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Q & A: When to Clean and Repack Bearings

"Is there a standard method for determining if and when a bearing should be cleaned and repacked?" Given the practical challenges of hand-packing a bearing with any hope of maintaining grease and bearing cleanliness, it is often best to avoid opening a bearing to clean and repack. Simply stated, the benefit practically exceeds the costs and risks. However, if circumstances exist where this must be done, then some thoughtful planning is justified. We should look at the issue as a two-part problem. The first issue is if/when to repack a bearing. If a bearing is intended to be grease-lubricated, then it would be best to include a zerk or similar fitting to enable replenishment without opening the bearing cavity. When the bearing is replenished according to sound engineering principles (right product quality, right product selection, right amount, right frequency, no cross-contamination) the bearing does not require disassembly, cleaning and repacking to maintain lubricant and bearing health. If the bearing cannot be configured with a zerk and a relief, and a 'clean and repack' event is the ONLY option, then scheduling the activity becomes a judgment call based on a multitude of factors as noted below. The second part of the question is about whether there is a standardized approach for making this decision. After reviewing a few well-respected lubrication texts, and speaking with two well-known bearing manufacturers, the author concludes that there is no recognized standard with which to make a decision to disassemble and repack a bearing. Several factors may influence the selected repack frequency decision, including the quality of the environment near where the work is to be done, the quality of the grease removed during previous repack events, the size of the housing, the extent to which spent grease has filled up available housing space, flexibility in configuring the housing for routine replenishment, flexibility in configuring the housing to 'vent' spent grease during replenishment, evidence of bearing stress (rise in temperature, rise in high frequency energy) ease for grease sampling and availability of grease analysis. The use of acoustics or other high-frequency metrics can be most helpful in supporting the scheduled frequency decision if a manual repack must occur.

Q & A: Bearings Get Hot After Lubrication "Should all greased bearings be fitted with a vent (spring-loaded or other?). Most of the 3,500 RPM pillow blocks that I maintain have no vent and the relubrication schedule was arrived at by 'tribal council'. The bearings heat up from about 104 degrees F to around 165 degrees F for about 2 days after relubrication, and then return to normal (104 degrees F) conditions for the rest of the month. Will a vent help?" The issue of overheating is related to fluid friction which is a result of fluid churning, which is a secondary effect of overfilling the cavity at the time of relubrication. Installing a relief vent port can help, but this is addressing the symptom rather than the cause. Two issues need to be addressed. 1. Relubrication practices based on tribal knowledge. While the old-school guidelines can sometimes be correct, the evidence here is that something is not quite right. You need to calculate the volume and the frequency based on bearing type, size, speed and operating environmental factors. Correctly gauged interval and volume per relubrication event can help minimize overfilling the housing. There are a variety of texts available that provide formulas for this effort. 2. Lubricant selection for the application. As bearing speeds increase, the oil viscosity requirement decreases. Obviously the grease's oil viscosity decreases with temperature, but that not withstanding, it is imperative to select a grease based on the bearing manufacturer's recommendations for an application, which is based on mean element speed. (nDm = (Speed in RPM * (Bearing ID + Bearing OD)) / 2). Bearing manufacturer relubrication guidelines are specific about minimum oil viscosities for mean element speeds. Verify that the selected product meets the fundamental viscosity requirement, and then factor slightly to provide a cushion. If the viscosity of the oil at bearing operating temperature is 2 times or more than the minimum operating viscosity (from the bearing manufacturer) then you should reconsider the lubricant selection, especially for bearings operating near 3,600 RPM. Churning and overheating both contribute to loss of oil in the grease. This shortens grease life and relubrication interval. Properly selected viscosity, volume and frequency each play a key role in sustaining bearing lifecycles. Mike Johnson, CMRP, Noria Corporation

Q & A: How Much Grease Is Enough?

"All of the formal training I've had on the application of lubricants suggests that for greasable bearings, one should never pump in so much grease as to push out the external seals. However, the instruction manual that comes with Dodge Type-E bearings states: "Operation in presence of dust, water or corrosive vapors - Under these conditions the bearing should contain as much grease as speed will permit, because a full bearing with consequent slight leakage is the best protection against entrance of foreign material." Won't this ruin the seal and allow for easier entrance of foreign material? I currently teach my technicians to add the amount of grease as determined by the SKF formula G = DB/10, where G is grease in ounces, D is bearing outer diameter, and B is bearing width; or as I've read in Lube-Tips, one shot per inch of shaft diameter. Is this not enough in dusty environments?" Several factors influence the quantity of grease that would go into a bearing at the selected interval. Critical factors include: 1. Design of the bearing (plain, roller, ball or spherical roller). 2. Type of shield used in the bearing. 3. Size and speed from which to calculate dN values. 4. Viscosity of the lubricant in the grease. The Dodge Type-E bearing has a shield and lip seal configuration, with an option for an additional two-stage lip seal. This type of seal, by design, will allow for discharge of grease without damage at the outer perimeter of the seal. You could consider this a type of shielded bearing configuration. A SEALED bearing is not designed to be purged. If you apply too much grease too quickly, you can rupture the seal and compromise the life of the bearing. If you look closely at the manufacturer's guidelines, you should see both general and specific directions for relubrication, including frequency and quantity for a given speed and load. The OEM parameters are typically the best starting point for relubrication practices. The OEM will also suggest that if you have a highly aggressive environment that it may be necessary to adjust the interval or volume to increase the amount of grease to the bearing. The SKF formula also provides a good starting point. Again, the calculated value must be adjusted to accommodate the environment. The decision to flood or purge a bearing should be taken within the context of bearing

construction, production environment and OEM guidelines. This is rarely a simple question.

Today's Tip: How to Prevent Overgreasing Bearings Overgreasing bearings or bearing housings can cause blown seals, which can lead to loss of lubricant, overheating, mechanical failure and safety concerns. A pressure-relief fitting can prevent overpressurization because this type of fitting will relieve and discharge grease when the proper internal pressure is obtained. These are commercially available from several suppliers such as grease fitting manufacturers. Bearing and seal manufacturers can recommend the maximum pressure level in order to obtain the proper relief setting. (Submitted by Chester Asher, Maintenance Engineer, Mittal Steel.)