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Title:
HIGH SPEED BALL BEARING FOR DENTAL OR MEDICAL HANDPIECES
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2009/129435
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A bearing assembly (20) for use in a medical, surgical, or dental handpiece (10) that enables spindle rotation for a supported rotary tool (36) at high speeds. The bearing assembly (28) incorporates annular gap shields (50, 54) at each axial end to prevent contaminate ingress and to retain lubricating grease within the bearing assembly (28) to avoid re-lubricated after each use or sterilization cycle.

Inventors:
DAMATO, Frank, J. (17 Phil Lane, Keene, NH, 03431, US)
GREATHOUSE, Joseph, P. (186 Murdough Hill Road, Nelson, NH, 03457, US)
CARABELLO, Paul, J. (11 Fire Lane 3, Dublin, NH, 03444, US)
EVANS, Ryan, D. (5065 Techwood Street, North Canton, OH, 44720, US)
GALEHOUSE, Martin, S. (1917 Dykstra Road, Muskegon, MI, 49445, US)
MOREL, Steven, R. (54 Sugar Hill Road, Swanzey, NH, 03446, US)
ZANNOTTI, John, A. (26 Meadow View Road, West Chesterfield, NH, 03446, US)
Application Number:
US2009/040907
Publication Date:
October 22, 2009
Filing Date:
April 17, 2009
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
THE TIMKEN COMPANY (1835 Dueber Avenue S.W, Canton, OH, 44706-0930, US)
DAMATO, Frank, J. (17 Phil Lane, Keene, NH, 03431, US)
GREATHOUSE, Joseph, P. (186 Murdough Hill Road, Nelson, NH, 03457, US)
CARABELLO, Paul, J. (11 Fire Lane 3, Dublin, NH, 03444, US)
EVANS, Ryan, D. (5065 Techwood Street, North Canton, OH, 44720, US)
GALEHOUSE, Martin, S. (1917 Dykstra Road, Muskegon, MI, 49445, US)
MOREL, Steven, R. (54 Sugar Hill Road, Swanzey, NH, 03446, US)
ZANNOTTI, John, A. (26 Meadow View Road, West Chesterfield, NH, 03446, US)
International Classes:
F16C27/06; A61C1/18; F16C33/56; F16C33/58; F16C33/66; F16C33/78; F16C33/80
Domestic Patent References:
2002-03-21
2002-03-21
Foreign References:
DE102006030836A12008-01-10
JP2003003184A2003-01-08
EP0511105A11992-10-28
US20060210948A12006-09-21
Other References:
See also references of EP 2281126A1
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BOOKS, Mark, E. (Polster, Lieder Woodruff & Lucchesi, L.C.,12412 Powerscourt Drive, Suite 20, St. Louis MO, 63131, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:

CLAIMS:

1 . A bearing assembly comprising: an outer ring defining an outer raceway and an inner ring defining an inner raceway; said inner and outer rings defining a radial distance between said inner and outer rings; a first shield proximate a first axial end of said bearing assembly and extending from one of said inner and outer rings towards the other of said inner and outer rings; and a second shield proximate a second axial end of said bearing assembly and extending from one of said inner and outer rings towards the other of said inner and outer rings; said first and second shields having a length equal to at least about 50% of the radial distance between said inner and outer rings; a plurality of balls between said inner and outer rings and positioned to contact said inner and outer raceways; and a retainer positioned between said first and second rings, said retainer defining a plurality of pockets which receives said balls.

2. The bearing assembly of Claim 1 wherein said first shield is integral with one of said inner and outer rings.

3. The bearing assembly of Claim 1 wherein the second shield is a "snap" shield, and is adapted to mechanically interlock with one of the inner ring and outer ring.

4. The bearing assembly of Claim 3 wherein said second shield is received on an axial surface of one of said inner and outer rings; said one of said inner and outer rings defining a groove which receives said second shield.

5. The bearing assembly of Claim 4 wherein said second shield is mounted to an outer diameter surface of said inner ring, an inner diameter surface of said outer ring, or an outer diameter surface of said outer ring.

