Would Lubrication Cause a Sudden Failure?

This case is about a sudden failure of cooling tower fan motor of a copper mine.

The motor failed almost immediately after Planned maintenance, which was just about lubricating the motor bearings.

What Happened?

Electrical department conducted a scheduled PM task on this piece of equipment on 25.05.17. After 3 hrs of running; motor Non Driven End (NDE) bearing was damaged.

When the motor was opened it was observed:

1. One of the poles was severely damaged.

2. Bearing cage was also found damaged and all roller elements were crushed.


Why did this happen? 
1. Sudden application of load or abrupt change in load. It happened when the machine was started after PM — i.e. starting the machine from rest under loaded condition.
2. This caused hunting of the motor in which a rotor starts seeking equilibrium position. Such an equilibrium is reached when the load torque is equal to the electromagnetic torque. This equilibrium position gets disturbed if a sudden change occurs in the load torque, which has been the case when the motor was started the after the motor was stopped to lubricate its bearings.
3. In this situation, the rotor slips too much, i.e. — the rotor moves around trying to find its steady state equilibrium state and in this process the rotor and stator touched and shorted — damaging one of the poles.
4. Point 1 to Point 3 describes the root cause of the case. A  broad at the base 1N (1 times running speed) peak was observed.  This indicates presence of rubbing and resonance.
5. Resonant frequency excited the resonant frequency of the NDE bearing  which caused complete collapse (crushing) of the motor NDE bearing.
6. Another point which is important to consider is the time taken for a freshly lubricated bearing to stabilise. After lubrication, an anti-friction bearing generally runs hot (temperature greater than 75 degrees C but lesser than 95 degrees C) for a few hours (5 to 6 hours at times) to stabilise to a normal operating condition; with a temperature around 65 degrees C. This phenomenon can abruptly and adversely affect vibration levels of the bearing.

1. The vibration signature did not indicate lubrication starvation of the bearing.

Hence the question is — why stop a machine for re-lubrication when the activity isn’t needed at all?

2. In the future, if the system is stopped, then during start up it has to be ensured that the load is zero or near zero or it has to start at no-load condition.

If that isn’t possible, the system has to be started at low rpm and then the rpm can be gradually increased, all the while maintaining a steady state. It might take up to 6 hours for the system to stabilise after a bearing is lubricated.

Dibyendu De



Corolisis Effect & Negative Damping – a Report

Report on Thaisen Fan (Scrubber)


Brief description of the phenomenon:

After cleaning of the fan blades, vibration of the fan gradually increases during operation and in a span of 10 to 14 days vibration level reaches an unacceptable level, which necessitates the next cleaning cycle. However, for so long, this matched the scheduled production window provided by operation. However, after the recent changing of the rotor and the bearings, the fan now reaches unacceptable level of vibration within a short span of time that does not coincide with the scheduled “production window” of the operation, which causes “unplanned downtime.”

Goal of the investigation: To correct the imperfection in the system so that the fan cleaning cycle coincides with.the scheduled production window.

Result of the investigation:


1. The problem of rising vibration within a short period of time is an inherent problem (a birth defect) of the fan. The main reason is the Coriolis effect on the fan. Coriolis force is a force exerted by a moving fluid on the disc or impeller rotating in the fluid. If the rotation is CCW (counter clockwise) then the fluid moves to the right of the impeller and away from the centre. Similarly, when the impeller moves in the CW (clockwise direction) the fluid moves towards the left of the impeller and away from the centre.

In this case, with the fan moving in the CCW direction the Coriolis force moves toward the right of the impeller in the same direction as the damping force. This effect (the fan moves in the CCW direction) produces negative damping (since the two forces are in the same line of action).

Negative damping is a phenomenon, when damping force, which usually opposes the driving force, acts in the same direction as the driving force. In such a case the vibration of the system is amplified.

Combination of negative damping and Coriolis effect produces this phenomenon of gradually rising vibration of the fan in a short period of time, which goes away upon regular cleaning. In the present context nothing can be done to eliminate the phenomena of Coriolis Effect and Negative damping. However, if a similar system is to be installed in the future, we would be pleased to provide necessary suggestions and recommendations so that such phenomena are eliminated right from the start.

