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Tribology—Key to proper lubricant selection

–– A tribological selection must be identified before a proper lubricant can be selected for a specific application.

–– Lubricant performance must be optimized to meet the ever-increasing demands of modern industry.

In the past, the lubrication requirements for a specific application Tribological system
could be satisfied using one of the available general-purpose
lubricants. Lubricant selection typically was based on experience Before the proper lubricant can be selected for a specific
and empirical knowledge. This approach is no longer viable application, the tribological system must be identified to its
in today’s exacting environments, which entail ever-increasing fullest extent. This system includes the type of motion, speeds,
demands to run faster, longer, and hotter. Today’s lubricants temperatures, loads, and the operating environment.
must satisfy the extreme requirements that are specific to each
application. Once these system parameters are identified, the lubrication
engineer (or tribo-engineer) can rely on knowledge of the different
Tribology—the study of friction, lubrication, and wear—has lubricant chemistries to select a lubricant that will optimize
become the basis for selecting the lubricants needed in today’s the performance of the application. Since each chemistry
demanding environments. The lubrication requirements for a has advantages and disadvantages, it is important to choose
given application can be identified by examining the effects of specific chemistries that address each of the tribological system
tribological system parameters on lubricant chemistry. parameters. In addition, the lubrication engineer must further
analyze the application based on the identified tribological
system. This analysis includes such elements as speed factors,
elasto-hydrodynamic (EHD) lubrication, bearing-life calculations,

Boundary lubrication Boundary to normal Normal lubrication Normal to full lubrication

(V/V1<0.4) lubrication (V/V1= 0.4-1) (V/V1=1) (V/V1=1-4)
Condition Predominant metal Ranges from high Sufficient separation Ranges from sufficient
contact and high bearing material stress of rubbing faces. separation of rubbing faces to
bearing material stress. to sufficient separation of complete separation.
High failure probability. the rubbing faces.
Lubricant Ability to handle Ability to handle extreme Ability to handle Ability to handle extreme pressure
requirement extreme pressure and pressure and provide extreme pressure and and provide emergency lubrication
provide emergency emergency lubrication is provide emergency is recommended for medium-to-
lubrication is essential. recommended. lubrication improves large rolling-element bearings with
lubrication condition. a sliding component.
Effect of specific viscosity (V/V1) on lubrication.

White Paper Tribology

15.04 Edition KLUSA
White Paper

Tribology—Key to proper lubricant selection

of motion in such rolling-element bearings as the tapered roller

bearing. In this bearing, there is sliding in the rib area, but the
rolling elements roll on the raceway surfaces. Lubricant protection
of each of these types of motion can be optimized with specific
chemistries. Some lubricant chemistries work very well in
sliding contacts but do not perform as well in rolling contacts.
Microsliding and oscillation require even more specific physical
and chemical attributes from the lubricant.

Speed is the second parameter on the tribological system. Speed
can be broken into the general ranges: fast, moderate, and slow.
Specific ranges for each of these speed categories can be set by
using the speed factor, as defined in Equation 1:

Speed factor= n•dm

n = operating speed, rpm
dm = mean bearing diameter, mm
=(ID +OD)/2
ID = inside diameter, mm
OD = outside diameter, mm

From the Stribeck curve*, there is an optimum speed for

Minimum allowable viscosity for lubrication of rolling-element the lubricated contact. Knowing the speed of the contact, a
bearings at operating temperature. lubricant can be selected with the optimum physical attributes to
minimize friction.
extreme-pressure lubrication, emergency lubrication, and various * The Stribeck curve is a graph showing the relationship between coefficient
of friction and the dimensionless number ŋ n/P, where ŋ is dynamic viscosity,
special application requirements. n is speed, and P is the load per unit of projected area.

Type of motion Temperature

The first parameter of the tribological system is the type of The third tribological parameter is temperature. All lubricants
motion. The motion could be sliding, which would require have specific temperature ranges within which they can operate.
hydrodynamic lubrication theory for its analysis, or microsliding, Many lubricants have a broad operational temperature range.
which would draw on the theory of lubrication for fretting However, some lubricants are more suited for low temperature.
corrosion. The motion could be rolling, in which case EHD For example, there are some greases with synthetic hydrocarbon
lubrication theory would be applied for analysis, or possibly base oil and barium-complex thickener that can operate at
oscillation, which can involve the need for protection from false temperatures as low as -60°C. Other lubricants are designed
brinelling. Combined sliding and rolling is also a possible form for high-temperature applications, such as greases with
perfluorinated aliphatic ether base oil thickened with PTFE

