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E~t\J Why Bearings Fail

Appendix A - Why Bearings Fail

Normal Fatigue Failure
This is not premature failure, but failure that
techniques, and tolerances are readily achieved
given proper training, time, and environment.
occurs at, or after, the bearing life that has been
the long life that today's bearings can provide,
designed into a machine. While it is possible Lubrication
Overview precision and proactive practices must be
and practical to design a bearing application Lubrication related failures fall into two
enacted and followed .
Obtaining maximum rolling element bearing life with infinite life, many machines have a categories - the lubrication mode, and the
in machines is actually quite easy, as the designed limit based on load, speed, lubrication lubricant. If the proper lubricant, as determined
requirements for smooth operation and long life Why Bearings Fail regime, and the bearing selected for the by the machine manufacturer, is used, there is
have been known for years. application . The trick is to understand what the
When considering all the bearings produced, little likelihood that a bearing wilt fail because of
design life is for a bearing. A value-priced the lubricant. There are bound to be examples
Aside from the development of new installation and every application from consumer products machine may be cheap for good reason. The
tools. the maintenance technology associated to automobiles to industrial machinery, most of lubricant versus application failures, but they
bearing application may be designed to provide are relatively rare. Most often. failures due to
with precision and proactive maintenance has bearings outlive their machines. However, service until the machine goes out of warranty.
not changed significanUy over several decades. within the industrial segmen~ this changes not adhering to a good lubrication program are
For most machines, the design life is
Bearing technology, on the other hand, has significantly. A large percentage of bearings in blamed on the lubricant. Newer lubricants may
approximately 8000 hours of service. improve the lITe of a machine, but they will not
changed significanUy. It is possible to go to a industrial applications fail far eanier than their
bearing catalog and find the correct bearing design limits. correct for other maintenance de'ficiencies.
replacement for a machine that is 40 years old. Premature Fatigue Failure Changing lubricant to correct for poor alignment
The selection of a bearing for a given practices will not be effective. When a machine
However. even though the new bearing is
application is not trivial. It is a balance between Parasitic loads above those considered in the is operated in an environment not considered in
dimensionally identical (it will fit the shaft and
long life, size, and ultimately, cost. Assuming a original machine specifications create higher the original design, or when a generic machine
housing), it is different from the bearing
machine manufacturer understands the loads than anticipated bearing loads and more rapid is used in extreme conditions such as arctic
originally installed in the machine.
and operating conditions of their machines, and fatigue failure . These parasitic loads are most winters or desert summers, a change in
Improvements in metallurgy have produced how to properly determine the correct bearing frequently due to unbalance, misalignment, and lubricant may be required . This can often be
steels that are stronger, and more importantly, for the application, the bearings should run improper operation. However, changing the discussed with the machine manufacturer in the
more uniform. so there is far lower probability trouble-free for extended periods. However, operation or the process may also Significantly purchasing and design specification phase.
for the bearing to fail due to inclusions or other when there is a bearing failure, a common change loads. For example. a 20 percent
material-related problems. Machining and reaction is to blame the bearing. Certainly, increase in load will decrease bearing life The three lubrication modes generally practiced
grinding methods have produced smoother and there are examples where the completely expectancy by nearly 50 percent. All three of are "greased for life: periodic replenishment,
more geometrically correct (high conformance) wrong bearing was selected. A bearing these conditions are preventable and and continuous . The over and under-lubrication
bearings, which lowers stresses and noise, and intended for heavy loads and low speeds is not correctable by altering maintenance andlor of machinery and contamination represent a
improves reliability. Seemingly insignificant a good selection for a lightly loaded, high-speed operating practices. When a change in process large percentage of premature bearing failures.
changes in the geometry of the raceways, application. Before a'bearing type is changed is planned, a study of the effects of the and again these are most often preventable.
cages, and rolling elements have also reduced because it is not "strong enough," all factors increased loads can be conducted beforehand. Contamination from water, chemicals, and
loads and high stress areas susceptible to early that led to its early demise must be Accelerated wear can be anticipated and particles are especially harmful to rolling
fatigue. The result of this technology is that the investigated. A logical approach should accepted, or alternate designs can be element bearings. Proper design and
modem bearing, required to perform the same consider virtually all other possibilities before considered. maintenance of sealing and lubrication systems
function as the bearing installed in the older simply changing the bearing for one with a can prevent many contamination problems.
machine, may be one-half the size and will last higher load rating. Maintenance practices associated with
longer and run more smoothly. Installation, Storage, and Handling alignment and balancing influence
The ultimate failure of a bearing due to old age contamination related failures due to the large
The downside to 10day's higher performance Handling begins when a bearing leaves the
is fatigue, which appears as spalling or flaking shaft orbits that develop. A tendency of those
bearings is that they require a higher degree of factory to the point when it is installed on a
on one or both of the raceways or the rollers. conducting failure analyses on a bearing is to
care during installaUon and operation to achieve Today, with improved bearing designs and machine, and picks up again if the machine is
to be transported after it is installed. Proper jump to the conclusion that there is a seal
the higher life expectancies. The larger and improved metallurgy, machinery can be
transportation and storage prevent damage that problem on a machine, when the failure
lower stressed bearing of 40 years ago was designed, theoretically, for infinite life.
occurs before the machine is even placed in mechanism appears to be contamination. Upon
slighUy more tolerant of installation abuse and Therefore, even failures that appear to be due
service. Proper installation techniques and further examination, it may be that the true root
lubrication problems. Over time, maintenance to old age may be preventable. and should be
machine I fit tolerances are critical, and failure cause problem was excessive misalignment,
practices used on the older machines have not investigated for possible corrective measures.
to ensure that precision steps are followed which created the secondary seal failure. The
evolved at the same rate as bearing
Failure causes and modes for bearings include: represents one of the largest sources of perfect seal will not solve failures due to
improvements. and bearings continue to fail at
maintenance induced failure. The tools. misalignment; in fact. the replacement seal may
unacceptably high rates. To take advantage of