6. The bearing assembly of Claim 1 wherein said first and second shields extend substantially the full radial distance between said inner and outer rings.

7. The bearing assembly of Claim 1 wherein at least said second shield is comprised of an engineering plastic, composite, or other material which can

withstand repeated sterilization, autoclaving, and application temperatures without degradation of mechanical properties.

8. The bearing assembly of Claim 7 wherein the engineering plastic, composite, or other material of said second shield is a material which remains as a barrier and preserve shield integrity at any application or sterilization temperature.

9. The bearing assembly of Claim 7 wherein the thermal expansion properties of the engineering plastic, composite, or other material of said second shield maintain a proper shield fit or retention at all application or sterilization temperatures.

10. The bearing assembly of Claim 7 wherein engineering plastic of said second shield is comprised of an amorphous polyetherimide.

1 1 . The bearing assembly of Claim 10 wherein said engineering plastic further includes glass filler.

12. The bearing assembly of Claim 1 wherein said retainer is made of an engineering plastic with selected composition which will withstand repeated sterilization, autoclaving, and application temperatures without degradation of mechanical properties.

13. The bearing assembly of Claim 12 wherein the retainer is may be made of an engineering plastic base material such as poly(amide-imide) (PAI) or as polyetheretherketone (PEEK).

14. The bearing assembly of Claim 13 wherein the material for the retainer comprises fillers; said fillers including carbon and/or fluoropolymer particles.

15. The bearing assembly of Claim 14 wherein said carbon fillers comprise graphite and/or carbon fibers.

16. The bearing assembly of Claim 14 wherein the carbon may be present in amounts greater than or equal to about 10%.

17. The bearing assembly of Claim 14 wherein the fluoropolymer is a polytetrafluoroethylene.

18. The bearing assembly of Claim 14 wherein the fluoropolymer may be present in amounts greater than or equal to about 1 %.

19. The bearing assembly of Claim 14 wherein the fluoropolymer may be present in amounts greater than or equal to about 5%

20. The bearing assembly of Claim 1 wherein the grease is a grease that is resistant to removal by air flow and solvent cleaning.

21 . The bearing assembly of Claim 20 wherein the grease may consist of a mineral base oil with polyurea thickener.

22. The bearing assembly of Claim 1 wherein said plurality of balls are supported in an angular contact configuration.

23. The bearing assembly of Claim 22 wherein said inner ring and said outer ring are configured in an outer ring relieved design.

24. The bearing assembly of Claim 22 wherein said inner ring and said outer ring are configured in an inner ring relieved design.

25. The bearing assembly of Claim x wherein one of said inner and outer rings has a relieved configuration; and wherein said retainer has a one-piece configuration fully encompassing the equator of each of said plurality of balls, [[need to fill-in a number for "x" in this claim]]

26. A medical/dental handpiece incorporating at least one bearing assembly of Claim 1 .

27. The medical/dental handpiece of Claim 23, wherein said handpiece comprises a head defining a cavity housing a driven member; said cavity including upper and lower recesses axially opposite said driven member, each of which receives one of said bearing assemblies; each of said bearing assemblies orientated in said recesses such that said second shield faces toward said driven member.

Description:

HIGH SPEED BALL BEARING FOR DENTAL OR MEDICAL HANDPIECES

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

The present application is related to, and claims priority from, U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 61/045,773 filed on April 17, 2008, and is further related to and claims priority from, from U.S. Provisional Patent Application Serial No. 61/122,624 filed on December 15, 2008, both of which are herein incorporated by reference. STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY SPONSORED RESEARCH

Not Applicable. BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to medical, dental, and surgical handpieces, and in particular to a high-speed ball bearing for use in such handpieces.