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(polytetrafluoroethylene) that can lubricate an oven chain bearing EHD lubrication theory
at 220°C for over 15,000 hours. Knowing the temperature of the
tribological systems enables the engineer to select a lubricant A very important type of analysis deals with the lubrication
that will provide optimum operating life and performance at the theory for rolling-element bearings. Elasto-hydrodynamic (EHD)
application temperature. lubrication theory, sometimes referred to as EHL, is used to
identify the film thickness of the lubricant in a rolling contact
Load (width 2b in Fig. 1). Minimum film thickness, h0, is defined in
Load, the fourth parameter, is an important factor affecting
h0 =([0.1 x α0.6 x (ŋv)0.07])
the lubricant requirement. A very light load may mean that
/{[(1/r1) +(1/r2)0.43(Q/l)0.13})
the application is sensitive to frictional torque, and therefore a
lubricant would have to be selected to minimize the fluid friction
while still providing protection from solid friction. On the opposite where
end of the scale would be a heavily loaded application, which
h0 = minimum lubricating film thickness
could require specific additives to help protect it from pitting,
in area of rolling contact, μm
galling and extreme wear.
α = pressure-viscosity coefficient, mm2/N
ŋ = dynamic viscosity, mPa•s
Operating environment v = (v1 + v2)/2, m/s
v1 = roller velocity, m/s
The last parameter of the tribological system is the application’s
v2 = raceway velocity, m/s
operating environment. If the environment includes moisture or
r1 = roller radium, mm
water, the lubricant must provide good anticorrosion properties
r2 = inner ring raceway radius, mm
as well as resistance to water washout or water contamination.
Q = roller load, N
If the application operates in a vacuum or partial vacuum, the
L = roller length, mm
atmospheric pressure of the application must be within the
E = modulus of elasticity, N/mm2
operational limits of the lubricant and above its vapor pressure
= 2.08 x 105 for steel
at the operating temperature. If the application must operate in
1/m = Poisson’s ration
the presence of certain chemical liquids or vapors, the selected
=0.3 for steel
lubricant must be resistant to these chemicals. Even an ideal
environment, such as a computer room or clean-room processing The lubrication engineer uses EHD lubrication theory to select
facility, could have specific requirements for noise-reducing the proper viscosity of the lubricant. Each of the variables in
lubricants in rolling-element bearings or instrument bearings. Equation 2 has a specific impact on the ultimate film thickness.
Most of these variables are under the control of the designer of
Tribological analysis theories the application, but several of them are under the control of the
lubrication engineer. One of the lubrication engineer’s primary
The five parameters of the tribological system must be taken into interests is how a change in a specific variable will affect the
consideration and analyzed so that the best possible lubricant magnitude of the film thickness, h0.
can be selected for the application. However, the information
obtained by defining the tribological system parameters also From Equation 2, it can be determined that if the pressure-
provides the data for further in-depth technical analysis. viscosity coefficient, a, is doubled, there is an effective increase

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Tribology—Key to proper lubricant selection

the specific film thickness, λ, defined as the ratio between the

minimum EHD film thickness, h0, and the composite surface
roughness of the rolling contacts.

λ = h0/σ


λ = specific film thickness

σ = composite roughness of the two contact surfaces
= ( σ12 + σ22)1/2
σ1 = rms roughness of raceway, μm
σ2 = rms roughness of raceway, μm

From Equation 3, it is clear that when λ=1, the bearing will have
acceptable wear that will allow it to reach its rated life. As the
specific film thickness approaches zero, there is an increase in
Pressure-viscosity coefficients for five oils over the pressure range the metal-to-metal contact at the friction point. This increased
0-2,000 bar. metal contact will produce unacceptable wear. As the specific
film thickness approaches 4, there will be a decrease in metal-
in the film thickness of 51%. Knowing the pressure-viscosity to-metal contact, with an associated decrease in wear. When
coefficient of the different lubricant chemistries, the lubrication λ > 4, there is full metal separation between roughness peaks,
engineer can alter the film thickness by changing the lubricant which indicates full fluid film lubrication and an absence of wear.
chemistry alone. There is no need to change any other physical However, as λ increases beyond 4, the internal fluid friction
characteristics of the lubricant. increases and becomes detrimental.

Another lubricant-related variable in Equation 2 is the dynamic Research sponsored by the bearing companies has made it
viscosity, ŋ. The dynamic viscosity can be directly related to possible to calculate the required viscosity of the lubricant to
the kinematic viscosity of the lubricant and if it is doubled, will obtain λ = 1. The nomograph in Fig. 2 can be used to determine
increase film thickness by 62%. By doubling the velocity of the the minimum kinematic viscosity, V1, (i.e., viscosity needed
roller bearing, the film thickness of the lubricant can again be to achieve λ = 1) from the mean bearing diameter, dm, and
increased by 62%. The lubrication engineer has no control over the operating speed, n. For example, enter the bottom of the
the speed of the application, but knowing how the speed affects chart with the average diameter of the rolling-element bearing
the film thickness is important to the selection of a lubricant when (100 mm), then proceed vertically to the speed of the bearing
the application has variable-speed capability. The other variables (2000 rpm). Drawing a line horizontally to the left then provides
have a lesser impact on the film thickness of the lubricant. the required viscosity (10mm2/s) to obtain λ = 1 in this specific
application at the given operating temperature.
While the information in Equation 2 is important to the lubricant
selection criteria, the EHD film thickness is not used directly. Knowing the required viscosity, V1, the lubrication engineer can
Instead of film thickness, the lubrication engineer works with select the lubricant based on the specific viscosity, ĸ. This is

