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Pieter Baart (LTU)

Published: 22 September 2011

Grease Lubrication Mechanisms in Bearing Seals

Rolling bearings contain seals to keep lubricant inside and contaminants outside the bearing system. These systems are often lubricated with grease; the grease acts as a lubricant for the bearing and seal and improves the sealing efficiency. In this thesis, the influence of lubricating grease on bearing seal performance is studied. Rheological properties of the grease, i.e. shear stress and normal stress difference, are evaluated and related to the lubricating and sealing performance of the sealing system. This includes the seal, grease and counterface.
The grease velocity profile in the seal pocket in-between two sealing lips is dependent on the rheological properties of the grease. The velocity profile in a wide pocket is evaluated using a 1-dimensional model based on the Herschel-Bulkley model. The velocity profile in a narrow pocket, where the influence of the side walls on the velocity profile is significant, is measured using micro particle image velocimetry. Subsequently, the radial migration of contaminants into the seal pocket is modelled and related to the sealing function of the grease. Additionally, also migration in the axial direction is found in the vicinity of the sealing contact. Experimental results show that contaminant particles in different greases consistently migrate either away from the sealing contact or towards the sealing contact, also when the pumping rate of the seal can be neglected.
Lubrication of the seal lip contact is dependent on several grease properties. A lubricant film in the sealing contact may be built up as in oil lubricated seals but normal stress differences in the grease within the vicinity of the contact may result in an additional lift force. The grease, which is being sheared in the vicinity of the contact, will also contribute to the frictional torque.
It is important to maintain a lubricant film in the sealing contact to minimize friction and wear. Here the replenishment of oil separated from the grease, also referred to as oil bleed, is of crucial importance. A model is presented to predict this oil bleed based on oil flow through the porous grease thickener microstructure. The model is applied to an axial sealing contact and a prediction of the film thickness as a function of time is made.

The work presented in the thesis gives a significant contribution to a better understanding of the influence of lubricating grease on the sealing system performance and seal lubrication conditions.

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