Medical, dental, and surgical handpieces containing rotary tools supported on high-speed bearings are typically powered by an air turbine or electric motor. In either case, there are some common challenges to long bearing life. During operation, the bearings in such handpieces may be exposed to contamination in the form of both solid and liquid biological matter, as well as in the form of synthetic debris. The handpiece must be cleaned and sterilized between each patient. Typical cleaning and sterilization procedures require flushing of the head of the handpiece with solvents followed by high pressure steam sterilization in an autoclave system. Handpieces can reach temperatures ~134°C in autoclaving processes. Both procedures are detrimental to the life of the bearings in that they degrade the properties of many lubricants and retainer materials, as well as remove the lubricant remaining in the bearings. In addition, the cleaning process requires that the head of the handpiece be disassembled so that any foreign matter can be removed from the handpiece head. This is time consuming and can be complicated. For this reason, cleaning of foreign matter (as opposed to sterilization) of medical, dental, and surgical handpieces may not be performed as often as is necessary.

In order to replenish the lubricant within the bearings, the user must inject oil into the drive system of the handpiece, operate the handpiece to expel excess oil

-?-

and clean any oil residue from the exterior of the handpiece. In addition to the time and expense required to relubricate the handpiece, there is the unwanted added risk that excess lubrication can contaminate the working environment. Unwanted lubricant can be expelled within the handpiece body cavity during patient treatment and can contaminate the surface of the tooth or bone being treated, risking infection or resulting in poor adhesion of a amalgam or "filling" material, such as employed in dental procedures.

For medical, surgical, or dental handpieces having a rotary tool powered by an air driven turbine, air is discharged from exhaust vents located near the top and bottom of the of the handpiece head during use. This exhaust air may pass through the bearings on the way out of the head and accelerate the expulsion of lubricant from the handpiece. While the handpiece is slowing to a stop, the air flow physics of the handpiece are reversed. As the handpiece shuts down, the low pressure caused by the rotating turbine draws debris, into the head of the handpiece and the bearings within.

Accordingly, there is a need for an improved high-speed bearing suitable for application medical, surgical, or dental handpeices to provide support for rotary tools, and which is adapted for easy cleaning, exclusion of external contaminates, and which is configured to facilitate the retention of lubricants within the bearing assembly. BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Briefly stated, the present disclosure provides a bearing assembly for use in a medical, surgical, or dental handpiece that enables spindle rotation for a supported rotary tool at high speeds which may approach 500,000 rpm in dental handpieces. The bearing assembly incorporates annular gap shields at each axial end to prevent contaminate ingress and to retain lubricating grease within the bearing assembly to avoid re-lubrication after each use or sterilization cycle.

In one embodiment, the bearing assembly comprises an inner ring, an outer ring, a plurality of stainless steel or ceramic balls, and a retainer that separates the balls. The bearing assembly has an angular contact design, whereby one of the

rings is relieved for assembly, and the retainer is a one-piece design which fully encompasses the equator of each ball. The retainer cannot be assembled into the bearing after the rings and balls are assembled, and the retainer is necessarily of a "non-crown" or "non-pronged" design. The bearing assembly further includes two shield closures, with the first shield preferably integral to the inner or outer ring, or non-integral and attached to the bearing in some other way. The first single shield is disposed to protect the interior of the bearing assembly from external debris and contaminates, with the shield directly adjacent to the exterior openings of the housing. The second shield, is mounted to either the inner or outer ring on either the ID or OD of the ring such that the original standard bearing chassis cross-section is not changed. The second shield is positioned between the interior of the bearing assembly (balls, retainer, and grease) and the driven member or rotary tool, without altering the external configuration of the bearing assembly. This second shield substantially encloses the annular gap between the inner and outer bearing rings, and prevents forced air that drives the turbine from driving lubricant out of the bearing assembly. The second shield also prevents ingress of cleaning solutions, foreign material, and contamination into the bearing that can compromise, degrade, dissolve, or otherwise remove the initial lubricant from the bearing. In non-air-turbine powered handpieces, the second shield encloses the interior of the bearing assembly more effectively than a single shield design, thus retaining factory-applied grease lubricant more effectively than prior art designs. The bearing can be sized for use in a variety of medical or dental handpiece applications.

In an embodiment of the present disclosure, the second shield component of the bearing assembly is a molded or machined component comprised of an engineering plastic (or polymer), composite or other material, such as an amorphous polyetherimide, with or without a glass filler. The second shield is capable of withstanding repeated sterilization, autoclaving, and exposure to associated high temperatures without degradation of mechanical properties, while maintaining a rigid barrier, and while preserving shield integrity.

