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DEVELOPMENTS IN THE FINITE ELEMENT ANALYSIS

OF THE PAD DEFLECTION

A. L. BROWN, J. B. MEDLEY

University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave., Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, CANADA; e-mail: al2brown@uwaterloo.ca

J. H. FERGUSON

GE Hydro, 107 Park St. N., Peterborough, Ontario, K9J 7B5, CANADA; e-mail: james.ferguson@ps.ge.com

SUMMARY

The bearing analysis software, recently developed to predict the performance of large spring-supported thrust bearings

operating under isothermal hybrid lubrication conditions, couples finite element analysis (FEA) for pad deflections with

the finite difference (FD) solution of the lubricant flow in an iterative procedure. The present study establishes optimal

FEA model parameters that ensure an accurate "mesh independent" solution without excessive computational effort. The

influence of the spring arrangement and oil properties demonstrates the necessity of their consideration in design. This

study helps to clarify appropriate modelling and design techniques so that in the future, the developed software can be

extended to include thermal deflections with the eventual goal to incorporate it into an existing comprehensive software

package to obtain solutions for the full thermohydrodynamic lubrication regime.

Keywords: spring-supported thrust bearing, thrust pad deflection, finite element analysis, hydrostatic lubrication,

hydrodynamic lubrication

parameters and certain bearing design specifications.

Spring-supported thrust bearings have been used

Full details on the comparison between analytical

successfully in hydroelectric generators for many years

predictions and the experimental data are presented in

but theoretical predictions of bearing performance have

Brown [4] and Brown et al [5].

been sparse in the academic literature. Vohr [1] made

the first attempt to predict bearing operating

2 GEOMETRY AND OPERATING

temperatures by coupling the lubrication, energy, and

pad elasticity equations in an iterative, numerical

CONDITIONS

analysis. Ettles [2] refined this approach that used the Thrust bearings manufactured by GE Hydro have a

finite difference (FD) method exclusively to solve the number of stationary pads separated by constant width

governing equations by including a thorough treatment grooves that are supported by, but not attached to, a

of the thermohydrodynamic lubricant flow with elastic tight packing of high stiffness springs. Once the load

pad defections. However, many recent advances in applied to a spring exceeds an initial preload, the spring

numerical techniques suggest that using the alternative deflection is linear. Hydrostatic lubrication is achieved

method of finite element analysis (FEA) to solve the pad by activating a high-pressure lift system, which injects

elasticity equations could increase modelling precision oil between the bearing surfaces through a supply pocket

and give more geometric flexibility. to ensure the development of the oil film at low speeds.

Hydrodynamic action is also present at low rotor speeds

The bearing analysis software recently developed by

due to the entraining motion of the rotor.

Brown et al [3] coupled a commercial FEA software

program to solve for pad deflections with the FD A test bearing, for which limited experimental data was

solution for the pressure distribution of the lubricant available from the GE test facility [6], was used to

film in an iterative procedure. The software included investigate the influence of the various aspects of the

modelling of hydrostatic and hydrodynamic (or hybrid) FEA model in this study. The test bearing was run at

lubrication while assuming isothermal, steady-state low rotor speeds with the oil injection system activated,

operating conditions. Hence, it was not necessary to thus achieving hybrid lubrication. The test bearing size

solve the energy equation. The eventual goal was to was on the low end of those used in hydroelectric

extend the developed software to include thermal generators (Table 1). The operating conditions permitted

deflections and then to incorporate it as an option for the the assumption of isothermal conditions, as well as

comprehensive software package of Ettles [2] to achieve laminar flow in the oil film. Thus, the temperature of the

a full thermohydrodynamic lubrication solution with a bearing and surrounding oil flows were assumed to be

somewhat more refined deflection model. equal to the temperature measured at one point in the

pad, TP. Pressures and film thickness values were

Although comparison of the numerical predictions of the

obtained using the developed software for an applied

developed software and limited experimental data is

load of 181.1 kN (a specific load of 4 MPa).

important [4], the focus of the present study is restricted

Outer radius [m] 0.5840 was investigated to determine the resolution necessary

Inner radius [m] 0.3555 for a "mesh independent" solution.

Angular extent of pad [º] 23.6

Rotational speed [rpm] 15 3.1.1 Number of Elements Through the Pad

Surface velocity at outer radius [m/s] 0.9173 Thickness

Specific load [MPa] 4 FEA meshes were created with 1, 2, and 4 elements

Pad temperature, Tp 56°C through the pad thickness for a spring radius of 20 mm.

