Bearings are machine elements implemented to guide motion and minimize friction between moving parts. They typically provide either free linear movement for a moving part, or free rotation around a stationary axis and are classified by their operation, their movement, and the directions of the forces applied to the parts. Bearings are critical parts of any type of machinery. However, like any machine component, they can break. This blog will discuss seven of the most common ways aircraft bearings fail, and how they can be prevented.
The first and most common reason bearings fail is lubrication failure. Up to 80 percent of bearing failures are caused by improper lubrication, whether it be insufficient lubricant, improper lubricant, or excessive temperature degrading the lubricant grease. To avoid this, ensure that the proper type and amount of lubricant are being used, and parts are being relubricated at the appropriate intervals.
Bearing contamination occurs when outside debris and particles get into the lubricant or cleaning solutions. These can include dirt, grit, dust, or steel chips from work areas, hands, or tools. Vibration caused by denting of rolling elements and raceways are a good indicator of bearing contamination. To mitigate the risk of contamination, clean work areas, tools, fixtures, and hands regularly.
Generally speaking, bearings should be mounted with a press fit on the rotation ring. Improper installation or mounting can cause denting, wear, cracked rings, high operating temperature, and early fatigue in bearing parts, roller and bearing arms - all of which can lead to premature failure. To prevent this, always follow proper mounting instructions.
Another detriment that can result from improper installation is misalignment. Misalignment is caused by bent shafts, out-of-square spacers, and improper mounting and results in overheating and separator failure. When looking for evidence of misalignment, make note of any paths that are not parallel to the raceway edges of the non-rotating ring. To prevent misalignment, use precision-grade locknuts and regularly inspect shafts and housings for runout of shoulders and bearing seats.
False Brinelling is bearing damage caused by stress that causes imprints similar to brinelling but are caused by another mechanism. It is commonly caused by rapid movement of balls in the raceway while the equipment is idle. To prevent false brinelling, eliminate any external vibrations that could cause the balls to move. It is also helpful to use lubricants containing anti-wear additives.
Moisture, acids, low-quality oil, and condensation from high temperatures are all factors that can cause corrosion of a bearing. The most obvious signs of corrosion are red and brown stains or deposits on rolling elements, raceways or cages. To prevent corrosion, always divert corrosive fluids away from bearing areas. If it cannot be avoided, be sure to use a stronger bearing material like stainless steel and use corrosion preventative materials. Once a bearing is corroded, the best action is to replace it immediately.
One factor that will eventually cause all bearings to fail is fatigue. The second a bearing is installed, the process of natural fatigue begins. Indicators of fatigue include the fracture of running surfaces which causes removal of small particles from within the bearing inner ring, outer ring, and rolling elements. Like corrosion, the only way to fix a fatigued bearing is to replace it.
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