SKF ReliabiJily Syslems - Fundamentals of Machine Condition A-I A-2 SKF Reliability Systems - Fundamentals of Machine Condilion
Why Bearings Fail Why Bearings Fail
have superior sealing capabilities but an even addressing all failure modes is the key to Load Examples: speeds. There is a clear energy
lower tolerance for misalignment. reliability. rolling element bearings over plain
Radial - belt tension, car wheel (straight line)

speed increases.
Axial- driH press, pumps

Selection and Design ,.-rnn;uv Function of a Combined - right angie gearbox., car wheel


The bearing selected by the original equipment Traditional

manufacturer is, in most cases, the correct Friction The SKF Bearing Maintenance Handbook
bearing for the There are
In a rolling element friction is the
How Bearinas Work troubleshooting guide.
exceptions, and possibility that the wrong acquaint the
bearing is used should always be considered determining factor for generation and the reader with the most commonly encountered
after all other sources of failure have been operating temperature. Friction bearing mounting and operational problems,
investigated. As mentioned above, a in on load and several other factors, the and provide a basis for improvement in overall
process or machine speed may a most important of which are the bearing m:::.inl",,,:::.n.-'::> practice.
new bearing, but the selection of a replacement and size, operating speed, lubricant nrr.n",rli.::,,::
and lubricantq use of the trOUbleshooting
is not trivial. Avoid the temptation to eliminate
guide is to narrow down the of
failures by simply selecting a The total resistance to rolling in a bearing is problem causes. The prclce,dure
made up from:
the book on the table symptom, such as
The rolling and sliding friction in the rolling
of as a plain bearing. When
introduced, the contact area is
heading in the Guide
The ralline and sliding friction in the contact lowering friction. The
HOverheated Bearing."
rolling elements and cage contact area has changed from a flat, plane
surface to a line -line contact. Use clear tape to cover the numbers in the
The guiding surfaces for the rofling

