10 Common Causes of Bearing Failure

Properly operating bearings keep machinery and processing moving and working efficiently. These are often overlooked parts, but they can cause a great deal of trouble when they fail. Here is what happens with bearing failure, some of the most common causes of it, and how you can prevent it from happening on your watch. 

What Is Bearing Failure?

Bearing failure happens when a bearing doesn’t meet expected performance levels or can’t make it to the end of its expected useful life. When a bearing fails, this often causes the machine shaft and the machine itself to fail. 

Bearing failure is a serious event because it can lead to unexpected downtime, high maintenance costs, injured workers, missed deadlines, and loss of revenue. Obviously, bearing failure can negatively impact your business, so it’s something you want to avoid. 

Comparison of corroded bearing and new bearing10 Common Causes of Bearing Failure

Whether your business has ever experienced a bearing failure or wants to make sure it never happens, one of the best ways to avoid it is to understand the common causes. 

1. Lubrication Failure

If your bearings have failed, there’s a good chance it’s due to improper lubrication. This includes using the wrong lubricants, not having enough lubrication, and operating at excessive temperatures that quickly degrade lubrication. 

How to Address It

Look for rolling elements that are discolored, such as brown or black, or excessive wear on the bearings. Make sure you use the right type and appropriate amount of lubrication, and keep a regular maintenance schedule

2. Contamination

When foreign substances get into the cleaning solutions or bearing lubricants, you’re going to end up with contamination and failure. These include dust, dirt, steel chips, and grip from work areas and dirty tools. 

How to Address It

Keep an eye out for excessive vibration caused by raceways and denting of rolling elements. Keep the work area clean and filter lubricants to reduce contamination. 

3. Misalignment

Misalignment is caused by out-of-square spacers, shaft shoulders, and clamping nuts, bent shafts, and improper installation, which can result in separator failure and overheating. 

How to Address It

Inspect housings and shafts to identify uneven wearing and any runout of bearing seats and shoulders, and use precision-grade locknuts. 

4. Improper Mounting

If bearings aren’t mounted to the rotating ring with a press fit, this could lead to failure. If they aren’t mounted correctly, you’re more likely to experience cracked rings, premature wear, denting, and high operating temperatures. 

How to Address It

Mount bearings correctly according to the instructions and train employees in recognizing the difference between a properly and improperly installed mount. 

5. Corrosion

Too much moisture, condensation from too many temperature reversals, broken-down or low-quality grease, and inadequate wrappings can lead to corrosion of the bearing’s finished surfaces. This is evidenced by brown or red deposits or stains on raceways, rolling elements, or cages, as well as more wear and vibration in the machinery. 

How to Address It

Corrosive materials need to be diverted away from bearing areas. If you can’t avoid this, use stainless steel bearings or bearings that have internal or external seals to protect them from harsh environments. 

6. False Brinelling

The lubrication in your bearings can wear away quickly when the balls in the raceway move rapidly while the equipment is idle. If the bearing isn’t rotating, fresh lubricant can’t enter it. False brinelling is the result of either condition. 

How to Address It

Absorb or eliminate external vibrations that could cause movement in the bearings when the machine isn’t operating. Also, make sure you are using lubricants that contain anti-wear additives. 

7. Fluting (Electrical Damage)

You can experience electrical damage to your bearing if there is a constant or alternating current. If this is happening, you might notice brown-colored marks on the raceway that are parallel to the axis or across the entire raceway. 

How to Address It

You can prevent fluting by using insulated bearings or grounding to stop currents from flowing into the bearings. 

8. Spalling (Fatigue)

When the bearings get stressed beyond their calculated fatigue life due to tight inner-ring fits, excessive preload, and constant overloading, they will be fatigued, and you will get what’s known as “spalling.”

You can determine this by examining the running surfaces for fractures or looking for small particles of material on rolling elements or the inner or outer rings. This is a progressive condition that will get worse with continued operation. If not fixed, you will notice an increase in noise and vibration from machinery. 

How to Address It

The best way to address this is to replace the bearing. You can prevent the issue by using a high-quality bearing with better internal clearances, longer fatigue life, and the correct housing and shaft recommendations. 

9. Excessive Loads

Another common cause of bearing failure is putting too heavy of a load on them consistently. You can detect this if there is evidence of equipment overheating, wear paths on rolling elements, and fatigue on parts. 

How to Address It

Reduce the load on your equipment or consider switching to bearings that have greater overall capacity. 

10. Overheating

Overheating is never good for your bearings. It is the result of operating equipment at excessive temperatures and/or having improper lubrication. When you operate at elevated temperatures, the grease will bleed, which lessens the efficiency of your lubrication. Under these conditions, you can get oxidation, which will eventually result in seized bearings. Operating at high temperatures can also make the metal softer, which leads to the early failure of parts. 

How to Address It

Keep an eye out for deformed or discolored bearing parts, cages, rolling elements, and rings. The best way to mitigate or avoid overheating is to use overload controls or supplemental cooling systems. 

Contact C&B Equipment for More Information

C&B Equipment is an industrial equipment distribution and supply service company for pumps, blowers, air compressors, and related equipment. We provide factory-engineered packages built to specs, along with field services, engineering, maintenance, and support designed to keep your equipment in top running condition. 

We work with clients in a variety of industries and have decades of experience installing and serving industrial pumps. We serve clients throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, the Texas Panhandle, and Arkansas. Contact us today for more information.

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