Why is Silicon Nitride more expensive than 52100 bearing steel?

“Why is their such a price difference between Steel balls and Ceramic balls?”

This question came to us from our flat landers in North Central, IA.  Shout out to RAGBRAI!  Even though I know you all love my long windedness, I am trying to squeeze out early myself to put a few miles on before dinner.  The Silicon Nitride material itself is expensive.  That’s it, too short… OK…  The process that Silicon Nitride is made is generally through extreme pressure and very high temperatures.  This translates to very large machines and heavy operating costs for the factories that do this work.  Economies of scale as these factories grow for sure help out, but there are not a lot of factories that do this type of work.  Most Silicon Nitride balls for Super Precision Bearings of classes Abec 7 or better come from more or less 2-3 facilities in the world – really.  A few more have come on line that are privately owned to supply their own internal production needs – again only a couple/few.  When you let the precision drop, then more facilities come into the capability range.  But still we are only talking 10’s of company’s worldwide supplying all of this product, and they obviously don’t only produce bearing balls.  This brings us to the love hate relationship the Bearing Industry has with the Medical Industry when it comes to Silicon Nitride.  On one hand the Bearing Industry is forever in debt to the Medical Industry for helping to standardize and create better controls on the production of Silicon Nitride – Thanks.  Silicon Nitride is rapidly growing within the medical space for; various joint replacements, tools, etc.  The negative side is that they are stealing all of our material and increasing demand.  This keeps the pricing high for all of those involved.  The last aspect I will bring up is the difficulty of grinding.  Grinding Silicon Nitride to a micron finish is just more difficult and time consuming than Bearing Steel.  These manufacturing costs need to be passed down the chain; in this case to us.

Fun bits of back ground and info for you on Silicon Nitride, hope you enjoyed.  In the end, Silicon Nitride is harder to produce and the material itself is just more expensive than extremely common Bearing steel.  The pricing separation should be uniform per the amount of material volume of the balls.  If you are comparing a 6005 to a 6205, expect the price increase on the 6205 to be a larger percent because the balls are larger on the 6205 than the 6005 – i.e. more material.

Until next time – Ride Safe!


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