elements or the cage

Read each "Reason for condition" and

The friction in the lubricant
failures that are more evaluate as a cause. Circle the
loaded. All other sources of The sliding friction of rubbing seals, in the number with pen if probable, and
considered before a design change. case of sealed bearings cross out if not you have completed
rule of replacement is to the section, the circled "Reasons for
the same bearing out of a condition" are the most
Bearing Loads causes and can be inv'estia;ated
machine. This must be expanded to include a
verification of the bearing from the Loads are transmitted between the stationary cause. By coupling with analysis or
machine drawings or If the part of a machine (commonly a housing) and a condition monitoring results, root cause will
wrong bearing was installed two overhauls rotating part of a machine (commonly a shaft) be arrived at methodically.
back, the same mistake will be made by simply with minimum resistance. Q - What is the problem with troubleshooting?
replacing like-for-like. When reviewing A - All we do is shoot the trouble repeatedly.
equipment history, note any changes in bearing RII~ro~ C<:lmbiood Io.~
type and attempt to determine why a change Fr Introducing marbles or balls reduces the Q-What of maintenance does this
was made. contact area further, to no more than a point.
Point contact has less friction than line contact, A - Reactive, or breakdown maintenance.
resulting in improved rolling motion. Q - What can this lead to?

Curl the book into a circle and it becomes the A -Insanity, doing the same thing repeatedly,

one particular area is the inner ring of the bearing. Curl the tabletop expecting a different result.

maintenance approach surface into a Circle and it becomes the outer h/<>li,-.,n,lIt" Maintenance (PRM) goes
of of the bearing. Add a cage to prevent ,hl~'c::hnnlinf1 La:
Fa element contact and we have the
rolling element bearing. Eliminate most failure sources

element bearings have lower friction Identify faults before failure

bearings, especially at higher

SKF Reliability Systems - Fundamentals of Machine Condition A3 A-4 SKF Reliability Systems - Fundamentals of Machine Condition
Why Bearings
true causes an analytical Poor Lubrication Contamination Failure mechanisms are created before the
approach shaft makes its first revolution.

Correct problems source

The Proactive
Eliminate the Sources of Failures
Correct storage. shipping, handling
Correct bearing for the application
Proper bearing installation techniques
Proactive skills for balance, assembly,
Contamination 14%)

life theories are based on a

Hand ling/lnstallation 16%
I",.,nt~min~nt_fr"", bearing and lubricant Lubrication regime

Proper operation

Is it really a lubrication failure?

Fatigue Sources of Contamination
Training, Training. Training

the lubricant (type) from the

Seal types
maintenance practice
Insitall:,dicln techniques Detection of Field Problems
n~lvAnlil~n_and"'lif~;n~fir,n Condition-Based Maintenance
Wrong type
sources will Detection of problems before total failure
bearing service life.
Sianificant evidence of improper diagnosis Detection and remediation of potential
analysis: failure sources
Poor Installation
the lubricant type to solve a Identification of design and installation
problem problems
Failure to understand the application and Verification of corrections
Normal or Pure Fatigue environment
With design, installation, luuncauon,
conlamination. a bearing can
R~arinl1 Failure Rate

Parasitic Loads
These loads, above and
reduce the fatigue life of a
Added loads decrease bearing life Poor installation is perhaps the most avoidable
function (approximation. varies with of all bearing failure sources.
and tolerances are

Fatigue and skills are essential

_ continue to
load increase from mi:saligl1lm!~nt transportation before and after time, the bearing
to reach its fatigue limit and the chance

SKF Reliability Systems - Fundamentals of Machine Condiiion AS A-6 SKF Reliabifity Systems - Fundamentals of Machine Condition
Why Bearings Fail Why Bearings

Another is "specification life.'

found in the three by an authority, based
classifications of premature and soeed data supplied
mechanical damage,
Most failures are attributed 10 one
more of the
Defedive bearing seats on shafts and in
Load-Path Patterns and their
Faulty mounting practice
Incorrect shaft and fits The illustrates the load zone resulting
the ring rotates relative load of
Inadequate lubrication constant or where the inner ring
Ineffective sealing rotates and the also rotates phase with
.. Vibration while the bearing is not rotating
Although Passage of electric current through the