2. Present signatures indicate misalignment and dynamic imbalance

3. Weak foundations

Actions to be taken to increase the cleaning cycle to match scheduled “production window.”


1. Take care to align the rotor properly. Care to be taken while putting shims.

2. Dynamically balance the fan in two planes to eliminate the imbalance

3. Cleaning cycle can be initiated when vibration of the fan on the bearings reaches 7 mm/sec (rms). It is safe to run the fan upto this point.

4. Monitor the condition of the foundation by taking vibration measurements in displacement and acceleration modes. Displacement should be taken in the horizontal direction on the topmost accessible point of the columns and at the base.  Acceleration should be taken in both vertical and horizontal directions. Displacement should not cross 50 microns in the horizontal direction or at the base of the columns. Similarly acceleration both in the vertical and horizontal directions must not cross 1.5 g. This would ensure safety of the equipment. In case it crosses corrective actions are to be taken to rectify the foundation.

5. After alignment and dynamic balancing in two planes it is expected that the cleaning cycle would reach the desired interval of 10 to 14 days which would match the scheduled production window of operation — thus avoiding unplanned downtime.
Dibyendu De

Speed Dependent Vibration

Speed dependent vibration is associated with forced mechanical vibration.

Application: rolls where the strips processed through the rolls exhibit roll chatter that leaves permanent imprint on the strip in the form of chatter (equally spaced markings of about 20 to 45 mm width) pattern. It is generally considered to be a defective product and often can’t be sold in the market.

The way to check the cause of such chatter patterns or marks is to take the vibration in displacement mode. When displacement increases by approximately 0.6 microns at the highest rolling speed it significantly points to surface roughness of the strip and so creates the pattern of chatter marking on the product (e.g. aluminium sheets). It indicates a loss of stiffness or the presence of variable stiffness, which may be coming from coupling, defective gears or from loose or defective anti-friction bearings.

Usually we may observe sidebands on either side of the forced vibration peak. The spacing of the sidebands is an exact multiple of the rotational frequency of the work roll. This is commonly seen for inner race defects where the inner race is rotating freely on the roll. The defect rotates through a variable load zone and produces a modulated time waveform. This is seen as a peak with sidebands in the vibration spectrum. Also pronounced on chocking and de-chocking.


  1. Reconditioning of the bearing races or replacement of bearings
  2. Improve the chocking operation.

This eliminates the strip chatter or markings.


Dibyendu De



Bent Shaft

General Symptoms:

  1. High overall vibration in the axial direction in displacement and velocity parameters
  2. Generally we would get 1N in the axial direction if the bend in at the centre of the shaft
  3. We may also get 2N in the axial direction if the bend in near to the coupling.
  4. Vertical and Horizontal axis measurements will also often reveal peaks at 1N and 2N but the key to catch a bent shaft is to pay attention to what we get in the axial direction.

Reasons of bending:

  1. Excessive heat. E.g. in motors that are overheated for various reasons, like for example, loose connections of the terminals. Also refer to the problem of Rotor Bow .. here.
  2. Physically bent or run out
  3. Sag of a long shaft — also called catenary. For example — turbine shaft.
  4. Half critical speed — a phenomenon seen in horizontal machines operating close to the earth’s resonant frequency


Phase measurement is an effective test to confirm presence of bent shaft. Phase at 1N measured in the axial direction at opposite ends of the components will be 180 degrees out of phase.

However, if the phase measurements are taken around the shaft we would find that they are all in phase since the shaft will appear to be moving back and forth in the axial direction.


In addition to the prominent presence of 1N and 2N in the axial direction we would also find higher than normal 1N and 2N peaks in the radial directions.

Time waveform:

In this case time waveform would not prove to be a good indicator for bent shaft. However, a sinusoidal waveform is expected in the axial direction if the vibration is predominately 1N. In the case of a predominate presence of 2N there would be a “wobble” depicting the classic “M” or “W” pattern depending on the phase angle, if the bend is closer to the coupling.


Dibyendu De







Typical Symptoms: High 1x in the axial direction and 2x in the radial directions; at time 3 x is also present in severe cases (e.g. when coupled to coupling imbalance).

