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A caster (or castor) is an unpowered wheel that is attached to the bottom of a larger object (the “vehicle”) to allow that object to be moved.
Shopping carts, office chairs, toy wagons, hospital beds, and material handling equipment are all examples of where casters are used. Many industrial applications use high capacity, heavy duty casters, such as platform trucks, carts, assemblies, and tow lines in plants.
A basic, rigid caster is made up of a wheel attached to a stationary fork. When the caster is mounted to the vehicle, the orientation of the fork, which is fixed relative to the vehicle, is determined. The wheels on the back of a shopping cart in North America are an example of this. Rigid casters tend to limit vehicle motion, causing the vehicle to travel in a straight line.
A swivel caster, like a rigid caster, has a wheel mounted to a fork, but an additional swivel joint above the fork allows the fork to freely rotate about 360°, allowing the wheel to roll in any direction. This allows the vehicle to be moved in any direction without changing its orientation.