-A-

In an embodiment of the present disclosure, the second shield component of the bearing assembly is configured as a "snap" shield, such that it will mechanically interlock with the inner bearing ring in an operational position, such as by snapping over a grove on the bearing ring outer diameter, or mechanically interlock with the outer bearing ring, such as by snapping into a groove on the bearing ring inner diameter. The "snap" mechnical interlocking approach eliminates the need for other fastening methods such as welding or affixing the shield with wire and provides for easy assembly. The shield is preferrably made of an engineering plastic material that will elastically deflect sufficiently during installation to permit a "snap" mechanical interlocking action which return the shield to an undeflected configuration when the shield is disposed at the operational position.

In an embodiment of the present disclosure, the retainer (cage) component of the bearing assembly is composed of an engineering plastic with a composition selected to withstand repeated sterilization and autoclaving procedures and temperatures without degradation of mechanical or tribological properties, similar to the second shield component.

In one embodiment, the retainer (cage) component of the bearing assembly is composed of a base material such as polyamide-imide (PAI), containing fillers including carbon (graphite or carbon fiber) present in amounts equal to, or greater than 10% of the component weight, and fluoropolymer particles in amounts equal to, or greater than, 1 % of the component weight. The fluoropolymer particles may be polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, such as Teflon™). The presence of fillers enhance the tribological performance (low friction and wear) of the retainer.

In one embodiment, the retainer (cage) component of the bearing assembly is composed of a base material such as polyetheretherketone (PEEK), containing fillers including carbon (graphite or carbon fiber) present in amounts equal to, or greater than 10% of the component weight, and fluoropolymer particles in amounts equal to, or greater than, 5% of the component weight. The fluoropolymer particles may be polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, such as Teflon™).

Thθ foregoing features, and advantages set forth in the present disclosure as well as presently preferred embodiments will become more apparent from the reading of the following description in connection with the accompanying drawings. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS

In the accompanying drawings which form part of the specification:

Figure 1 is a perspective view of a medical, surgical, or dental handpiece;

Figure 2 is an enlarged cross-sectional view of a head of the handpiece shown in Fig. 1 , incorporating a bearing assembly of the present disclosure;

Figure 3 is an enlarged cross-sectional view of the bearing assembly of the present disclosure;

Figure 4 is an enlarged cross-sectional view of an alternative embodiment of the bearing assembly of the present disclosure;

Figure 5 is an exemplary graph illustrating a normalized life improvement of the bearing assembly of Figure 3, as compared to a prior art bearing in the same handpiece under identical test conditions; and

Figure 6 is an exemplary graph comparing relative life improvement of the bearing assembly of Figure 4, as compared to a prior art bearing in the same handpiece under identical test conditions.

Corresponding reference numerals indicate corresponding parts throughout the several figures of the drawings. It is to be understood that the drawings are for illustrating the concepts set forth in the present disclosure and are not to scale. Before any embodiments of the invention are explained in detail, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited in its application to the details of construction and the arrangement of components set forth in the following description or illustrated in the drawings. DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The following detailed description illustrates the invention by way of example and not by way of limitation. The description enables one skilled in the art to make and use the present disclosure, and describes several embodiments, adaptations,

variations, alternatives, and uses of the present disclosure, including what is presently believed to be the best mode of carrying out the present disclosure.

Turning to the Figures, and to Figure 1 in particular, powered hand-held instruments 10 (handpieces) for supporting rotary driven tools, that are used frequently in medical, surgical, or dental typically have a sleeve 12 and an end portion (or head) 14. As shown in Figure 2, the head 14 comprises a body 16 and a cap 18 which, in combination, define an interior cavity 20. A bore 22 extends downwardly from the interior cavity 20 to the bottom of the head 14. The body 16 and cap 18 include aligned recesses 24 and 26, respectively, which each receive a bearing assembly 28. Circumferential channels 30 can be formed in the recesses 24, 26 to receive O-rings 32 which form seals around the outer circumference of each bearing assembly 28. A preload device 17 configured to exert an axial preload on each bearing assembly 28 is fitted in the recess 24, between the bearing assembly 28 and the cap 18.