cause, which Transportation. storage, handling

, corrective action
failures. R.,.""rinn Ufe
Jnfortunately, too many of the ball and roller
never attain their calculated
expectancy because of something done, or
installation, and
The calculated life expectancy of any bearing is
based on is, however, evident from both l:'lh,nr:::l!orv
1. lubrication in will and experiencethatseE3mlnoilY
be available to cal under 360"
COlldiltiorlS have A clearer
The bearing be mounted without
definition of the term "life" is therefore essential
for calculation of size.
3. Dimensions of parts related to the bearing information oresented bv on dynamic load
be correct. thal90 of a
aPI:l.::wentlv identical
4. There no defects Ihe or exceed. Rolaling Innet Ring Load
bearing. This is called "basic rating and agrees with
However, even when the ISO definition. The median life is
maintained, the times the calculated basic
further cause of failure; fatigue of the
material. the result of shear stresses inside
"lives. One
C:"'~lIr",,"'J ""[}""''-'' immediately below the load inner ring rotates and
the actual life
and is observed spailing the load has a constant direction.
before it fails.
surface metal. Although
the first
be readily observed. it is necessary
corrOSion, seal failure,
between spelling produced at the normal end of

SKF Reliabilily Systems - Fundamentals of Machine Condition A-8 SKF Reliability Systems - Fundamentsls of Machine Condition
versus what is used today? Why was Mark the location of the fixed or ~1:::1tlnlJ::uv
the change ring with to its anchor, such
housing. cut open, the patterns in
What is Ihe condition of the lubricant in
the bearing can be compared to the
load zone.
Is there any correlation between
use tools that will remove
rates and any lubrication changes?
without loadinQ the raceways
Have there any installation damage
maintenance Have off a shaft
speCifications standards been altered for is evident when performing
or worse? analysis, it may mask
made to the

The bearing Iroubleshooting process follows the

same general for machinery problem and trOlJble,sh()otirlg
or failure, and Important before a new
\.N' , ........'-'''',.... is
questions for cOllsi<jer;ati(ln installed the machine. Obvious failures
the associated with the shaft and housing, and the
lubricant, can be addressed before reassembly.
It In this way. a repea1 of the failure can be
information before, or at a minimum, avoided.
the repair. to ensure all possible failure sources
are considered.
Was there a time when failures were
infrequent? If so, have
occurred and when did the begin?

even and more

a preventive basis, It has been said
speCified for Ilnrll"rlving fault sources to be detected does not lie." If the bearing was
Recommended steps include: of mell-down, the root cause
down to the location where
What bearings are of the lubricant whether
a loren was used to heat the inner or the
dffferent than originally a clean container. If the
spot where was struck a hammer drive it
they changed? varies with proximity to
on that last 1/8 inch (3 on the shaft.
be wise to gather
What changes have been made to the Careful observation of the failed and
lubrication system? For example, from oil associated comoonents will other
mist to air I causes and the true root cause
have been made to the
was originally

'"'''''''''''''''HV"",."",,,n< - Fundamentals of Machine Condition A-9 A-10 SKF Reliability Systems - Fundamentals of Ma:;hine Condition

0peuUng CQlldlUons 'En'JI:o:nmlJ"lal LubrlcaUon ractors MouoUng ractors Other facfors
- I .1

OSS'b,e causes I

.g s;

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ea, 01 '> I : C o !9
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g. .g l
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-g f l o= I! -g 8' '3 ;: ~ __ ,1: c [., -DI f e fi,
!- t i' .. , =
Failure modes with .c 0 13 U U 4) 01 Ci
characteristics I ~
?! 8 j 13 ft 6 ~ ti 8 a
DI 0 III ' C
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ '~ DI
I! ,~ ,~
I: 'I:
I 6 6 .l1 :; I/) ~ "0' ~ ,~ 2. .:l &1 :e .E' :E if if j;: .s ~ ~ ~ l .ff :I ~'
FaUgue Flaking, spalllng, poe ling ++ ++ ++ + ++ ++ ++ + ++ ++ ++ + ++ ** ++ +_+1
[ - Burnishing, microcracks ++ ++ ++ ++ +t+ ++ + ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ ., +_+ ++ ++, + +.+
Wear Abraslvo Excesslvo wear ++ ++ ++ + ...+ ++ + + ++ ++ ++ ++ + ++ + + ++ -li'+ ++
"- -- Scratchos., scoros ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ "'+ ++
Adhesivo Solzing marks, smearing ++ ++ ... +'+ ++ ++ ++ ++ +... +'+ + ++ .+' ++ ......
Hot runners ++ ++ + + ++ ++ ++ ++ ++ + 11-+ .... ++ ++ ++ ...+ +-+ ... +
Corrosion Moisture corrosion +of ++ + + ++"''1- +
~ T _ ___ Fretting corrosion ++ ++ ++ + ++ + ++ ...+ + ++ ++
'] False brinolllng + ++ + + + ++ +
Electrical eroslon Craters, nuUng ++ +11
Plastic doformatlon Depressions ++ ++ ++ ... + +11- +of +'I- ... t+ ++ + + ++ ++ "'+

