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Factors which may lead to premature roller bearing failure in service include incorrect fitting, excessive pre-load during installation, insufficient or unsuitable lubrication, over-load, impact load vibration, excessive temperature, contamination by abrasive matter, ingress of harmful liquids, and stray electric currents. Most common modes of failure include flaking or pitting (fatigue), cracks or fractures, creep, smearing, wear, softening, indentation, fluting, and corrosion. The modes of failure are illustrated with examples from practice.

Deformation, surface cracking, and spalling on the raceway of the outer ring (made of 4140 steel) of a large bearing caused it to be replaced from a radar antenna. The raceway surfaces were to be flame hardened to 55 HRC minimum and 50 HRC 3.2 mm below the surface, according to specifications. Samples from both the inner and outer rings were examined. A much lower hardness (25.2 to 18.9 HRC) was indicated during a vertical traverse 4.1 cm from the outer surface of the outer ring while slightly lower hardness values (46.8 to 54.8 HRC) were seen on the hardness traverse on the inner ring raceway. The lower hardness values were attributed to improper flame hardening. It was confirmed by metallographic examination of a 3% nital etched sample that the inner ring (tempered martensite and ferrite) and the outer ring (ferrite, scattered patches of pearlite, and martensite) were not properly austenitized. Displacement of metal on the outer raceway was revealed by elongation of grain structure. It was concluded that the failure of the raceway surface was due to incomplete austenitization caused by the improper heat treatment during flame hardening process.

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