In an air-driven handpiece, a driven member 34, such as a turbine or impeller as shown in Fig. 2, is received in the cavity 20. Correspondingly, for a motor-driven handpiece, the driven member 34 is a gear. The head 14 receives a spindle shaft 36, to which a rotary tool (or bit) can be attached, which extends through the head bore 22 into the cavity 20 to be received by each of the bearings 28 and engaged with the driven member 34 so that the driven member can rotationally drive the spindle and attached tool during use.

Turning to Figure 3, an illustrative bearing assembly 28 made in accordance with the present disclosure consists of an inner ring 40 and outer ring 42, both of which can be made of stainless steel. The inner ring 40 has an outer circumferential surface 44, with a curved or arcuate channel 46 formed in the surface 44. The curved channel 46 defines an inner raceway. The outer ring 42 has an inner circumferential surface 48 having a first portion 48a and a second portion 48b. The first and second portions 48a and 48b are both generally cylindrical, with the portion 48b having a larger diameter than the portion 48a. The two portions are joined by a curved or arcuate section 48c which defines an outer raceway.

Thθ outer ring 42 further includes an integrated shield 50 at one axial end of the ring which extends radially inwardly toward the inner ring 40. The shield 50 has a length equal to at least 50% of the radial distance between the inner and outer rings. The radial distance between the inner and outer rings is defined as the difference between the outermost surface of the inner ring and innermost surface of the outer ring when the two rings are positioned coaxially. Preferably, the shield 50 extends substantially the full width of this radial distance to effectively close the axial end of the bearing assembly 28 without actually contacting the other ring during normal operation. That is, the shield 50 as defined in this disclosure is not a contact seal, such as an elastomeric lip seal which can be designed to contact and slide against a shaft.

A circumferential groove 52 is formed on the second portion 48b of the inner circumferential surface 48, proximate to the opposite axial end of the outer ring 42 from the integrated shield 50. A second shield 54 is received in the groove 52 to close the second axial end of the bearing assembly 28. The second shield 54 is generally L-shaped, and includes a radially inward extending leg 54a and an axially extending head portion 54b sized and shaped to be received in the circumferential groove 52. Preferably, the second shield 54 is a "snap" shield adapted to be snapped into place in the circumferential groove 52 as the shield head portion 54b mechanically interlocks with the groove 52. This mechanical interlocking as shown defines a "snap" shield design in this disclosure, and is will be understood to refer to a shield component which may elastically deform from an operating configuration or shape during installation, enabling the shield to be distorted from a rest configuration by the bearing ring component during installation, and to "snap" back to the rest configuration upon proper positioning adjacent the groove 52.. The shield leg 54a is sized similarly to the first shield 50, and thus has a length equal to at least about 50% of the radial distance between the inner and outer rings, and preferably, has a length substantially the full width of this radial distance to close the second axial end of the bearing assembly 28. As with shield 50, the shield leg 54a effectively closes the axial end of the bearing assembly 28 without actually contacting the opposite

ring during normal operation. That is, the shield 54 as defined in this disclosure is not a contact seal, such as an elastomeric lip seal which can be designed to contact and slide against a shaft.

As can be seen from Figure 2, the shields 50 and 54 substantially close the opposite axial ends of each bearing assembly 28 contained within the head 14. The shields 50 and 54 are sized to allow clearance of the inner ring, and hence, although it is preferred that the shields extend at least about 50% of the width of the space between the inner and outer rings, and preferably as much of the distance as possible, the shields will not cover 100% of the annular gap between the inner and outer rings 40, 42. Although the second shield 54 is shown the be mounted to the inner circumferential surface of the outer ring 42, those of ordinary skill in the art will recognize that the second shield 54 could be mounted to the outer circumferential surface 44 of the inner ring 40 in substantially the same manner, without departing from the scope of the present disclosure.