Number of pads 12 There was no significant difference between the

Supply pocket flowrate [m3/s] 1.0515 x 10-5 predicted film thickness profiles (Figure 2) or the

Number of springs 12 predicted supply pressures (Table 2) of the three

Table 1: Geometry and operating conditions of the meshes. The numerical analysis did predict some local

bearing considered. fluctuations in the film thickness profile for the model

with only one element through the thickness. This was

3 MODELLING INVESTIGATIONS most likely caused by the poor aspect ratio of some

The test bearing was modelled by generating an FEA elements near the springs. These local fluctuations

mesh of the pad that conformed very closely to the disappeared when at least two elements were used

actual spring geometry (Figure 1). Each of the 12 through the pad thickness. However, using four elements

springs was represented in the FEA model by a circle of through the pad thickness was not justified, especially

spring elements. These spring elements were attached to since the greater number of elements more than doubled

nodes and applied nodal forces to the back face of the the analysis time (Table 2).

pad, representing the contact stress between the pad and 60

the spring assembly. The pad was constrained from z=4

50

motion by fixing the deflections in the x and y directions z=2

at point A and in the x direction at point B. The supply 40 z=1

pocket of the high-pressure lift system (Figure 1) was 30

not included in the FEA model.

20

10

0

0 5 10 15 20

LE θ [ο ] TE

Figure 2: Influence of the number of elements through

the pad thickness on the film thickness profile.

through [MPa] [µm] [µm] Time

Thickness [h:m]

Figure 1: A sample FEA model with spring radius of 1 8.88 4.02 68.3 5:47

20 mm and two elements through the pad thickness. 2 8.88 3.77 68.3 6:55

4 8.88 3.79 68.3 12:47

The graphical representations of the numerical results

consisted of film thickness values along the Table 2: Results for models with varying numbers of

circumference of the pad at a radius of 0.5613 m. This elements through the pad thickness.

location was chosen to correspond with the path of a

proximity probe used to measure film thickness values 3.1.2 Number of Elements in the Horizontal Plane

for the experiments previously conducted with this Increasing the number of elements in the horizontal

bearing [6]. plane also increased the number of spring elements

The importance of the level of geometric detail to the representing each spring assembly. Three meshes were

accuracy of the solution was examined. The accuracy of created with varying numbers of elements in the

an FEA model could also depend very much on the horizontal plane with two elements through the thickness

number and order of elements used. This issue and and a spring radius of 12.5 mm. However, the

others were investigated to determine the appropriate differences in predicted film thickness profiles could not

number and order of elements to achieve good accuracy be distinguished on a graphical representation.

with acceptable computational effort. Furthermore, the minimum and maximum film thickness

values and the supply pressures were very similar

3.1 Mesh Resolution (Table 3). Thus, the minimum number of elements

required to model the spring assemblies with circles of

The number of elements through the pad thickness as

spring elements was sufficient to ensure a mesh

well as the number of elements in the horizontal plane

independent solution.

Number of Psup hmin hmax Decreasing the spring radius moved the supporting

In-Plane [MPa] [µm] [µm] spring elements further from the edges of the pad,

Elements allowing slightly more bending at the leading and

533 9.11 4.24 70.2 trailing edge (Figure 4). Thus, the minimum and

716 9.13 4.54 70.1 maximum film thickness values were greatest for the

1673 9.15 4.54 69.9 smallest radius of 6.25 mm (Table 5). The smaller radius

also gave a higher supply pressure, most likely because

Table 3: Results showing the influence of the mesh the support was concentrated towards the centre of the

resolution in the horizontal plane. pad.

60

3.2 Element Type

r = 22

The FEA software included the option of using second 50

r = 12.5

order 20-node brick elements rather than the linear 8- 40 r = 6.25

node brick elements. The influence of the higher order

30

element was investigated with an FEA mesh consisting

of one element through the pad thickness and a spring 20

radius of 12.5 mm. The film thickness profiles were very

10

similar, although the 20-node elements did eliminate the

local fluctuations seen in the 8-node element model 0

(Figure 3). This outcome was similar to adding a second 0 5 10 15 20

layer of elements through the pad thickness (Figure 2). LE θ [ο ] TE

However, the 20-node elements required many Figure 4: Influence of the spring radius.

additional nodes, which greatly increased the analysis

time (Table 4). Thus, the use of higher order elements

was not justified. Spring Radius Psup hmin hmax

60

[mm] [MPa] [µm] [µm]

Film Thickness [µm]

50 12.5 9.13 4.54 70.1

20-node elements

40 6.25 9.26 4.70 70.9

30 Table 5: Results showing the influence of the spring

radius.

20

0 Since the Babbitt layer (E = 29 GPa) is more compliant

0 5 10 15 20 and thinner than the steel substrate (E = 207 GPa), it

LE θ [ ο] TE was not considered necessary to include it in the

deflection model. The validity of this assumption was

Figure 3: Influence of the element type. explored by including the Babbitt layer in an FEA mesh

with 8-node elements, two elements through the pad

Nodes per Psup hmin hmax Number Analysis thickness, and a spring radius of 20 mm. Nevetheless,

Element [MPa] [µm] [µm] of Nodes Time the results were nearly identical regardless of whether or

[h:m] not the Babbitt was modelled, thus substantiating the

8 9.12 70.2 4.59 1630 5:23 assumption (Table 6).

