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Not all caster brakes are created equal, and it is an over-simplification to say that there are light-duty and heavy-duty brakes. The real difference between the brake types isn't in their load range, but in whether or not they are a passive or active brake.
The 8 caster brakes
Here are the basic brake types for casters:
Of these 8 types, four are considered to be active brakes. A passive brake is one that depends on the stopping of the rotation of the wheel through locking the axel in place. An active brake does this, but it also actively engages the tread, or face, of the wheel so that the wheel itself also does not turn. These four caster brakes are considered to be active:
Why would you need an active brake?
An active brake is called into need when there is an issue of weight and materials control that exceeds normal braking options. It isn't always a case of the weight being so heavy that you want to make sure the wheel does not turn, or an issue of slope. If you are locking a movable table into place, you are better off using an active brake. Also, if you are machining on a transport table – or fixing a materials transport unit into place – the active brake will provide more surety.
When is a passive brake the right choice?
Passive brakes allow for easier movement. Unlike the active style, which also requires hand operation to secure the brake—most passive brakes are operated by foot. This is how they came to mostly have a rocker design for putting the brake on and off. There are different types of passive brakes available as they are meant to suit different duty levels of work. A light duty passive brake would be the cam brake, for instance. There are also passive caster brakes that are designed for safe movement, such as the wrap around brake which is common in medium and heavy applications, but can be activated no matter how the caster is turned.
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