Bearing Lubrication plays a vital role in the performance and life of rolling element bearings. The most important task of the lubricant is to separate parts moving relative to one another (balls or rollers and raceways) in order to minimize friction and prevent wear. A lubricant that is designed for specific operating conditions will provide a load bearing wear protective film. The ideal condition is when the friction surfaces are separated by this film. In addition to providing this load bearing film, the lubricant should also allow for the dissipation of frictional heat thus preventing overheating of the bearing and deterioration of the lubricant and provide protection from corrosion, moisture, and the ingress of contaminants.
Lubricants used in rolling element bearings should have the following characteristics:
- Maintains a stable viscosity over a broad range of temperatures
- Good film strength that can support loads
- Stable structure that provides for long service life
- Non-corrosive and compatible with adjacent components
- Provides a barrier against contaminant and moisture, yet does not leak out of the bearing
Types of Bearing Lubricants
Oil: Both petroleum based and synthetic oils are available. Examples of synthetic oils are silicone, diesters, PAO’s, and fluorinated compounds. Bearings lubricated with oil will exhibit less start up and running torque and have higher speed capability. Oils are subject to evaporative losses so there service life in a bearing is less than grease. Miniature and instrument bearings are often only lubricated once for the life of the bearing, making the choice of lubricant critical. Larger bearings are subject to re- lubrication as part of the machinery maintenance cycle. These bearings are often lubricated via oil recirculation systems that are designed into the machinery or equipment. Temperature range, viscosity, evaporative rate are key characteristics to consider when selecting an oil.
Grease: Grease consists of a base oil with a thickener added. These thickeners consist primarily of metal soaps (lithium, sodium, aluminum, and calcium), organic (ureas), or inorganic compounds. While these thickeners greatly influence the characteristics of the grease, the lubricating properties of the grease are attributable to its base oil. In addition, grease can contain additives that improve its performance. Additive types include antioxidant, anticorrosion, anti-wear, fillers, fortifiers, and extreme pressure fortifiers. Temperature range, base oil viscosity, and stiffness or penetration level are key characteristics to consider when selecting a grease. Most greases used in rolling element bearings are NLGI grade 2
Solid Films: These are non-fluid coatings applied to the frictions surfaces to prevent wear. They are used in extreme situations where an oil or grease cannot survive and are typically selected as a last resort or option. These include harsh environments such as extreme temperatures, vacuum, or radiation. These coatings include graphite, MoS2, silver, gold, or PTFE. Hard coatings include TiC or chrome. Solid films are engineered on a specific application by application basis.
The lubricant (and amount) selected also impacts the maximum operating speed and torque (both starting and running). In miniature bearings the lubricant can impact the noise level. Filtered greases and oils are recommended for use with miniature or instrument bearings.
Bearing Lubrication Methods
Grease is normally applied with special lubricating equipment with a head that deposits the grease between the balls forcing it into, and around, the ball (or roller) raceway interface. Upon rotation the grease is distributed within the bearing. Miniature and instrument series bearings are typically lubricated in a clean room environment.
The amount of grease is typically specified as a percentage, such as 30% fill. The percentage represents the actual grease volume compared to the free internal space within the bearing. In other words, if the internal space in the bearing is completely filled with grease with no voids, it would be 100% full. Manufacturers of bearings have different amounts that they would consider standard. This typically ranges from 20% to 40%. In small or miniature bearings grease fill amounts can be as little as 10%.
Oil is applied by the manufacturer with special equipment as well. The amount is not normally specified. In torque sensitive applications excess oil can be removed via centrifuging. This is more common with miniature or instrument type bearings.
Grease Plating (MGGP) - The MGGP process starts with carefully mixing the candidate grease with a volatile solvent. The consistency of the grease is thinned considerably. This mixture can be controlled to achieve different coating thicknesses. The mixture is then injected into the bearing coating all of the internal surfaces. A dipping process is also used in some cases. The solvent is then baked off at low temperature. This method is often used in torque sensitive applications and lubricant migration associated with oil lubrication is a undesirable.
Shelf Life of Bearing Lubricants
Synthetic oils are inherently stable materials. Generally, they are not expected to oxidize, polymerize or volatilize at room temperature for 10 years or more. Ester oils, where the ester linkage may be subject to a minute degree of hydrolysis in the presence of moisture, could become more acidic if moisture is present. Fluorinated oils and silicones are not likely to be affected by simple aging.
Greases can "age" in more complicated ways. Grease quality could be affected by a change in the gel structure. If the gel contracts, significant oil bleed would be evident and the remaining grease would stiffen. The gel structure may also become softer over a period of time.
The lubricants that are in the bearings supplied by AST Bearings are high quality lubricants. Many of these lubricants are also qualified to military or other specifications. The type and quantity of lubricant is in many cases specified by the customer, and in those cases where the customer has not made a particular selection, the bearings are lubricated to conform to industry standards.
Shelf life is the period following the lubricant’s manufacture during which it is deemed suitable for use without re-testing its physical characteristics. In addition, the manufacturers state that the shelf life applies only if oils and greases are properly stored in their original, unopened containers.
AST purchases the required lubricants from approved suppliers. Our purchasing documents require a Certificate of Analysis to be supplied with the lubricant, and that 75% of the manufacturer’s shelf life is remaining upon receipt. With respect to the shelf life of any lubricant, AST must rely on the shelf life specifications of that particular lubricant’s manufacturer. In addition, AST has established internal lubricant control procedures that include proper storage of lubricants and applying “use by” dates that are consistent with the lubricant manufacturer’s specifications. AST does not “certify” the shelf life of the bearings we lubricate for the following reasons:
- We are not the lubricant manufacturer.