_ f. ~~ - Dobrls IndontaUoll +:to ++ .+ + ++ 'of+ ++

Nicks. gouges ...-+ +... ++
Fract.ure Forced fracture ++ ++ 'fo+ 'fo+ -t+ ++ ++ + ++ ++ +-+ +.f' ++
__-J ___ FaUgue fracture ++ ++ + + ++ +- '" + + ++ ++ of'+ ++
, Thorma' cnlcking ++ ++ + ++ +- + +- + +'" + + ++


1.1. Subsurface fatigue

1. Fatigue
1.2. Surface initiated fatigue

3.2.1. Fretting corrosion

3.2.2. False brinelling


- vibrations
- misalignment
- noise
- rigidity
- easy mounting
- availability

- cost -lubricant
- housing - relubricatlon
deformation interval
- seal type
- accessibility
- tooling
- mountlngl
dismounting procedure
are his discovering the cause of failure.
Failure a SvmDtom in Macbine Failure
Bearing Maintenance & Reliability Instructor
the cause
Reliability Maintenance Institute,
me:I.h()dllcallly considering and eliJmillating
the analyst determines the
wbere tbe bearing failed is a much
eqlliplmelnl fails prematurely, the shrewd maintenance life ofllie replacement bearing.
specialist knows that Ibe "more than meets tbe eye." What the
untutored eye sees is a failed bearing - and little more. More often than not, however, a Correctly Ihe condition-monitoring data that makes the analyst's search for
premalure bearing failure is symptomatic of other problems that, left untreated, will cause tbe a cause of bearing easier can also be used to failures before they occur. at
same kind the very least, tbat data can that a bearing be removed from service before a
catastrophic failure occurs, in damage that will probably bide important dues needed
to correctly identify the root cause impending failure.
failure is to send the failed bearing
company could secure training for There "oredictive" technologies with varying levels of sophistication that
ulagrJUsls. Such analyses can maintenance completely. Space permits only a passing
failure and pinpoint action can laken
is the
Vibration analysis can detect and
setup or operating "'''''''',"''''.
are discovered that including rolling-element bearings. By :;m;.,v"IfIV
inner ring. outer elements and cage bearing,
In many cases, a bearing subjected bearing damage caused operation. Any unusual
lubrication failure. However, suspected frequencies immediate concern.
to do a better job is 10 rush
have failed, but poor delivery or maintenance methods vibration analysis tools include "smart" handheld dala lo~~gers/lmaJY2:ers
type may not cause of the failure. to the detection, analysis and
frequency analysis feature that overlays
To understand why additional analysis is often necessary, one must realize that an the detection and identification of machine problems.
abnormal operating condition often excessive heal within a bearing, The heat handheld "pocket" computers that support operator-based malinte:na!lce,
buildup lowers the of the the thickness of the fluid film that constanlly monitor bearings and other components
separates the component The result is metal-to-melal contact The surface for managing, maaipulaling and analyzing machine-condition dala.
damage and increased rTiction that results from the metal-to-metal conlact further increase the
bearing's operating while reducing the lubricant's and fluid-film Lubricant can reveal the condition of bearings lubricated by either a stalic
thickness more. such conditions, continued seriously jeopardize the or circulating for the amount of contamination present in the system. In addition
bearing and will result .in bearing failure. In such 10 incorrectly an indication of the bearing components' condition, the analysis also gives an
diagnose as lubrication problem. whether the oil in the lubrication system is exhibiting lower
oxidatjon, loss of additives, etc.). Again. can be used in
sucb as whether to change the oil
mainl<enance or replace the bearing.

