Ball Screws vs Lead Screws

Category: Technical Articles

Today’s motion automation applications demand effective linear motion transfer systems, such as lead screws and ball screws. Although leadscrews are often seen as less expensive substitutes for ballscrews, making a decision on which type of screw to use is a lot more complicated than focusing solely on cost. When discussing ball screws vs lead screws, the main difference is that a ball screw uses ball bearings to eliminate the friction between the nut and screw, whereas lead screws do not. Lead screws use deeper helical threads and a mating nut, which is usually made of a polymer composite or bronze. The rolling nature of ball screws eliminates the sliding friction associated with lead screws.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of lead screws?

  • Lead screws cost less.
  • Lead screws are less cost-effective in the long run due to maintenance costs.
  • Lead screws are self-locking and do not require a braking system.
  • Lead screws are generally less efficient, requiring greater torque and a larger motor and drive.
  • Lead screws have higher friction and run a hotter temperature.
  • Most lead screws are not well suited to high throughput, high speed applications or those with continuous or long cycle times.
  • Lead screws in general are self-lubricating.
  • Lead screws can be less noisy.
Trapezoidal Leadscrews- ball screws vs lead screws

What are the advantages/disadvantages of Ball Screws?

  • Ball screws require braking systems.
  • Ball screws are available in higher accuracy grades for greater positional accuracy.
  • Ball screws are more efficient, requiring less torque.
  • Ball screws have lower friction and run at cooler temperatures.
  • Ball screws require grease or oil lubrication to achieve design life.
  • Ball screws can have higher noise values.
  • Ball screws require braking mechanisms to eliminate back driving.
  • Ball screws are available in rolled & ground types.
  • Ballscrews can be adjusted to increase/decrease preload.
Ballscrew with ballnut background- ball screws vs lead screws

Ball screws vs Lead screws: How does my application dictate which one to use?

Generally speaking, ballscrews are better for applications that require smooth motion, efficiency, accuracy, precision, and prolonged continuous or high-speed movement. Traditional leadscrews are more suitable for transfer applications for which speed, accuracy, precision, and rigidity are not as critical.

Of course, there are always trade-offs to be made depending on your application. In addition to materials, assembly design, and accuracy, important variables to consider include wobble error, noise, maintenance, efficiency, and longevity. In most cases, evaluating the load, accuracy, and lead for your application will most generally answer the question of ball screw vs. lead screw. If you are still unsure on which one to use in your application, please contact our friendly expert team today.

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