. An advantage of this design over the conventional ballscrew or leadscrew is the practical elimination of backlash and loading caused by preload nuts.

To remove backlash and obtain the optimum stiffness and wear characteristics for a given application, a controlled amount of preload is usually applied. This is accomplished in some cases by machining the components such that the balls are a “tight” fit when assembled, however this gives poor control of the preload, and can not be adjusted to allow for wear. It is more common to design the ball nut as effectively two separate nuts which are tightly coupled mechanically, with adjustment by either rotation one nut with respect to the other, so creating a relative axial displacement, or by retaining both nuts tightly together axially and rotating one with respect to the other, so that its set of balls is displaced axially to create the preload.

The equation shown here provides the drag torque of the ball screw when a preload is applied.

Related formulas


TDpreload drag torque (N*m)
βlead angle (deg)
FPprolead force (N)
Phlead (m)