When Engineers fail to detect bearing failures?

It is not unusual to see condition based maintenance engineers engaged in vibration monitoring and analysis, sometimes miss detection of bearing damage. This usually happens with pumps and agitators.

Anti-friction bearings fail by fatigue. And they fail very quickly when alternating stresses approach static stress imposed on a bearing.

A German engineer named Wohler, who tested materials under conditions of rotating bending, made the first systematic study of the effect of alternating stress on fatigue.

He found that if alternating stresses were only slightly less than the static stresses which would cause breakage, only a few cycles of loading were required to cause failure.

He also found that as alternating stress was reduced in amplitude the number of cycles needed to cause a failure also increased. This tendency was maintained until the alternating stress level had been reduced to about a quarter or a third of the maximum sustainable static stress, at which level the life of the bearings or a specimen appeared to be infinitely long. This limiting stress has become known as “endurance limit” of the material.

Therefore, in many engineering applications, say anti-bearings, material is not called upon to resist alternating tension and compression (as in case of shafts and axles) but has instead to resist a fluctuating stress superimposed upon a steady stress.

Often the steady stress in a particular component is determined by the load to which it is subjected in service, while the alternating component of vibration arises from unwanted vibration in the system.

In case of anti-friction bearings, when lightness and smallness are important criteria in the design, the mean stress level in the part must approach as closely as possible to the static strength. It is therefore of great importance that the alternating component due to vibration be kept as small as possible. Hence, if the alternating component is sufficiently large the failure would take place within a few cycles, which would clearly escape the notice of a vibration analysts who chooses to monitor the bearings at regular preset intervals. In such cases, the possibility of a condition monitoring person missing out on the potential damage signal is high enough. He/she would then fail to detect a bearing failure in time for any corrective action.

Note:

Fatigue is not really a feature of vibration as there is no necessity for the stress cycles to be regularly repeated; neither is the number of stress fluctuations in a given time important — at least under normal conditions. The point is that the number of stress cycles to cause failure of a component is usually large and execution of vibration is a common way of achieving the necessary large number in a relatively short time. The other important thing is that alternating stress has to be more or less near to the static stress imposed on a material to cause rapid and sudden fatigue failure of a specimen.

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