Reasons for misalignment:

  1. Skill
  2. Thermal growth
  3. Movement of foundation

Types of misalignment:

  1. Parallel misalignment — we would find strong presence of 2x component in radial direction along with 1x in the axial direction.  This is because two opposing forces act together at the coupling — both trying to align the shafts to each other.
  2. Angular misalignment — we would find strong presence of 1x component in the radial direction along with strong 2x in the axial direction. This is because angular misalignment produces a bending moment on both shafts.
  3. However, vibration patterns don’t change in very predictable patterns as described in points 1 and 2 above. This is because there is usually a mix of the two different types of misalignment. In addition foundation problem and stiffness (directional or variable) create further complexity in the situation.
  4. The 1x and 2x components would be strong in the radial directions (V and H) but these components would be in phase.

Usually we would find high 1x peak in the axial direction with small 2x and 3x peaks depending on the “linearity” of the vibration. There may be both 1x and 2x (at times accompanied by 3x) in the radial directions.

Time waveform in the axial direction would be dominated by sinusoidal 1x vibration

Phase: Motor and say Pump would be out of phase axially due to angular misalignment (across the coupling in the same direction).


Dibyendu De

Eccentric Gears

Typical Symptoms: 1x radial (in Vertical and Horizontal directions)

Like eccentric pulleys, Eccentric gears generate strong 1x radial components, especially in the direction parallel to the gear.

They would also generate sidebands of the running speed of the eccentric gear around the GMF (gear mesh frequency). However, harmonics of GMF may also be generated (depends on the severity of the problem). Natural frequency might also be excited.

Time waveform: The waveform will have combination of 1x running speed of input and output shafts plus strong gear mesh vibration modulated by the running speed of the shaft having the eccentric gear.

Phase: Not applicable.

Eccentric Pulleys

Typical Symptom: High 1x in the direction parallel to belts. Though 1x component can be found on both Vertical and Horizontal directions.

Instead of the typical Vertical and Horizontal directions it is best to choose the directions parallel and perpendicular to the belts.

The high 1x can be found on both sub-assemblies (e.g. the motor and fan). Since the motor and the fan would run at different speeds we would also find two distinct peaks on the signature corresponding to the motor and fan running speeds. Confirmation about which pulley is eccentric can be obtained by removing the belts and checking for the presence of high 1x on motor in the direction parallel to the belts.

Time waveform would be sinusoidal when viewed in velocity.

Phase: Phase reading taken parallel and perpendicular to belts will either be in phase or 180 degrees out of phase.


Notes on detecting Unbalance

Unbalance is a condition where a “shaft’s centreline” and mass centreline don’t coincide or when the centre of mass does not lie on the axis of rotation. This can be visualised as the a heavy spot somewhere on the shaft.

There are three types of unbalance.

  1. Static
  2. Couple
  3. Dynamic — which is a mix of static and couple unbalance — when the rotor is not narrow compared to its diameter or in other words — when the rotor is long compared to its diameter.

With unbalance, we expect to see high amplitude of 1x (fundamental) in the signature. Usually, for horizontal machines, the vibration levels are approximately equal in the radial directions (vertical and horizontal). However, we might expect to see higher vibration in the horizontal direction, which is due to change of stiffness. It can be quite different for a vertically mounted machine where we may find the vibration in the flow direction appreciably higher than the tangential direction, which is perpendicular to the flow direction.

The time waveform should be a smooth sine or wave. If it is not, then other problems like misalignment, looseness , bearing wear might be present. It is a convention to view time waveform and signatures relating to unbalance in velocity.

Phase is a confirmatory indicator. Generally the phase difference between the vertical and horizontal directions are 90 degrees apart (+/- 30/40 degrees).

Static Unbalance

For static unbalance we expect to see large amplitude peaks at 1x in the horizontal and vertical directions with very low amplitude 1x peak in the axial direction. However, if the amplitude of 1x in the horizontal direction is more than 2 times the amplitude of 1x in the vertical direction then foundation looseness or resonance may be suspected.

For static unbalance, phase difference between vertical and horizontal would be 90 degrees and the phase difference at bearings at either end of rotor will be zero (that is “in-phase”) since forces on both bearings are always in the same direction.