The second shield 54 is made by molding or machining an engineering plastic, composite or other material that can withstand repeated sterilization, autoclaving, and application temperatures without degradation of mechanical properties. The engineering plastic, composite, or other material is selected to remain rigid and strong enough to function as a barrier to preserve shield integrity at any application or sterilization temperature which may be experienced by the handpiece 10 during normal usage. An example autoclaving sterilization temperature is ~134°C, and the preferred embodiement materials can accommodate this temperature level. The thermal expansion properties of the engineering plastic, composite, or other material are selected to ensure proper shield fit or retention occurs at any temperature within the normal operating range. One exemplary engineering plastic for forming the second shield 54 consists primarily of an amorphous polyetherimide, with or without glass filler, such as that sold under the registered trademark ULTEM containing no fillers.

Within the interior space of the bearing assembly 14, axially between the first and second shields 50, 54, a plurality of balls 60 are positioned within the curved

channels 46 and 48c which define the inner and outer raceways. The curvatures of the raceways 46 and 48c each define a radius, with the radius of each being substantially the same, and as seen in FIG. 3, the curvature of the raceways corresponds substantially to the curvature of the balls 60. The curvature of the raceway 46 subtends an arc of between about 80° and about 90°, and preferably about 85°. The curvature of the raceway 48c, on the other hand, subtends an arc of between about 40° and about 50°, and preferably about 45°. The two arcs begin at approximately the same axial position. That is, one end of the arcs are the same distance from an axial end of the rings. The plurality of balls 60 are preferably formed from a ceramic such as silicon nitride (Si 3 N 4 ) or steel, and are held in place between the raceways and relative to each other by a retainer or cage 62 having optimized dimensions and clearances for the intended operating conditions of the application.

The bearing assembly 28, including the balls 60, is preferably lubricated with a grease consisting of a mineral base oil and polyurea thickener. Nominal properties of a preferred grease or lubricant include a specific gravity of 0.9, a dropping point temperature of 470 Q F, a viscosity (cSt at 104 Q F) of 1 10, penetration (unworked) of 195, and penetration (worked after 60 strokes) of 280. Those of ordinary skill will recognize that different greases or lubricants having desired properties may be utilized without departing from the scope of the present disclosure.

As seen in Figure 3, the bearing assembly 28 has an angular contact design, whereby one of the rings is relieved for assembly and the one piece retainer or cage 62 is fitted that fully encompasses the equator of each ball. The retainer cannot be assembled into the bearing after the rings and balls are assembled, and the retainer is necessarily of the "non-crown" or "non-pronged" design.

As with the second shield 54, the retainer or cage 62 is designed to withstand repeated sterilization, autoclaving, and application temperatures without degradation of mechanical properties. The retainer can be made from an engineering plastic base material such as polyamide-imide (PAI), such as that sold under the registered trademark TORLON, or from polyetheretherketone (PEEK). In either case, the

material preferably contains fillers, including carbon (graphite or carbon fibers) and fluropolymer particles such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, such as the trademarked TEFLON). The carbon filler is perferably present in amounts greater than or equal to about 10 wt%, while the fluoropolymer particle filler is preferably present in amounts greater than or equal to 1 wt% if the retainer is made from a PAI, or in amounts greater than or equal to about 5 wt% if the retainer is made from PEEK.

An exemplary composition of the retainer or cage 62 having a PAI base such as that sold under the registered trademark TORLON, consisting of about 20 wt.% carbon (graphite or fiber), about 3 wt.% fluoropolymer (such as polytetrafluoroethylene), and balance (about 77%) polyamide-imide-type polymer with respect to the total weight of the article.

An exemplary composition of the retainer or cage 62 having a PEEK base consists of about 15 wt.% PTFE, about 15 wt.% carbon fiber, and balance (70 wt.%) PEEK with respect to the total weight of the article.

