Bearings Lubricants Motors & Drives

Prevent Motor-Bearing Failures

Gary Parr | February 24, 2016

By examining a failed motor bearing and understanding the clues that various types of damage often produce, you can keep these problems from plaguing your motor fleet in the future.

Learn the latest on the top five causes of failed motor bearings to help stop these problems in their tracks.

By examining a failed motor bearing and understanding the clues that various types of damage often produce, you can keep these problems from plaguing your motor fleet in the future.

By examining a failed motor bearing and understanding the clues that various types of damage often produce, you can keep these problems from plaguing your motor fleet in the future.


According to the bearing experts at SKF (Gothenburg, Sweden, and Lansdale, PA) these five damage mechanisms are the most common causes of motor-bearing failures. Understanding them as you examine a failed bearing can help you prevent their recurrence.

Electrical erosion
Electric erosion (arcing) can occur when a current passes from one ring to the other through the rolling elements of a bearing. While the extent of the damage depends on the amount of energy and its duration, the result is usually the same: pitting damage to the rolling elements and raceways, rapid degradation of the lubricant, and premature bearing failure. To prevent damage from electric-current passage, an electrically insulated bearing at the non-drive end is usually installed.

Inadequate lubrication and contamination
If the lubricant film between a bearing’s rolling elements and raceways is too thin due to inadequate viscosity or contamination, metal-to-metal contact occurs. Check first whether the appropriate lubricant is being used and that re-greasing intervals and quantity are sufficient for the application. If the lubricant contains contaminants, check the seals to determine whether they should be replaced or upgraded. In some cases, depending on the application, a lubricant with a higher viscosity may be needed to increase the oil-film thickness.

Damage from vibration
Motors transported without the rotor shaft held securely in place can be subjected to vibrations within the bearing clearance that could damage these components. Similarly, if a motor is at a standstill and subjected to external vibrations over a period of time, its bearings can also be damaged. To prevent these problems, secure the bearings during transport in the following manner: Lock the shaft axially using a flat steel bent in a U-shape, while carefully preloading the ball bearing at the non-drive end. Then radially lock the bearing at the drive end with a strap. In case of prolonged periods of standstill, turn the shaft from time to time.

Damage caused by improper installation and set-up
Common mistakes in installation include using a hammer or similar tool to mount a coupling half or belt pulley onto a shaft; misalignment; imbalance; excessive belt tension; and incorrect mounting resulting in overloading. To prevent these problems, use precision instruments such as shaft-alignment tools and vibration analyzers and other appropriate tools and methods when mounting bearings.

Insufficient bearing load Bearings always need to have a minimum load to function well. If they don’t, damage will appear as smearing on the rolling elements and raceways. To prevent these problems, be sure to apply a sufficiently large external load to the bearings. This is crucial with cylindrical roller bearings, since they are typically used to accommodate heavier loads. (This, however, does not apply to preloaded bearings.)

Source
SKF is s a global supplier of bearings, seals, mechatronics, lubrication systems, and services that include technical support, maintenance and reliability services, and engineering consulting and training. For more information on motor bearings and other technologies and topics, visit skf.com.

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Gary Parr

Gary Parr

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