White Paper Tribology

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the ratio of the actual viscosity, V, of the selected lubricant to
the required viscosity, V1. Given this information, the engineer
will attempt to select a lubricant that will meet the full fluid film
lubrication regime for the application. If this is not possible, then
the next available option is to select a lubricant that provides
the best protection to the application. Table I shows how the
viscosity ratio affects the decision of the lubrication engineer.
If the application must be operated in the boundary lubrication
regime, then specific additives must be provided to protect the
metal contact points. If the application is operating in a lubrication
regime that approaches full fluid film lubrication, these extreme-
pressure additives can be eliminated from the lubricant.

EHD theory is a valuable tool in guiding the lubrication engineer

toward selection of the proper lubricant. If the lubrication
engineer is to use the specific viscosity as part of the selection
criteria, the assumptions used in the analysis must be taken
into consideration, along with the lubricant variables that can be
controlled. Two specific points should be considered:

1. Calculation of film thickness (h0), specific film thickness (λ),

Film thickness and frictional torque for base oil and five greases
and the chart used to determine required viscosity (V1) were all as functions of bearing speed.
based on the pressure-viscosity coefficient (α) of mineral oil.
Figure 3 shows the pressure-viscosity coefficient for mineral oil
and four other oils over the pressure range 0-2000 bar. chart in Fig.4, the advantage of increased load-carrying film
thickness comes with the disadvantage of frictional torque. While
2. The theory considers the oil as being the only lubricating a clay-thickened grease reduces the film thickness, it has the
component of the lubricant. In a grease, the thickener system benefit of reducing frictional torque in the bearing. The opposite
is assumed not to contribute to the lubricating film thickness. effect is observed for the grease thickened with a barium-
However, the thickener system can have a significant effect on complex soap.
film thickness.

Figure 4 documents research identifying the effect of the grease

Speed factor and bearing design
thickener system on the actual film thickness. The upper chart Speed is another parameter of the tribological system that
shows that a clay-thickened grease will reduce the film thickness requires further detailed analysis. The calculated speed factor
of the application to almost 50% of the film thickness provided for a rolling-element bearing— defined as the product of bearing
by the base oil alone. A grease thickened with a barium-complex speed, n, and mean bearing diameter, dm —is not consistent for
soap has the opposite effect of almost doubling the film thickness all bearings with the same dimensions and speed. The lubrication
relative to the base oil alone. However, as shown in the lower engineer must apply a correction factor to the calculated speed

White Paper Tribology

15.04 Edition KLUSA
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Tribology—Key to proper lubricant selection

Special requirements

Many applications have special requirements that go beyond

the tribological system, and these also must be taken into
consideration. Some applications are limited to oils, while others
require a grease. Applications that involve the use of sintered
bearings or special sealing arrangements will require additional
analysis. Material compatibility is another important issue.

Other requirements
Speed-factor (n·dm) corrections for various types of bearings.
Lubricant selection can also be affected by a variety of other
specialized requirements:
factor, depending on the bearing design. Figure 5 shows speed-
• The application’s design life
factor corrections for a variety of rolling-element bearings. (The
maximum operating speed factor for a grease decreases as the • Lubrication equipment
sliding component and turbulence in the bearing increases.)
• Acceptable relubrication intervals
Once the maximum speed factors for the available lubricants
are known, the correction factors can be applied to select a • Cost
grease lubricant that meets the operating requirements of the
• Special certifications, e.g., NSF registration
specific application.
• Biodegradability
Lubricant selection criteria
Tribological system Summary
Analysis of the tribological system for a given application is Multipurpose lubricants cannot provide satisfactory service in
essential to selection of the appropriate lubricant. the demanding environments of today’s applications. Lubricant
performance must be optimized to meet the ever-increasing
• Service temperature range
demands of modern industry.
• Speed Factor (n•dm)
The first step in selecting the best lubricant for a given application
• Hydrodynamic lubrication
is to define the tribological system. With a fully defined
• Elasto-hydrodynamic lubrication tribological system in place, the next step is theoretical analysis.
Selection of a lubricant based on EHD (elasto-hydrodynamic)
• Extreme pressure
lubrication analysis or analysis of any other discrete parameter is
• Emergency lubrication inappropriate, since such analyses only deal with a subset of the
tribological system.
• Fretting

Klüber Lubrication NA LP / 32 Industrial Drive / Londonderry, NH 03053 / Toll Free: 1-800-447-2238 / Phone: 603-647-4104 / Fax: 603-647-4106

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