“Engineering has had its incredible moments throughout history. From the invention of wheel, to the great pyramids of Ancient Egypt, to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his bridges and tunnels, right up to modern skyscrapers, airliners and space travel. I am convinced that one of the great inventions of engineering, while at a much smaller scale, is stainless steel ball joints. Hear me out.
Stainless steel ball joints are magical
They may not be on the same scale as a space shuttle or the Burj Khalifa, but much of modern life would scarcely be possible without the genius behind stainless steel ball joints. Stainless steel ball joints make two-dimensional movement between solid objects possible. Without stainless steel ball joints, machinery would barely get more complex than a door hanging on hinges. Stainless steel ball joints generally consist of a ball part, which is attached to a rod, plate or other object at one end, and has a steel sphere at the other en; and a socket part, which fits snugly around the ball part with minimal friction, and a rod, plate or similar attachment at the other end. They are crucial in the making of:
- Car engines;
- Children’s toys;
- Industrial machinery;
- Suspension bridges.
And countless other applications. In fact, it is difficult to think of a modern feat of mechanical engineering in which stainless steel ball joints are not used. Combined with springs, stainless steel ball joints allow for almost any type of movement that you could desire or even imagine. A good example of the types available is the company T-Technics, at https://t-technics.co.uk, supply stainless steel ball joints specifically for use with industrial machinery using gas springs, and it is truly incredible what a wide variety they are able to supply. So much machinery would not work without these feats of engineering and design.
It is impossible to say who created the first stainless steel ball joints. The material itself has been around since the 19th century, and there were basic equivalents of ball joints even before that time. In fact, much like many engineering marvels, the ball joint has a natural equivalent, something very personal to all of us. Human hip joints and shoulder joints are both examples of ball joints. In fact prosthetic hips, or hip replacements, which some people need when their own hips wear out in old age, are often partly made of stainless steel. Some bacteria have tails, or flagella, used to propel themselves forwards, which spins, which is only possible due to their own natural ball joint. Yet, as so often, it took decades and centuries to perfect the modern versions that we use nowadays. Friction has to be reduced to a minimum to allow for optimal efficiency. Oil or other lubricants can help with this, but it is also crucial that the surface of stainless steel ball joints is as smooth as possible, both to allow them to work efficiently and to stop them from heating up with repetitive movement. The connections must also be made strong enough that they can withstand any unexpected shearing or traction forces. The combination of all this complexity is what makes these joints such an outstanding piece of engineering, and the effectiveness and ubiquity of these specialized hinges is the reason that we are able to enjoy such luxuries as intercontinental flight, efficient road travel and the wonders of space flight, satellites and all that that gives us in modern life. Thanks to two small pieces of steel connected by a ball-and-socket joint.”