20 9.18 69.8 4.76 5325 12:43

Table 4: Results showing the influence of element type. Babbitt Psup hmin hmax

Modelled? [MPa] [µm] [µm]

3.3 Spring Radius No 9.03 68.3 3.77

Yes 9.09 68.0 3.78

The influence of the radius of the circle of spring

elements representing each spring assembly was Table 6: Results showing the influence of including the

explored by using radii of 20 mm, 12.5 mm, and 6.25 Babbitt layer in the FEA mesh.

mm. While it was thought that the 20 mm radius was the

most realistic representation of the contact between

4 DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS

spring assembly and pad, previous researchers have The affects of changing the spring arrangement and the

represented each spring assembly with only four spring oil viscosity are presented since they were found to have

elements positioned at the nearest nodes [2]. By great influence on thrust bearing performance.

changing the spring radius in this investigation, the level

of detail required for accurate results could be observed. 4.1 Spring Arrangement

The FEA meshes were created with 8-node elements and Ettles [2] suggested that the arrangement of springs

two elements through the pad thickness to optimize the supporting the pad could significantly affect bearing

analysis time and avoid local deflection fluctuations. performance. The extent of this influence was explored

by adding a spring towards the outside radius of the TP Oil Viscosity Psup hmin hmax

leading edge of the test bearing model. The resulting [oC] [Pa.s] [MPa] [µm] [µm]

film thickness profile was much different than that of the 56 0.0149 8.88 68.3 3.77

12-spring model (Figure 5). The additional spring did 50 0.0182 8.91 72.4 4.39

not permit as much bending at the leading edge. This

made the film more uniform and increased the supply Table 8: Results showing the influence of changing the

pressure (Table 7). Interestingly, the minimum film oil viscosity.

thickness values were located at the inside radius of the 5 CONCLUSIONS

trailing edge in both cases.

Some optimization of modelling parameters for the

60

bearing analysis software has been performed. At least

Film Thickness [µm]

50

13 springs to avoid poorly shaped elements. Sufficient accuracy

40 was obtained when 8-node elements and the minimum

number of elements possible for the method of

30

modelling the springs with circles of spring elements

20 were used. The radius of these circles was not highly

influential and the Babbitt layer does not need to be

10

modelled. These results provide guidelines for the FEA

0 models of bearings analyzed by the developed software.

0 5 10 15 20

The investigations also show that the spring arrangement

LE θ [ο] TE

and the oil viscosity have significant affects on the film

Figure 5: Influence of spring arrangement. thickness distributions. Therefore, bearing design

parameters should be chosen carefully.

Number of Psup hmin hmax 6 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Springs [MPa] [µm] [µm]

This research was funded by NSERC, Materials and

12 9.03 3.77 68.3

Manufacturing Ontario (MMO), and GE Hydro,

13 9.67 5.94 53.2

Peterborough, Ontario.

Table 7: Results showing the influence of changing the

spring arrangement. 7 REFERENCES

[1] Vohr, J. H. (1981) Prediction of the operating

4.2 Oil Viscosity temperature of thrust bearings. ASME J. Lub. Tech.,

103, 97-106.

The chosen value of the pad temperature, TP, [2] Ettles, C. M. (1991) Some factors affecting the

determined the oil viscosity. Lowering the temperature design of spring- supported thrust bearings in

by only 6oC at TP = 56 oC increased the oil viscosity by hydroelectric generators. ASME J. of Trib., 113, 626-

22%. Although the supply pressure was unaffected, as 632.

would be expected (Table 8), this change in viscosity [3] Brown, A., Medley, J. B. and Ferguson, J. H.

increased the film thickness values by 3-4 µm (2001) Spring-supported thrust bearings used in

(Figure 6). The deflected pad shape was also slightly hydroelectric generators: finite element analysis of pad

altered. deflection. Tribology Series 37, Elsevier Science, in

press.

60

Film Thickness [µm]

50

56C hydrodynamic lubrication analysis of large spring-

40

supported thrust bearings with finite element analysis of

pad deflection. MASc Thesis, University of Waterloo,

30 Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

20 [5] Brown, A., Medley, J. B. and Ferguson, J.H.

(2001) Spring-supported thrust bearings used in

10

hydroelectric generators: comparison of experimental

0 data with numerical predictions including finite element

0 5 10 15 20 analysis of pad deflection. ASME J. of Trib. To be

LE θ [ο] TE submitted.

[6] Yuan, J. H., Medley, J. B. and Ferguson, J.H.

Figure 6: Influence of oil viscosity on the film thickness.

(1999) Spring-supported thrust bearings used in

hydroelectric generators: laboratory test facility. STLE

Trib. Trans., 42, 1, 126-135.

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