Couple Unbalance

Like static unbalance, we would also expect to see large amplitude 1x peaks in the vertical and horizontal direction with a low 1x axial component. Again the phase difference between the horizontal and vertical would differ by 90 degrees +/- 30 degrees

For pure couple unbalance, phase at bearings at either end of the rotor will be 180 degrees out of phase.

However, if a rotor suffering from couple unbalance, is statically balanced it may seem to be perfectly balanced but when rotated it would produce centripetal forces on the bearings and they would be of opposite phase. In such cases a two plane balance is required to correct couple unbalance.

Dynamic Unbalance

Common form of unbalance. A combination of static and couple unbalance. Normally happens in rotors that are long compared to their diameters. Generally a two plane balancing correction is required to correct dynamic unbalance. However, in practice a single plane balance would also prove sufficient.

While phase difference between vertical and horizontal direction on any bearing would be 90 degrees out of phase, the phase difference at bearings at either end of the rotor will be between 30 to 150 degrees out of phase.

Unbalance of overhung machines

Examples — close coupled pumps, axial flow fans and small turbines.

In this case we would expect the 1x component of a signature to be high in all the three orthogonal directions — vertical, horizontal and axial. We see a high 1x axial since unbalance creates a high bending moment on the shaft that causes the bearing housing to move axially. Hence the 1x axial is generally the highest amongst the three directions.

Phase difference

As usual, the phase difference between the vertical and horizontal directions would be around 90 degrees. But axial readings on both bearings will be in phase (zero difference) — since they tend to move in the same axial direction. Similarly, phase readings on both bearings will be in phase.

Unbalance in Vertical Machines

Example: Vertical Pumps like Cooling Water Pumps in Power Plants.

Spectrum will show a high amplitude peak at 1x running speed in the radial direction — horizontal or tangential direction. This is due to variation in stiffness along the radial direction. Generally, the vibration amplitude at the top of the motor (Motor NDE) would be higher than the rest of the machine.

To distinguish motor unbalance from pump unbalance, it may be necessary to de-couple the motor and pump and run the motor solo while measuring 1x. If the 1x component is still high then unbalance exists in the motor; else it is in the pump.

Phase: Look for 90 degrees phase shift between readings taken 90 degree apart. All readings taken in the same direction should be in phase.



External Noise in Vibration Analysis

Quite often, vibrations external to a machine (emanating from other machines or structures) can be transmitted through the foundation (from other machines) and structural supports (e.g. grinding frequencies generated from grinding of materials). It can also be transmitted through liquids (e.g. water hammer, turbulence) and air (acoustic pressures, electromagnetic radiation).

In most cases, low frequency vibrations are transmitted in this manner. This is because low frequency vibrations travel great distances.

In case such transmitted vibrations match the resonant frequency of the machine or any of its components, vibrations are greatly amplified (resonance).

Such vibrations can damage components like anti-friction bearings through a phenomenon called false brinelling if the affected machine is in the stand-by mode.

It is wise to suspect presence of such external noise if a frequency peak is found in a vibration spectrum (FFT) which can’t be identified or appears strange.

In that case we can check whether any machine near to the machine of interest exhibits that particular frequency. Or we can stop the machine to check whether the unusual or odd frequency still appears on a stationary machine. Alternatively, we can stop other local machines (usually not possible) to see whether the odd frequency disappears from the signature.

In case, the frequency happens to coincide with 2x, 3x, 8x harmonics of 1x (fundamental frequency) then we may use time synchronous averaging to see whether the amplitude contributed by the external noise averages away.


The Sad Story of the HFO pump

This is a HFO (Heavy Fuel Oil) screw pump used in Power Plant for running boilers. There was a catastrophic failure of the pump. Though this pump was regularly monitored by vibration (in velocity mode — mm/sec) it didn’t give any indication of the impending failure.

The screws of the pump rubbed against each other and the case hardened layers of both screws were crushed. The force was so great that the body of the pump also cracked. Evidence of corrosion was also noticed.

What caused it? 

For want of HFO oil, the plant personnel were forced to pump LDO (Light Diesel Oil) through this HFO pump for the past one year.

