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  QUESTION: Do Babbitters exist today? 19 Oct 2005, Georgia USA

Your publication "Occupations with Potential for Exposure to Inorganic Lead" lists BABBITTERS as one of these occupations. Can you provide a job description for a BABBITTER? He/she must work in the bearing industry and be in contact with the alloy babbitt. Is this an occupation that may have been phased out due to modern technology?

Your assistance will be appreciated and thank you in advance.


ANSWER: 26 Oct 2005

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your interest and inquiry about our publication 'Occupations with potential for exposure to inorganic lead'.

Job Description for Babbitter Lines bearing surfaces of metal work pieces with babbitt (tin alloy) to reduce friction and wear: Melts metal in pot or ladle. Positions work piece in fixture, and heats with torch. Pours molten metal from ladle or pot into fixture. Smooths and shapes bearing surfaces to match contours, using hand scraper. May apply acid to work piece and dip it in molten tin to coat surface preparatory to babbitting.

"Traditional application of babbitt alloy Babbitt, also called Babbitt metal or bearing metal, is any of several Alloys used to provide the bearing surface.. A bearing surface is a mechanical engineering term that refers to the area of contact between two objects. It usually is used in reference to bolted joints and bearings, but can be applied to a wide variety of engineering applications.

Babbitt is also used in reference to bearing metal, but it is ambiguous because of the wide variety of senses that it has been used for over the centuries. A wide variety of Babbitt alloys exist. Some common compositions are:

  • 90% Tin, 10% Copper
  • 89% tin, 7% antimony, 4% copper
  • 80% lead 15% antimony, 5% tin
  • A lead-tin based Babbitt (90% lead, 10% tin)
  • A copper-lead based Babbitt (76% copper, 24% lead)
  • A copper-lead-tin based Babbitt composed of (67% copper, 28% tin, 5% lead)

Modern application of babbit alloy The use of Babbit has changed in modern times. Its use has been phased out in certain areas, due to the wide use of electric motors. 'In more modern practise... in a modern automobile engine, the bearing is a replaceable steel shell, keyed to the bearing caps. The inner surface of the steel shell is plated with a coating of bronze which is in turn coated with a thin layer of Babbitt metal as the bearing surface."

Or, as the Britannica website says, 'Modern babbitts provide a low-friction lining for bearing shells made of stronger metals such as cast iron, steel, or bronze. They may be made of: (1) high-tin alloys with small quantities of antimony and copper; (2) high-lead alloys containing antimony, arsenic, and tin; and (3) intermediate tin-lead alloys with antimony and copper.'

Modern uses for babbit alloy: Nickel Babbit is still recommended for use in: blowers, cement mills, clay working machinery, compressors, crushers, dredges, electrical machinery, electric railroads, engines (internal combustion and steam), lumber mills, marine service, mining machinery, paper mills, pumps, rock and gravel machinery, steel mills, sugar mills, turbines.

Thank you again for your inquiry.

Yours sincerely
Gabrielle Gutsche
Volunteer Research and Communications Officer

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