The industry of wheels turn on bearings, so why do the wheels often vibrate, clatter, squeak, drag and overheat? Bearings can fail for lots of reasons. Most failures (as shown in Figure 1) are related to lubrication and contamination, but myths and misconceptions handed fromwheel bearings, one generation of maintenance engineers to the next help perpetuate many easily avoidable problems. These myths fall into three general areas of bearing use: installation, misapplication and lubrication.

Figure 1 – Sources of bearing wear or failures

Installation myth #1: It’s okay to hammer a bearing into position if needed – FALSE.

Never strike a direct blow to a bearing. The rolling elements and raceway are hardened, but can still be damaged. A hammer blow can leave dents in the raceway that can cause noise and dramatically reduce bearing life. If installation is difficult, first check the shaft diameter, look for burrs, dirt or corrosion on the shaft. If needed, use a press to slide the bearing on. Apply pressure equally on the face of the inner ring to avoid damaging the raceways and rolling elements.

Scratching, gouging and general wear in the bore of an inner ring and on the OD of a shaft are indications of loss of lock. Sometimes, the setscrew tips will also be worn. Fretting wear can be present on the surfaces and is sometimes a precursor form of wear prior to loss of lock.
This can be caused by improper tightening of the locking mechanism, undersized/worn/damaged shafting, frequent start/stop operation, or hardened or stainless steel shafting that prevents set screw penetration or holding.

Installation myth #2: Off-the-shelf TGP shafting is the best option – FALSE.

It’s much more important to know the shaft’s tolerance range to be sure it meets your bearing manufacturer’s spec for diameter and roundness. Review the bearing manufacturer’s recommendations and measure/specify the correct shaft diameter.

Installation myth #3: It’s fine to hand-tighten setscrews one at a time – FALSE.

Setscrews should be tightened to the manufacturer’s recommended torque. Under tightening can allow the bearing to slip on the shaft. Over tightening can distort the raceway or crack the inner ring. Use the “half-full/full” rule for tightening setscrews – tighten the first setscrew to half the recommended torque, the second setscrew to the full torque, then go back to the first setscrew and apply full torque.

Surface smearing, peeling and skidding are forms of adhesive wear that occur when operating with insufficient oil film thickness. Under these conditions, sliding occurs between the rolling elements and raceways causing surface deformation, cold welding and/or material transfer.
Causes include:
• Inadequate lubricant properties
• Lubrication breakdown
• Ineffective relubrication
• Mixing of incompatible lubricants
• Insufficient load at high speeds
• Sudden acceleration/deceleration

Application myth #1: Bearings should not be hot to the touch – FALSE.

Normal bearing operating temperatures can range from 80°F to 150°F, but certain applications may run higher or lower. Most bearings are rated for -20 to 220°F, but can be supplied with special grease, seals or heat stabilizing processes that allow them to operate at higher temperatures. Bearings normally run hotter at start up or right after re-lubrication because excess grease increases drag and friction in the bearing. Spikes up to 50°F are normal at start-up, and 30°F after re-lubrication. As the rolling elements purge excess grease through the seals, the bearings return to steady-state temperatures.

Application myth #2: Bigger bearings are always better – FALSE.

Bigger bearings with a higher load capacity may show a higher fatigue life, but if the load does not achieve the minimum requirement, the rolling elements can skid along the raceway instead of rolling. This can cause high temperatures, excessive wear, lubrication breakdown and bearing failure.

Application myth #3: Sealed/lubed-for-life bearings will last forever – FALSE.

Bearing life depends on grease life, which is affected by the operating conditions (speed and load) and environment (temperature and contamination). Grease life can be improved with enhanced seals, proper installation and proper grease selection. Ultimately, the best bearing is the properly lubricated bearing.

Lubrication myth #1: Re-lubrication once a year is sufficient – FALSE.

Start by reviewing the bearing manufacturer’s lubrication recommendations. These will give amounts and intervals as suggested starting points, but actual lubrication intervals may vary quite a bit, depending on load, speed, temperature, or environmental conditions. Applications with higher speeds, temperatures, or heavy contamination sometimes require frequent re-lubrication, possibly weekly or daily. By contrast, a mounted ball bearing in a lightly loaded, low-speed, clean environment may do fine with re-lubrication at 12 to 24 month intervals. Certain applications may need to be monitored and lubrication intervals/amounts adjusted accordingly.

