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How to Detect and Prevent Roller Bearing Failure

It’s just as crucial for roller bearings to stay lubricated as it is for people to stay hydrated. Letting lubrication-related tasks slide can lead to catastrophic equipment failure. Furthermore, once the roller bearing experiences damage the condition is likely to be irreversible and no amount of maintenance, except replacement, can return the roller bearing to its original state.

Roller bearings require lubrication to reduce the metal-to-metal friction between the rolling and sliding contact areas. Rolling-contact fatigue (RCF) wear particles are often caused by dynamic load on a roller bearing or the pitch line of gears. Lubricating helps remove wear particles and contaminants from the rolling contact areas, protect against corrosion, disperse heat from the roller bearing, and increase bearing seal bonds.

Lubricant particle contamination is the main reason roller bearings fail to reach life expectancy. A lubricant sample can look clean, but it might contain thousands of tiny wear-causing impurities, including metal shards, dirt, dust, sand, and other assorted elements.

Vibration – a leading indicator of roller bearing wear

Usually, before roller bearings fail, the problem appears in the form of vibration. For instance, when a roller bearing race becomes pitted, the bearing rollers will produce a vibration every time they run over the affected area.

The recommended action typically includes using vibration analysis to detect possible imbalance, misalignment or another intermittent vibration-related variance. Without being invasive, vibration analysis provides details about what’s going on inside machinery by detecting bearing wear, installation error, and other mechanical problems.

Keeping particles out

Particles can find their way into lubricants in numerous ways including during lubricant production. The amount of contamination in newly produced oil or grease can vary by as much as a factor of 1,000. Large quantities can contain even higher amounts. Particles can also be introduced because of: Wear, fatigue, and aging; Imbalance caused by leaks, Worn seals and other breaches; During maintenance or replacement.

Key ways to avoid particle contamination:

  1. Purchase lubricants from a trusted company; product specifications should be easy to find and clearly stated; standards, such as IEC, ASTM, ISO, or DIN, ought to be up-to-date and visible, depending on the application.
  2. Keep lubricants away from heat and other possible sources of contamination, store lubricants indoors, lay drums horizontally, select lubricant usage based on the purchase date, i.e., oldest to newest.
  3. Test equipment for imbalance, misalignment, and other conditions; use vibration analysis, thermography and other proactive maintenance methods to prevent wear and particle debris.
  4. Ensure the lubricant is clean. If replacing lubricant, make sure the equipment is also clean.

Lubrication – the first line of defense

Roller bearing mechanisms exist in most rotating machinery, and thousands of applications including the manufacturing, automotive, marine, and aerospace utilize them. Without lubrication, a roller bearing cannot do its job which is to reduce rotational friction to support radial and axial loads.

Keeping lubrication fluids clear of dirt and other minuscule particles is critical. Route-based maintenance and continuous monitoring via remote sensors can also help ward off failure by detecting early any changes in vibration or heat. Give roller bearings the attention they deserve–and they’ll have a better chance of reaching life expectancy–saving you time and money.


To learn more about how Fluke Sensors can help your organization keep track of roller bearing health, please connect with one of our specialists.

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