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



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

The Case of Burning BagHouse Filters

Recently I was invited to investigate a case of frequent burning of baghouse filter bags.

There were five such baghouses connected to five furnaces of a steel plant.

The client reasoned that the material of the bags was not suitable for the temperature of the gas it handled. However, with change of material the frequency of bag burning did not change. So it needed a different approach to home onto the reasons for the failures.

Hence, this is how I went about solving the case:

First I did a Weibull analysis of the failures. Engineers use Weibull distribution to quickly find out the failure pattern of a system. Once such a pattern is obtained an engineer can then go deeper in studying the probability distribution function (pdf). Such a pdf provides an engineer with many important clues. The most important clue it provides is the reason for such repeated failures, which are broadly classified as follows:

  1. Design related causes
  2. Operation and Maintenance related causes
  3. Age related causes.

In this case it turned out to be a combination of Design and Age related causes.

It was a vital clue that then guided me to look deeper to isolate the design and age related factors affecting the system.

I then did a modified FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) for the two causes.

The FMEA revealed many inherent imperfections that were related to either design or aging.

Broadly, the causes were:

  1. Inability of the FD cooler (Forced Draft cooler) to take out excess heat up to the design limit before allowing the hot gas to enter the bag house.
  2. Inappropriate sequence of cleaning of the bag filters. It was out of sync with the operational sequence thus allowing relatively hot dust to build up on the surface of the bags.

Next, the maintenance plan was reviewed. The method used was Review of Equipment Maintenance (REM). The goal of such a review is to find maintenance tasks that are either missing or redundant for which new tasks are either added/deleted or modified. With such modification of the maintenance plan the aim is to achieve a balance between tasks that help find out incipient signals of deterioration and tasks that would help maintain longevity and stability of the system for a desired period of time.

Finally the investigation was wrapped up by formulating the Task Implementation Plan (TIP). It comprised of 13 broad tasks that were then broken up into more than 100 sub-tasks with scheduled dates for completion and accountability.