Re-lubrication replenishes grease when the current grease breaks down or deteriorates because the base oil breaks down due to temperature. Without this, the lubricating property is gone and the result is metal-to-metal contact. Re-lubricating the bearing replenishes the oil, maintaining the proper film.

Pumping new grease into a bearing also helps flush away contamination. Many mounted bearings are designed to allow grease to enter the bearing cavity as close to the rolling elements as possible. As more grease is added, the old grease is pushed out of the seals (if the seals are purgeable). The purged grease carries out contaminants and keeps dirt away from the seals.

Request image filename: Grease.jpg – Before lubricating a bearing make sure the grease fitting is clean so contamination is not introduced into the bearing during relubrication.

Lubrication myth #2: Always add grease until it purges from the seal – FALSE.

If you pump grease into the bearing until it purges out the seal, you probably have completely filled the bearing cavity. Excess grease can increase operating temperature and may create enough pressure to blow the seal out. However, in low-speed or dirty conditions where contamination may easily enter the seals, filling a bearing with grease may help improve performance. Application experience will dictate when the entire bearing cavity should be filled.

Lubrication myth #3: If a bearing makes noise, grease should be added – FALSE.

If a bearing is making noise, internal damage has likely occurred. This increases over time, with the potential for catastrophic failure. Adding grease may provide temporary relief, but a noisy bearing should be closely monitored and replaced at the first opportunity. The root of the failure should also be investigated either with independent or manufacturer failure analysis (manufacturer analysis requires removal of the bearing as soon as possible to aid in a more accurate diagnosis of the problem).

Lubrication myth #4: Any grease will do – FALSE.

Greases DO differ. Some may be incompatible because of the different thickeners (soaps) used. When two incompatible greases are mixed, they may thicken and harden or become thin and leak out of the bearing. For example, many electric motors use a polyurea thickener while some mounted ball bearings use lithium-complex thickeners. These greases are borderline compatible, and depending on the actual make up, may not work together. Grease types can also be incompatible based on the viscosity or type of oil in the grease, so consulting a lubrication supplier is always recommended.

Lubrication myth #5: Just shoot grease through the fitting – FALSE.

Always clean grease fittings and the grease gun tip. It’s good practice to put the grease gun tip in an oil bath or wrap it with a plastic cover to protect it.

Your plant’s uptime and OEE may “turn” on your bearings’ good health. If you are not achieving the desired operational life for some of them, a bearing manufacturer can assist you with proper selection and troubleshooting.

When you run a manufacturing facility, maintenance is very important. Unplanned downtime can take a huge hit in your facility’s production, which directly impacts your business’ profits.

In a study done by Plant Engineering, 59 percent of manufacturing engineers, managers, and other professionals claimed that their facility spent 20 hours or more per week on scheduled maintenance. However, there are several different maintenance strategies that these professionals use to keep their facility running smoothly. Here’s a quick breakdown of three different types of maintenance for bearings and applications.

PERIODIC MAINTENANCE

Over time, your applications and equipment will begin to wear down and fail. In fact, the Plant Engineering study cites that 45 percent of unscheduled downtime is a direct result of aging equipment.

Periodic preventative maintenance sets up a regular schedule for you to clean, inspect, and fix up your applications and parts to maintain the health of your equipment. A well-planned maintenance schedule can save your business a lot of money and allow you to have more control over downtime instead of waiting for an issue.

PREDICTIVE MAINTENANCE

A predictive maintenance schedule is like periodic maintenance, except that it’s based on signs of necessary maintenance instead of time. In this scenario, professionals will set times to check up on equipment to see if there are any indications that they may need to shut down an application for repair, part replacement, or any other preventative measure. Maintenance Connection lists the following as potential warning signs for aging or failing applications:

Excessive vibration
Overheating
Steam, air, or gas leaks
Contamination
Electrical imbalances
Misalignment
These check-ins can be performed through manual inspection or through monitoring technology. If no signs are spotted, it means that you should be set until the next inspection.

RUN-TO-FAIL/BREAKDOWN MAINTENANCE

This type of maintenance isn’t so much a strategy as much as the choice not to conduct any maintenance work until something stops working. While this usually isn’t the most cost-effective solution for businesses that can’t afford unexpected downtime, there are some situations where it can be an advantageous approach.

One such example is if equipment failure won’t affect production and can be quickly and easily repaired. However, this approach likely is a bad choice for parts like bearings.