Battle bearing wear and corrosion

March 29, 2014
Effective lubrication and contamination protection help to maintain bearing strength and capacity.

The battle against corrosion is challenging, and some industries are more sensitive to it than others. Avoidance and prevention are particularly important in food, beverage, and medical processing applications where damage from corrosive invasion is costly. Corrosion is damaging from a wide variety of perspectives. It weakens base materials, limits machine longevity, is cosmetically unappealing, can create resulting impurities, and can ultimately impact production. Many manufacturers of power transmission products are continually researching methods and means to win this battle.

Mounted bearing product offerings have changed considerably in the past 15 years. Many bearing manufacturers have listened to their customers’ needs and have developed affordable bearings that offer high load capacity, along with longevity and corrosion resistance. Manufacturers have focused their efforts on improving bearing housings, bearing raceways, bearing seals, and even the bearing cage.

One of the main challenges for bearing manufacturers is providing products that maximize corrosion protection, while maintaining material strength and load capacity. Typically, the materials with superior corrosion-resistant properties lack the mechanical properties, such as strength and hardness, required for tolerable bearing operation. Conversely, steels with ideal characteristics for bearing operation haven’t had satisfactory performance when exposed to harsh environments and reactive chemicals.

Figure 1. Select the right component based on the application, such as this stainless bearing for the potato roller.

Bearing housings are available in coatings, platings, and 304 and 316 series stainless steels, as well as nonmetallic polymers such as PBT, polypropylene, and polyamide resins. Many of the nonmetallic polymers often are enriched with antimicrobial agents that help kill microorganisms. Common coatings used on cast-iron or steel-mounted bearing housings include powder epoxy paint, nickel, and nylon. Some offerings are more effective against certain chemicals, loads, and general environment than others. For example, stainless steel housings perform well when exposed to acetone, while a nonmetallic PBT housing doesn’t. The key is to select the right housing material option based on the application (Figure 1).

In addition to housing protection, the bearing itself should be considered. Stainless steels are offered for inner rings, rollers, and outer rings in material grades such as 420, 410, 303, 304, and the most popular, 440C. However, many of the stainless steels offered don’t maintain the same load-carrying capacities of the ferrous steel counterparts. As a result, the capacity of the bearing may drop as much as 20% below standard steel offerings. Thus, they’re more practical for lower-stressed ball bearing products than the higher-stressed roller bearing products. Additionally, stainless steels are not inert with many chemicals and environments. Therefore, many common ball bearing product offerings include a plated option. These platings are included on the inner and outer ring raceways and vary from zinc chromate and low phosphorous nickel to nickel composites and variations of chrome. Much like housings, the bearing should be selected for the application with performance expectations balanced against cost and functionality.

Most corrosion-resistant products are designed and intended for use within the food and beverage industries. In these applications, avoid choosing a bearing with pockets or voids in and around the housing where food, moisture, and contamination can become entrapped. These areas allow for bacteria growth and can promote corrosion. Instead, choose a bearing with solid feet, solid underbodies, and a flat, smooth surface. This style is more effective at repelling contamination and hindering particle accumulation.

Beyond corrosion protection, product longevity is important to consider, as well. Many applications in the food, beverage, and pharmaceutical industries use washdown processes with a variety of chemicals to kill bacteria and microorganisms. This washdown process can be lethal to a bearing that isn’t well-protected. The two most critical components to successful anti-friction bearing operation are effective lubrication and contamination prevention. High-pressure wash threatens both of these components. Moisture ingress into the sealed bearing cavity will deteriorate lubrication, corrode raceways and rollers, degrade contact surfaces, and lead to premature bearing failure. Therefore, the best means to prevent bearing failure is to protect lubricant stability and prevent contamination from entering the bearing cavity through a premium sealing system.

There are a variety of sealing systems available with washdown products. The most effective seals include 304 or 316 stainless steel shields that include a rotating flinger and at least three elastomeric contact lips on each side of the bearing. Rotating flingers help propel contaminants away from the bearing entry way. The larger the flinger’s diameter, the more centrifugal acceleration is utilized, resulting in a more effective seal. These flingers may have elastomeric contact extensions, as well. The three contacting lips of the main, nonrotating shield are shaped to allow excess grease to flow past and yet prevent moisture and contaminants to flow into them. The contact pressure of each seal lip is adapted to maximize seal effectiveness, while minimizing drag to allow for a wide bearing operating speed range. When the bearing is lubricated, the area between each contact lip forms a grease dam which acts like a supplemental barrier to prevent foreign particle entry.

Additional sealing is often utilized with end closures that completely seal the insert on one side of the housing. The closures typically snap into place and are held rigid to the bearing housing. If the shaft ends at the bearing, the bearing can be completely closed and protected. If the shaft continues beyond the bearing, end closures are available that allow for the shaft to extend through them. These open end closures will often utilize an additional rotating labyrinth for additional protection and reliability.

Some of the latest developments with ball bearings include revolutionary cage designs, which help channel and protect lubrication near the rolling elements. In the event that washdown practices do allow moisture to compromise the sealed bearing cavity, the grease could become contaminated and depleted. The new cages create compartments that safeguard the lubricant near the balls. This allows the balls to be in constant contact with effective lubrication. The result is less wear, minimized friction, and less heat. In turn, the bearing does’nt require the aggressive relubrication intervals that bearings with standard cages require. As a result, the user’s investments are further protected and the lubrication effectiveness is maximized.

Galen Burdeshaw is customer order engineering manager for Dodge bearings and PT components at Baldor. Contact him at [email protected].

Another effective tactic to protect mounted ball bearings in washdown environments is filling the sealed bearing cavity 100% with grease. This allows for a larger grease reservoir, builds a larger grease dam in and around the seal area, decreases the impact from moisture invasion into the bearing cavity, and adds greater reliability for extended relubrication intervals. Most of these bearings are also offered with H1-rated food grade grease for incidental contact with food, making them ideal in food, beverage and pharmaceutical processing machines.

Technological advances in materials, platings, seal design and cage design have greatly improved ball bearing performance in the most challenging environments. Selected properly, these specialized bearings offer corrosion resistance, reliability, and operating benefits.

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