new classes of bearings that last as much as three times longer than traditional bearings. Other high
tech bearings currently available include new electrically insulated bearings that can withstand 1,000
Correcting the causes of bearing failure volts and serve as "drop-in" replacements for stock bearings in electric motors and generators and high
The most common causes of premature bearing failures fall into four general temperature bearings that perfonn at temperatures up to 350C (662F). There are even no-wear
categories: poor installation, contamination, poor lubrication, and fatigue. bearings with a thin diamond-like carbon coating on their rolling elements and, if required, lheir
raceways, resulting in a loog-life bearing for the most demanding environments.
Poor installations account for about 16 percent of all premature bearing failures .
A systems approach pays off
Service personnel need to be aware ofwbich tools to use and bave training in using tbem. For
example, a bearing installation may require mechanical, hydraulic or beat application methods A need exists on the part of maintenance departments to look at their plants' equipment as
for correct and efficient mounting or dismounting. Bearing users have the options of securing systems operatillg in specific envirollments and sllpported by specific operational practices. They need
training for their personnel or contracting to have installations done by outside professionals. to look beyond the bearings and employ condition monitoring and predictive maintenance practices as
In either case, quality bearing installations employing specialized tools and techniques, is a well as corrective maintenance programs - machine alignment, precision balancing, lubrication
management and bearing analysis, to name a few - designed to eliminate the root causes ofbeariog
positive step toward achieving ma-.;imum machine uptime. Improper installation techniques
failures. In companies where resource or training limitations exist, outsourcing such services to
can lead to failures from load imbalance, misalignment or improper load distributions within complement internal competencies can help move a reliability program into high gear.
the bearing.
The payoff will be an increase in machine reliability or uptime, which translates into increased
Contamination contributes to about 14 percent ofprernature bearing failures. A capacity or production capability. Some maintenance professionals who place importance on machine
bearing is a precision component that will not operate efficiently unless both the bearing and reliability measure uptime in tenns of mean time between repairs (MTBR), a measure that should be
its lubricants are isolated from contamination. Since already-greased, sealed-far-life bearings replacing mean time between failures (MTBF) in environments where reliability programs virtually
eliminate failures of critical machines.
account for only a small percentage of bearings in use, care must be taken to eliminate
contamination from bearings. Today, bearing users have available sealing solutions that can Finally, a reliability program that looks beyond Ule bearing when a bearing fails and takes
be tailored to the most arduous operating environments. Typical failures can be the result of steps to eliminate future failures will, in many cases, maintain or even improve the efficiency,
excessive wear, abnormal surface stresses caused by debris denting or corrosion in the case of capacity, and capability ofmachines to produce products to specifications. Such a result amounts to an
liquid contamination, such as water. increase in productivity, since out-of-spec products either cannot be sold or must be sold at a reduced
price, negatively atTecting both productivity measures and a company's bottom line.
Poor lubrication practices coupled witb errors in specifying bearings result in 36
percent ofpremarure bearing failures. While sealed-for-Iife bearings can be fitted and
forgofLen, any bearing deprived of proper lubrication will fail long before its Donna1 service
life. Because bearings are often the least accessible components ofmacbil1ery, neglected
lubrication frequently compounds the problem. Wherever manual maintenance is not feasible,
a fully automatic lubrication system can be installed to lubricate a bearing with the right
amount of lubricant at the correct lubrication intervals. Failures can be the result of using tbe
wrong lubricant type, mixing lubricants, improper re-lubrication amounts and improper

Fatigue accounts for the remaining 34 percent of early bearing failures. Whenever
machines are overloaded, unbalanced, or misaligned, bearings sutTer the consequences. These
abnormal conditions cause unintended "'parasitic" loads on the bearings that can quickly add
up to a dramatic reduction in service life. Premature failures from fatigue may appear at first
glance to be the result of lubrication problems. Don't be fooled. Most of these problem
conditions can be detected using predictive or condition-monitoring techniques long before
failure occurs. A thorough analysis and corrective action can often be applied before
catastrophic failure, machine damage and costly production loss occur.
Another strategy open to bearing users with chronic bearing-failure probJems is a bearing
upgrade to high-tech bearings lhat reduce the impact of machine problems. For example, a new
bearing with a toroidal roller design serves as a non-locating bearing that acconunodates shaft
deflection and fmds the best posilion to carry a load no matter how the shaft moves. Also available are