Through hardened steel ball fatigue failure is an atypical mode of failure in a rolling element bearing. A recent full-scale bench test resulted in ball spalling well below calculated bearing life. Subsequent metallurgical analysis of the spalled balls found inferior microstructure and manufacturing methods. Microstructural analysis revealed significant carbide segregation and inclusions in the steel. These can result from substandard spheroidized annealing and steel making practices. In addition, the grain flow of the balls revealed a manufacturing anomaly which produced a stress riser in the material making it more susceptible to crack initiation. The inferior manufactured balls caused at least an 80% reduction in rolling contact fatigue life of the bearing.

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