- Once the lubricant has been applied to the bearing, or other device, factors, which AST can neither predict, or control will govern the lubricant life.
Therefore, the end user should establish their own database or guidelines regarding storage life or functional life of lubricated bearings. AST routinely marks the date of lubrication on our labels and packaging so that customers can apply their internal procedures for age sensitive material.
There are many things to consider when selecting a lubricant such as temperature, loads, speed, environment, and desired life just to name a few. In addition, aside from those already mentioned, there are a variety of characteristics of greases and oils that should be considered such as oil separation, evaporative loss, dropping point, oxidation stability, channeling capability/stiffness, and others. Lubrication is one of the most critical specifications for the designer to consider.
The following Tables list common bearing lubricants and some of their properties. AST stocks hundreds of others.
Table I - Grease Lubricants
& TRADE NAME
|AMERICAN OIL CO.|
|Rykon Premium #2||-10/200||Mineral||Arylurea||Reddish|
|Rykon Premium #3||-20/250||Mineral||Arylurea||Pink|
|BRAY OIL CO.|
|Braycote 627S||MILG23827||-100/300||Ester||Organic||Lt. Brown|
|Braycote 637S||MILG25537||-65/260||Mineral||Calcium Soap||Lt. Brown|
|CHEVRON OIL CO.|
|Poly FM #2||USDA H1||0/-320||White Oil||Polyurea||Apricot|
|Molykote BR2 Plus||-20/300||Mineral||Lithium||Black|
|Molykote 44||MILG46886A||-100/400||Silicone||Lithium||Dark Amber|
|DU PONT, E.I.|
|Krytox 240AA||MILG27617||-30/450||Fluor Carbon||Vidax||White|
|Krytox 240AB||MILG27617||-30/450||Fluor Carbon||Vidax||White|
|Krytox 240AC||MILG27617A||-30/550||Fluor Carbon||Vidax||White|
|Krytox 240AZ||MILG27617||-65/300||Fluor Carbon||Vidax||White|
|Beacon 325||-65/250||Diester||Lithium||Lt. Tan|
|Cosmolube 615||MILG4343||-65/375||Silicone||Lithium||Lt. Brown|
|Asonic GLY 32||-58/284||Ester/PAO||Lithium||White/Beige|
|Asonic GHY 72||-40/356||Ester||Polyurea||Beige|
|Barrierta L 55/2||-31/482||PFPE||PTFE||Creamy White|
|Isoflex Super LDS 18||MILG23827||-76/266||Mineral/Ester||Lithium||Yellow|
|Isoflex LDS 18 Special||MILG23827||-76/266||Mineral/Ester||Lithium||Yellow|
|Mobil 27||MILG23827||-65/325||Carbon||Non Soap||Tan|
|Mobil 28||MILG81322A||-65/350||Hydro Carbon||Non Soap||Dark Red|
|Instrument Grease 706E||-65/300||Polyol Ester||Lithium||Light Brown|
|Rheolube 716B||-60/300||Polyol Ester||Lithium||Tan|
|Nyogel 781 D||Replaces GE
|Fluoroether 899 RP||-130/480||PTFE||PTFE||White|
|Rheoplex 6000HT||-40/302||Ester||Sodium||Light Brown|
|Aeroshell #5||MILG3545C||-20/300||Petroleum||Microgel||Dark Brown|
|Aeroshell #14||MILG23827||-65/250||Mineral||Calcium Soap||Tan|
|Aeroshell #17||MILG21164||-100/300||Diester||Microgel||Dark Gray|
|Aeroshell #22||MILG81322A||-80/350||Hydrocarbon||Microgel||Dark Gray|
|Cyprina #3||MILG18709||-0/250||Mineral||Lithium||Lt. Tan|
|Dolium R #2||-30/300||Mineral||Ashless||Amber|
|Royco 37||MILG25537||-65/250||Mineral||Calcium Soap||Tan|
|TENNECO CHEM. (HULS)|
|Anderol 753A||-40/300||Diester||Lithium||Lt. Brown|
|Anderol 757||-40/300||Diester||Lithium||Lt. Brown|
|Anderol 761||-40/400||Diester||Silica||Lt. Brown|
|Anderol 793A||-65/300||Diester||Lithium||Lt. Amber|
|Anderol 794||-65/250||Diester||Lithium||Lt. Amber|
|Anderol 795||-65/300||Diester||Lithium||Off White|
|TEXACO OIL CO.|
|Low Temp EP||MILG23827||-65/250||Synthetic Material||Lithium||Purplish Brown|
|Regal AFB #2||MILG18709||-40/250||Paraffin||Lithium||Green|
& TRADE NAME
|ANDERSON OIL CO.|
|BRAY OIL CO.|
|DU PONT, E.I.|
|Krytox 143 AB||-45/450||Perflour||-45||500||85/10.3|
|Krytox 143 AC||-30/550||Ester||-35||550||270/26|
|Aviation Inst. Oil||MILL7870||-65/290||Petroleum||-70||300||17/2.6|
|GULF OIL COMPANY|
|Synthetic Fluid #6||-50/275||Mineral||-90||295||3200/12|
|M0119||-30/250||Synthetic||-80||455||119 @ 100°F|
|SHELL OIL COMPANY|