The following table sets forth an example of nominal properties suitable for an embodiment of the second shield 54 and retainer 62:

When assembled in the handpiece head 14, each bearing assembly 28 is oriented along the axis of the spindle shaft 36 such that the second shield 54 is positioned between the interior of the bearing assembly (including the balls 60, retainer 62, and internal grease) and the driven member 34. In an air powered device, the second shield 54 prevents air that drives the turbine from entering the bearing assembly and blowing grease out of the bearing assembly 28. The second shield 54 also prevents ingress of cleaning solutions, foreign material, and contamination into the bearing assembly 28 that can compromise, degrade, dissolve, or otherwise remove the initial lubricant from the bearing. In non-air-turbine powered handpieces, the second shield 54 encloses the interior of the bearing assembly 28 more effectively than prior single shield designs, thus retaining factory- applied grease lubricant more effectively than prior designs.

The second shield 54 works in combination with synergies achieved by retainer materials and grease specifications, as highlighted above. The synergies achieved by combining the three elements (i.e., a second shield, the retainer material, and grease selection) cooperatively function to extend the operational life of the bearing assemblies 28 when used in medical, surgical, or dental handpieces 10 subjected to repeated sterilization and autoclaving procedures. However, it is believed that some benefits could be realized by incorporating only a second shield; more benefits could be realized by incorporating the second shield and the retainer material; and the highest benefits could be achieved by incorporating all three elements (i.e., the second shield, the retainer material and the specified grease) as discussed above with respect to handpiece operation in the absence of periodic re- lubrication. Those of ordinary skill in the art will recognized that the bearing assemblies 28 of the present disclosure can be incorporated in older handpieces 10 as a retrofit option to dramatically improve performance of such older handpieces without redesigning the handpiece head 14.

Turning to Figure 4, and alternate embodiment 128 of the bearing assembly is shown. The bearing 128 is generally similar to bearing assembly 28 shown in Figure

3, which can be described as an outer ring relieved design. In contrast, the bearing 128, as will become apparent from the description below, can be described as an inner ring relieved design. In this description of the bearing assembly 128, only the elements which are different from the corresponding elements in the bearing assembly 28 will be described.

The bearing assembly 128 comprises an inner ring 140 and outer ring 142 which can be made of stainless steel. The outer ring 142 has an inner circumferential surface 148 with a curved or arcuate channel 149 formed in the surface 148. The channel 149 defines an outer raceway. The inner ring 140 has an outer circumferential surface 144 having a first portion 144a and a second portion 144b. The first and second portions 144a and 144b are both generally cylindrical, with the portion 144a having a larger diameter than the portion 144b. The two portions are joined by a curved or arcuate section 144c which defines an inner raceway on the inner ring 140.

The curvatures of the raceways 149 and 144c each define a radius, with the radius of each being substantially the same, corresponding substantially to the curvature of the balls 60. The curvature of the raceway 144c subtends an arc of between about 45° and about 55°, and preferably about 50°. The curvature of the raceway 149, on the other hand, subtends an arc of between about 85° and about 95°, and preferably about 90°. The two arcs begin at approximately the same axial position. That is, one end of the arcs are the same distance from an axial end of the inner and outer rings 140, 142.

Like the bearing assembly 28, the bearing assembly 128 has an angular contact design, whereby one of the rings is relieved for assembly and the one piece retainer 62 is fitted that fully encompasses the equator of each ball 60. The difference is that in the bearing assembly 28, the outer ring is relieved and in the bearing assembly 128, the inner ring is relieved. In each embodiment, the retainer 62 cannot be assembled into the bearing assembly 28, 128 after the rings and balls are assembled, and the retainer 60 is necessarily of the "non-crown" or "non- pronged" design.

