What do clocks, skateboards, and industrial machinery have in common?
They all rely on bearings to maintain smooth rotational movement. To perform reliably, however, they must be maintained and handled correctly. Chris Johnson, Managing Director at specialist bearing supplier, SMB Bearings, Oxfordshire, UK (smbbearings.com), offers these tips for optimal bearing care.
Handle and store correctly
To keep contaminants from entering a bearing, store it horizontally in its original packaging in a clean, dry, room-temperature environment. Unnecessary handling and/or removing the wrapping prematurely can also expose bearings to corrosion or contaminants. Dropped bearings shouldn’t be used. Unseen damage could lead to premature failure.
Use specialist tools
Tools that are not designed for bearing mounting and dismounting can cause unnecessary damage, denting, and wear.
Check the bearing housing and shaft
Inspect the physical condition of the housing and shaft prior to mounting the bearing. Use a soft cloth to wipe the surfaces clean and familiarize yourself with the correct mounting method.
The correct mounting method depends on the bearing and type of fit. Applying pressure to the wrong ring when fitting can damage the rolling elements. Equally, excessively loose or tight fits, a poor finish on the bearing seats, or out-of-round shafts or housings should also be avoided.
Get lubrication right
One of the leading causes of bearing failure is improper lubrication. This encompasses using the incorrect and/or too much or too little lubricant. The correct lubricant is determined by environmental conditions, temperature, speed, and load. A bearing specialist will be able to advise on a suitable lubrication match.
Avoid temperatures outside the bearing’s designed range
If a steel bearing is heated above the temperature for which it is designed, the bearing material can deform or soften, resulting in a reduced load-carrying capacity and leading to equipment failure. During regular maintenance, be aware of discoloration of the rings, rolling elements, and cages, as this can indicate overheating.
Where possible, prevent corrosion
Exposure to moisture can introduce rust in the raceway, resulting in premature bearing and equipment failure. When handling bearings, wear gloves to keep perspiration and other liquids off bearing surfaces. When specifying bearings for corrosive environments, select the proper material. For example, a 316 stainless-steel bearing with seals is often a good choice in marine or chemical environments.
Choose replacements carefully
If a bearing reaches the end of its operating life, replace it with one that is identical or superior in quality. A low-quality alternative will be more likely to fail and could lead to costly equipment failure in the long run.
Monitor. It’s rare that a bearing will fail without warning
Excessive noise or an increase in vibration or temperature can indicate a deeper problem. If a bearing exhibits any operational abnormalities, it should be closely monitored.