How to care for your industrial bearings

Bearing maintenance practices are best understood when we first consider their primary purpose — to prevent premature bearing failure. For plant managers with extensive industrial equipment, the failure of these small components can have expensive knock-on effects.

Here Chris Johnson, managing director at specialist bearing supplier, SMB Bearings, explains three bearing maintenance essentials: handling, mounting and relubrication.

The service life of a bearing depends on a variety of influencing factors including lubrication, the level of contamination within the bearing environment, misalignment, proper installation, and operating conditions such as loads, speed, temperature, and vibration levels. So, what practical steps can you take to ensure that your industrial bearings stay in good working order?

Bearings are delicate components and should be treated with care. Contaminants, including moisture, dust or dirt, should be avoided where possible, as they can cause real problems if they enter the bearing. Correct handling and storage methods will go some way to mitigating this. When bearings are unnecessarily handled, for example if their wrappings are prematurely removed, it can expose them to corrosion or contaminants.

Secondly, when replacing your bearings or removing them for cleaning, it can be tempting to use any tool that you have available. To avoid unnecessary damage, denting and wear, consider using tools that are specialised for the bearing handling and mounting process.

You should also use the correct method when mounting your bearings and this varies depending on the type of bearing and type of fit. Applying pressure to the wrong ring when fitting can result in damage to the rolling elements. Equally, excessively loose or excessively tight fits, a poor finish on the bearing seals or out of round shafts or housings should also be avoided. Ultimately if your mounting method is clumsy, it could reverse the advantages of the cleaning process that you undertook in the first place.

Finally, one of the leading causes of bearing failure is lubrication failure. This encompasses using the incorrect lubricant, as well as using too much or too little lubrication. The correct lubricant is chosen by considering the environmental conditions, temperature, speed and load. A bearing specialist will be able to advise on a suitable lubrication match and can control bearing lubrication to within a few milligrams.

However, you may opt to conduct your own relubrication activities. Take care when opening a bearing to replace the lubricant, as if incorrectly executed, this poses as much risk as doing nothing. Ensure that all bearing surfaces are clean and dry before replacing your lubricant.

If you use shielded bearings, the shields will be damaged and cannot be re-fitted. If you use rubber sealed bearings, they can be re-fitted but you need to be careful not to damage them or they will not prevent dirt as effectively. If in doubt seek additional resources or help from a bearing specialist.

While these three tips offer a good starting point to reduce bearing failure and extend service life, no amount of maintenance can substitute for appropriate bearing selection. Ensuring that your bearing is carefully matched to the demands of your industrial equipment is essential.

Source: SMB Bearings

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