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Bearing failure: Causes and solutions

05 December 2017

About 90% of bearing failures – that are likely to have an adverse impact on productivity – are caused by non-fatigue factors, including contamination, corrosion and improper handling. Here, Dean Askew, head of category bearings at Brammer, discusses some of the common causes – and shares solutions to help reduce unplanned downtime

Bearings have a tough job to do. As vital components of machinery, they keep industry moving, but their strenuous operating conditions make them susceptible to early failure.

With all bearings, it is crucial to follow good bearing maintenance and handling practices to ensure they deliver optimum performance. But even when these practices are implemented, the conditions of the operating environment can contribute towards several problems and, ultimately, early bearing failure – particularly where bearings have been selected without due consideration of their environment.

Food and beverage facilities

In some settings, such as food and beverage handling facilities where washdown must be carried out frequently, the effects of water ingress can be heightened, compromising the longevity of bearings and impacting on the effectiveness of lubrication. Without sufficient lubrication, friction is increased due to metal-to-metal contact and more heat generated, leading to premature failure and unplanned downtime.

Alongside this, fine particles can make their way into a bearing and cause contamination, which can be catastrophic. While some contaminants – like sugar and flour – are unavoidable in industrial food processing surroundings, with dust-like particles part and parcel of the environment, other parts of the machine in which the bearings are being used can be disrupted.

These strenuous operating conditions, which are commonly amplified as a result of not having the most suitable bearing solution installed, ultimately reduce overall levels of performance.

While operating conditions differ widely between applications due to considerations like loading, speeds and service conditions, these problems can be overcome. Solutions such as regular maintenance checks and ensuring correct lubrication, for instance, are commonly practiced. But these don’t always result in reduced bearing failure and associated downtime, and can often disguise underlying problems including incorrect bearing fitting and selection. 

Instead, opting for a specialist bearing solution which uses the latest innovations tailored to handle the operating conditions of particular industries can be beneficial to overcoming these recurring challenges. Working with an authorised distributor can support this process, offering complete traceability of components and benefitting from close working relationships with leading bearing manufacturers.

Appropriate solution

A typical example of an innovation for the food and beverage industry is NSK Life Lube. This uses a thermoplastic housing, stainless steel bearing inserts and Molded Oil Technology to provide a solution specifically designed to combat contamination and water ingress which reduces the frequency of maintenance-related downtime and extends bearing life.

When the most appropriate solutions for individual environments are installed, the frequency of downtime is reduced. This ultimately has a positive impact on performance and productivity, enabling the end user to benefit directly from these innovations.