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Thin section bearings ensure smooth camera motion

28 February 2016

A UK-based designer and manufacturer of robotic motion control systems for live broadcast, film and photography applications, is utilising precision thin section bearings on a variety of its robotic motion control camera rigs.

Mark Roberts Motion Control (MRMC) gives customers the ability to capture their visions - be it live broadcast and film or product photography - via a groundbreaking suite of hardware and software comprising camera booms, cranes and rigs, two- and three-axis motion control systems, as well as camera heads, sliders and controllers. The company has made a big contribution to the special effects industry in feature films, including Sherlock Holmes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pan, and Cinderella. MRMC’s chief mechanical designer, Ronan Carroll takes up the story:

“These days, camera motion control systems such as cranes and rigs need to be as compact, space efficient and lightweight as possible in order to minimise the costs associated with transporting these camera systems around the world, from one film location to another. Our customers also demand solutions that are reliable, accurate, repeatable and that provide a steady line-of-sight for the camera at all times. In order to design and manufacture systems such as these, we need to source high precision engineered components for our equipment.

“For camera rigs, the overall system rigidity or stiffness is critical to provide the camera operator with repeatability in terms of filming a scene. Therefore, when we engineer a camera rig, elimination of system backlash and minimising clearances in the supporting bearings are essential. The rigidity of the system starts with the basic mechanical structure of the rig, but the bearings are absolutely critical to the overall stiffness and accuracy of the complete, fully assembled system.”

MRMC’s SFH50 camera motion control pan tilt head is a good example. This high precision, highly repeatable camera support assembly is widely used in the production of virtual reality, animation, time-lapse and web promotional videos. The system has an optional 360-degree roll axis and is compact and lightweight for film location work. The SFH50 uses Silverthin thin section bearings from Carter Manufacturing to support the circular motion of the camera roll housings. The bearings are supplied as sealed, preloaded (K-Preload) units in 6in and 7in bore diameters. Ronan Carroll again:

“The SFH50 is a super-sensitive piece of equipment and so we require bearings that eliminate camera ‘rock’. The Silverthin thin section bearings are four-point contact units which are preloaded to a precise specification to give us the system rigidity and repeatability that our customers need. The bearings are sealed units, as the camera rigs are used in both indoor and outdoor applications, so we need weather-resistant components. In addition, as the bearings are preloaded, this simplifies and reduces mounting and assembly of the bearings to our camera rigs.”

MRMC also uses Silverthin in its ‘Modula’ range of camera motion control rigs, which provides extremely high accuracy and high rigidity for filming fast moving action shots. This system is capable of providing a wide range of shots at speeds in excess of 3m/s and has the strength to carry heavy payloads, whether a full film camera package or a 3D stereoscopic rig. The main pivot on the arm of the Modula is supported by a 2.5in bore, four-point contact (angular, radial and moment loads) Silverthin bearing, preloaded to maintain rigidity and ensure accurate repeatability throughout its entire life.

Silverthin precision thin section bearings help reduce total cost in a system by allowing for design efficiency over standard bearing sizes. As thin section bearings have cross-sections that do not change as bore sizes increase, there needs to be no change in the space requirements, as well as little change in the weight of the bearing, even as the diameter of an application increases.

Thin section bearings are made from 52100 chrome steel and 440C stainless steel and specialist alloys. They can also be thin dense chrome plated. A range of seal options are available, as well as ceramic balls and special lubrication to suit specific applications. Thin section bearings are currently being utilised on a variety of camera booms and robotic motion control rigs for a number of household name science fiction/space-related films produced here in the UK.

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