Hence the I, A, R factors that contributed to this catastrophic failure are the following:

Initiator(s)I — factor(s), which triggers the problem — low viscosity of LDO compared to that of HFO was the significant ‘initiator’ in this case. While viscosity of LDO ranges from 2.5 to 5 cSt, the viscosity of HFO varies between 30 to 50 cSt (depending on the additives used). Use of lower viscosity oil ensured metal to metal contact thereby increasing Hertz stress that led to collapse of the hardened layer of the screws.

Accelerator(s)A — factor(s), which accelerates the process of failure —  a) Indian HFO does not contain friction modifiers such as vanadium and magnesium. Their absence causes higher friction between the screws (approximately 70 times increase in friction), which accelerates the wear process. b) Moreover, presence of vanadium and magnesium additives in HFO and LDO acts as anti-corrosive agents. Notice that the failure happened a year after the management decided to pump LDO rather than HFO through the HFO pump — enough time for corrosion to take effect. So, we may say that there are at least two factors that accelerated the failure process. There are other effects too on system performance, which we shall discuss in a moment (refer “Note”).

Retarder(s)R — factors that slow down the failure process — a) surface finish of the screws b) right clearance of the bearings c) presence of chromium in the screws.

Surface finish plays a very important role in reduction of metal to metal friction and also allows fluid film development. Ideally the surface finish should be between 3 to 6 microns CLA (Centre Line Average) for best effect. This can be introduced as a specification of the MOC (Material of Construction).

Similarly, excessive clearance in bearings would modify the hertz stress zone or profile — both in width and depth, which would cause shear of the hard layer (depth of which depends on the type of hardening and the type of steel used) and the soft layer (core material). Depth and type of hardening might also be specified in the MOC to prevent failures and extend life of the equipment. Presence of chromium in the metal would help formation of Vanadium – Oxygen – Chromium bond which would effectively enhance the life by providing better lubricating property which in turn would ensure a high level of  reliability of the equipment.

Hence, once the I, A and R s are identified appropriate measures can be taken to modify maintenance plan, MOC etc to ensure long life of the equipment without negative safety consequences (heart of reliability improvement).


  1. Specify addition of Vanadium and Magnesium in the HFO during supply or these may be added at site after receipt of supply. (Material specification during purchase)
  2. Ensure the right viscosity of oil to be pumps through HFO pumps. (Monitor viscosity of the supply oil — not higher than 50 cSt and not lesser than 30 cSt)
  3. Specify surface roughness of the screws — 3 to 6 microns (CLA).
  4. Specify depth of hardness of the screws (below 580 microns so that the interface between the hard layer and the soft core remains unaffected by the Hertz stress) during procurement and supply. Preferable type of hardening of the screws would be nitriding.
  5. Specify chromium percentage in the screws (during purchase).
  6. Monitor bearing clearance on a regular basis and change as needed (by vibration analysis based on velocity and acceleration parameters).
  7. Monitor the body temperature of the pump to notice adverse frictional effects
  8. Monitor growth of incipient failures in the screws by vibration monitoring (acceleration and displacement parameters)


1. (Effect of IAR on system performance — i.e. the boiler – superheater – pipes):

Problems of high temperature corrosion and brittle deposits drastically impair the performance of high-capacity steam boiler of Power Plants, using HFO. Research* shows that heavy fuel oil (HFO) can be suitably burned in high capacity boilers. However, if HFO is chemically treated with an anticorrosive additives like Vanadium and Magnesium, it diminishes high temperature corrosion that affect some operational parameters  such as the pressure in furnace and pressure drop in superheaters and pipe metal temperature, among others like atomization and combustion processes. Therefore, inclusion of right additives like Vanadium and Magnesium have been found to diminish high-temperature corrosion and improved system performance.  It therefore makes sense to monitor these parameters, which can provide direct information on the degree of fouling, as well as of the effectiveness of the treatment during normal boiler operating conditions.


2. Effect of Vanadium Oxide nano particles on friction and wear reduction


  1. Two approaches to improving Plant Reliability:
  2. Rethinking Maintenance Strategy:
  3. Applying IAR Technique:

By Dibyendu De