A variational method is outlined for computing thrust bearing element loads on the basis of minimizing the potential energy of the system. The problem is formulated in terms of a polynomial displacement assumption for bearing elements. To illustrate the computational procedure, numerical studies are presented for a thrust bearing subjected to a range of load eccentricities. The variational approach is demonstrated to result in an accurate and efficient solution for bearing element load distributions. Excellent agreement is achieved when comparison is made to conventional methods of classical bearing theory for nominal load eccentricities, while superior performance is obtained when load eccentricities are considerably larger. Basic advantages of the variational formulation are discussed and an illustrative problem is presented which demonstrates extended capability of the variational method for examining the load distribution in thrust bearings.

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