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Detecting Premature Bearing Failure
Eugene Matzan

Bearing manufacturers have long been aware of the relationship of heat to bearing life and have designed formulas to accurately calculate safe operating temperatures. The results show a temperature band in which both bearings and lubricants will operate at peak performance with the least stress. Once outside the ideal temperature range, they will degrade at an accelerated rate. So how do you interpret temperature readings, and how should they affect your maintenance procedures? This article describes some temperatureoriented methods for determining bearing health and life expectancy, both in the plant and in the field.

Figure 1. Heat Ranges of Bearings


Figure 1 shows the thermal range of a typical rolling element bearing. Note that bearing metal temperature is often higher (10 to 25 degrees Celsius) than the oil temperature in the bearing within an oil circulation system. The green zone represents the sweet spot for bearing and lubrication temperature; operating in the yellow zone reduces lubricant and bearing life; and if your bearings are in the red zone, expect both the bearing and the lubricant to be destroyed rapidly. There are different temperature bands for different combinations of bearing and lubricant, but they will have the same general trend regarding the best operating temperature and its effect on accelerated wear and failure. In most standard lubricants, for every 15°C1 increase in temperature above 70°C, the lubricant life is more than halved and there is a negative effect on bearing life. Any mineral oil operating at a temperature above 80°C or 90°C will have a greatly diminished life. In no case should bearing temperature ever exceed the maximum rating of either the bearing or the lubricant. Monitoring Bearing Condition Machine bearings are generally monitored through vibration analysis, oil analysis and/or

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If these conditions could be predicted and accounted for accurately.asp?articleid=1041 ultrasound techniques. it's not always possible or affordable to use these methods in hostile production environments. There are many industries and production environments where bearing failure represents catastrophic it is possible to compare current data to historical data and accurately assess the life of the bearings. then increases in temperature would reliably indicate bearing problems. Secondly. an indicator of bearing problems. Perhaps subtle changes are hidden because there are so many variables that can potentially contribute to bearing temperature. In addition to friction. Currently in the railroad industry. speed. Infrared Sensors Outside of manufacturing.Machinery Lubrication Magazine http://www. In most cases vibration analysis and oil analysis are still the best ways to determine bearing health. or cannot access the machine due to hazardous conditions or inconvenient locations make vibration or oil analysis expensive at best. Through these. Most manufacturers have at least some vital equipment in areas that are not easily accessible. chemical processing and metalworking plants are a few examples of industries that depend greatly on bearings. Photographic film and paper manufacturing. load and runtime all have a pronounced influence on bearing temperature. other industries are similarly affected. other factors that can contribute to temperature variation are load. but where bearing accessibility can be a major problem. can only be the result of friction. Wheel bearings on railroad cars are a specific case in point: they are underneath trains. which are not hospitable places for performing these tests while the cars are moving. These are extremely limited and can detect bearings only in Stage 4 failure where catastrophic failure (a wheel burn-off) is imminent. The remaining temperature differences between the two bearings on a common shaft with the same load. speed. If temperature is a reliable method of bearing life prediction. or even impossible. the only practical method for detecting impending bearing failure is to use so-called hotbox detectors. why is it ignored until after it's too late? The monitoring of temperatures with thermography has been considered unreliable because so many variables such as ambient temperature. there is no practical method of checking all such wheel bearings in a timely manner because of the sheer number of them in use. This article compares identical or near-identical bearings on the same shaft which cancels the effects of these variables because they are common to both bearings. Unfortunately. Temperature increase due to increased friction is not even considered as a symptom of bearing failure in many bearing analysis texts2 until Stage 3 bearing failure occurs. These are infrared sensors located along the train tracks that detect high temperatures in wheel bearings as the train passes. yet vibration analysis is not practical. An alarm requires immediate emergency 2 of 4 28/07/2009 11:31 . Any environments where staff or technicians cannot easily access the machine without taking it offline.machinerylubrication. ambient environment temperature and runtime duration.

The temperature data of each unit is analyzed and compared electronically. their effects on temperature are canceled. Studying Temperatures If bearing temperature changes due to maintenance-related problems could be isolated from all the other factors that contribute to bearing heat. Because the load.Machinery Lubrication Magazine http://www. an alarm is transmitted and an LED indicator will light. The bearing comparison is accomplished with electronic temperature sensors and comparators powered by a self-contained power supply that recharges its battery through the motion of the equipment.or underlubrication. The sensors apply input to a sensing unit that is self-contained and has wireless technology for communication with warning devices. When these detectors miss bad bearings or the alarm is not tended to immediately.or repair-related conditions such as over. misalignment. ambient temperature. Any recorded temperature variation is the result of unwanted maintenance. or loss of human life. The procedure takes heat data from each bearing on a common shaft and compares the data. speed. If one bearing is more than 15°C greater than another on the same shaft. Because the consequences are so dire. bearing damage. disrupts train schedules. The system is self-powered by a small power supply which is actuated by the movement of the equipment. widespread hazardous chemical spill. such as under train cars. loss or severe damage of client merchandise. If any bearing temperature varies more that 15°C. a properly designed monitoring device could detect bearing failure at the Stage 2 level.asp?articleid=1041 action. A newly patented technique is being evaluated that could have significant benefit to industries that need to analyze bearing and lubrication life in difficult-to-reach areas. The methodology involves the following: Temperature sensors are attached in close proximity to all the bearings on a common shaft or axle. or loose-foot There is a maximum allowable temperature in case all bearings are out of normal 3 of 4 28/07/2009 11:31 . the bearing health is in question and the root cause of the increased bearing temperature must be determined. and run duration are common to all the bearings common to the shaft. the resulting wheel burn-off may lead to a train derailment.machinerylubrication. and is extremely costly. every false positive results in delays and inspections that can negatively affect the entire industry. The heart of the patent is a technique that cancels all thermal variables except the increase in bearing temperature due to wear or lubrication failure.

random ultrasonic noise greatly increases. Entek IRD Volume I Vibration Analysis. This technique will never be as accurate as oil or vibration analysis.Machinery Lubrication Magazine http://www. Machinery Lubrication Magazine. Bearing failure harmonics of the fundamental frequency are now apparent. Bearing failure begins to "ring" at its natural frequency. References 1. it will provide an increased level of condition monitoring that was not available in the past. May 2007 Issue Number: 200705 Machinery Lubrication Lubrication 101 4 of 4 28/07/2009 11:31 . Earliest detectable indication of bearing failure using vibration analysis. Stage 2. but in remote or hazardous locations where these tools are not an option. Four Stages of Bearing Failure Stage 1. Defects in the inner and outer race are now apparent and visible on vibration analysis of the noise signal. there is approximately 10 to 20 percent remaining bearing life.machinerylubrication. SKF bearing manual. 2. Five to 10 percent remaining bearing life. The fundamental and harmonics begin to actually decrease. At this point. Temperature increase is now apparent. One to five percent of remaining bearing life. temperatures increase quickly.asp?articleid=1041 operating range. Stage 3. Bearing failure is indicated by high vibration. 6-48. Stage 4. (500 to 2. p. "Detecting Premature Bearing Failure". Remaining life one hour to one Please reference this article as: Eugene Matzan.000 Hz) signal appears at the first harmonic bearing frequency. Signals appear in the ultrasonic frequency bands around 250 KHz to 350 KHz.