An exemplary test program was conducted to evaluate air turbine driven handpieces 10 incorporating the bearing assemblies 28 (i.e., containing a second shield enclosure 54) and other design modifications including new retainer material and grease options. The retainer 62 of the tested bearing 28 was comprised of about 15 wt.% PTFE, about 15 wt.% carbon fiber, and balance (about 70 wt.%) PEEK. The goal was for the bearing characteristic life to exceed 200 hours without additional lubrication in a handpiece test including a cyclic steam sterilization procedure. Prior art bearings were assembled and tested under identical conditions as the bearings 28. All test bearings passed a torque test prior to life testing. All test bearings were sterilized for 25 cycles in an autoclave at 134°C prior to life testing. Handpieces 10 containing the test bearings were mounted in special testers with a simulated burr (pin or rotary tool) affixed to the head. Air pressure was first set to achieve a free running speed of 350,000 rpm (air pressure typically around 3 bar). A 17Og normal load was then applied to the simulated burr in a cyclic manner to simulate actual handpiece use by a dentist. After 50 load cycles, the sequence was paused for 30 seconds by shutting off the air pressure that drives the turbine 34 in the head 14. After the pause, another interval of load cycling began. After each 5,000 cycle period, technicians evaluated the condition of the test handpieces. Every 10,000 load cycles, each handpiece 10 was removed from the testers and sterilized for 10 cycles at 134O in an autoclave. The test was stopped once a handpiece 10 was unable to reach a free running speed of 280,000 rpm, was excessively loud, or had excessive run-out of the simulated burr. A 2-parameter Weibull approach was used to calculate characteristic lives of the test bearings. Results are shown in Figure 5. Handpieces 10 incorporating prior art bearing assemblies were unable to meet the 200 hour test life goal, whereas handpieces 10 incorporating the bearing assembly 28 of the present invention surpassed the test goal and exceeded the prior art bearing assembly operational life by more than 10 times.

A second test program was conducted to evaluate air turbine driven handpieces 10 incorporating the bearing assemblies 128 (i.e., containing a second shield enclosure) and other design modifications including new retainer material and

grease options. The retainer 62 of the tested bearing 128 was comprised of a polyamide-imide (PAI) polymer, such as that sold under the name TORLON®, containing normally about 20% graphite and about 3% fluoropolymer fillers. The goal was for the bearing characteristic life to exceed 200 hours without additional lubrication in a handpiece test including a cyclic steam sterilization procedure. Handpieces 10 included prior art bearing assemblies were tested under identical conditions as handpieces 10 containing the bearing assemblies 128. All test bearings passed a torque test prior to life testing. All test bearings were sterilized for 25 cycles in an autoclave at 134°C prior to life testing. Handpieces 10 containing the test bearings were mounted in special testers with a simulated burr (pin or rotary tool) affixed to the head. Air pressure was first set to achieve a free running speed of 350,000 rpm (air pressure typically around 3 bar). A 17Og normal load was then applied to the simulated burr in a cyclic manner to simulate actual handpiece 10 use by a dentist. After 50 load cycles, the sequence was paused for 30 seconds by shutting off the air pressure that drives the turbine 34 in the head 14. After the pause, another interval of load cycling began. After each 5,000 cycle period, technicians evaluated the condition of the test handpieces. Every 10,000 load cycles, the handpieces 10 were removed from the testers and sterilized for 10 cycles at 134°C in an autoclave. The test was stopped once a handpiece 10 was unable to reach a free running speed of 280,000 rpm, was excessively loud, or had excessive run-out of the simulated burr. A 2-parameter Weibull approach was used to calculate characteristic lives of the test bearings. Results are shown in Figure 6. Handpieces 10 incorporating the prior art bearing assemblies were unable to meet the 200 hour test life goal, whereas handpieces 10 incorporating the bearing assembly 128 surpassed the test goal and exceeded the prior art bearing life by approximately 10 times.

In view of the above, it will be seen that the present disclosure sets forth a bearing assembly 28, 128 for use in high-speed medical, surgical or dental handpieces 10 that can withstand routine autoclave steam sterilization (typically

around temperatures of 134°C) and requires no maintenance or re-lubrication during its extended useful life.

As various changes could be made in the above constructions without departing from the scope of the claimed invention, it is intended that all matter contained in the above description or shown in the accompanying drawings shall be interpreted as illustrative and not in a limiting sense. For example, although the first shield 50 is shown to be integral with the outer ring, the shield 50 could be integral with the inner ring. Alternatively, the shield 50 could be a snap fitted shield, similar to the second shield 54, which is snapped into place in the outer diameter surface of the inner ring, the inner diameter surface of the outer ring, or the outer diameter surface of the outer ring. The examples set forth herein, and the accompanying test results, are illustrative only, and do not limit the present disclosure to the specific features or properties set forth therein.