A preventive plan for bearing protection

06/13/2013


Grounding

If inspection of the old bearing indicates electrical damage, the best way to protect replacement bearings is to install a shaft grounding ring that has a full 360 degrees of circumferential conductive microfibers touching the motor shaft. Properly installed, such a ring will conduct harmful shaft voltages away from the bearings and safely to ground. With a ring installed, voltage will travel from the motor shaft, through the ring’s conductive microfibers, to its housing, then through the motor’s housing to ground (see Figures 4 and 5).

Figure 4: The best grounding rings are lined with flexible, conductive microfibers that completely surround the motor shaft. Courtesy: Electro Static TechnologyFigure 5: A channel locks the ring’s conductive microfibers in place around the motor shaft and helps protect them from excessive dirt, oil, and other contaminants. Courtesy: Electro Static Technology

All paths must be conductive, so paint on the motor’s faceplate must be removed. Likewise, the motor’s shaft must be clean down to bare metal, free of any coatings (see Figure 6). Depending on its condition, the shaft may require scrubbing with emery cloth or a similar material.

Figure 6: Prior to installation of a grounding ring, the motor shaft must be cleaned down to bare metal, free of any paint or other nonconductive material. Courtesy: Electro Static TechnologyEven when the shaft appears clean, wiping it with a non-petroleum-based solvent will remove unseen residues. After cleaning, the conductivity of the shaft should be checked with an ohm meter. If the reading at the portion of the shaft that will contact the ring’s microfibers is higher than 2 Ωs, the shaft should be cleaned again.

A grounding ring should never operate over a shaft keyway, which has sharp edges and could reduce conductivity. On some motors, the dimensions of the spacer and mounting screws can sometimes be adjusted/changed to avoid a keyway. If this is not feasible, the portion of the keyway that will contact the ring’s microfibers should be filled with epoxy putty.

Conductivity should be further enhanced by lightly but evenly coating with colloidal silver any portion of the shaft that will contact the ring’s microfibers. This will also help retard corrosion.

Threadlocking gels and liquids other than conductive epoxy are not recommended for the screws that mount the ring to the motor, as they might compromise the conductive path to ground.

The ring should be centered on the motor shaft so that its microfibers contact the shaft evenly.

After installation, testing with an ohm meter is again recommended. The best method is to place one probe on the ring and one on the motor frame. (The motor and drive must be grounded to common-earth ground in accordance with applicable standards.)

For environments where the motor will be exposed to excessive amounts of dirt, dust, or other debris, it may be necessary to protect the ring’s fibers with an o-ring or v-slinger or install the ring inside the motor’s housing. Bearing isolators with built-in circumferential grounding rings are also available. 

Installation variations

Most of the recommendations above also pertain to grounding rings mounted to a motor’s housing with conductive epoxy instead of screws, split rings designed to slip around an in-service motor’s shaft instead of over its end, larger rings designed for higher voltage motors and generators, and rings press fitted, bolted, or bonded (with conductive epoxy) into a bearing retainer or custom bracket inside a motor’s housing.

For internal installations, an additional machined spacer can keep the ring farther away from the bearing grease cavity. Metal-to-metal contact is still essential, of course, so a bearing retainer must be free of any coatings or other nonconductive material where it will touch the ring.

For horizontally or vertically mounted motors with horsepower of 100 (75 kW) or less and single-row radial ball bearings on both ends, a shaft grounding ring can be installed on either end. For horizontally mounted motors with horsepower greater than 100 and single-row radial ball bearings on both ends, the bearing housing at the nondrive end must be electrically isolated to disrupt circulating currents. Options for achieving such isolation include insulated sleeves, nonconductive coatings, ceramic bearings, or hybrid bearings. The grounding ring should be installed at the drive end.

For any motor in which the bearings at both ends are already insulated, the drive end is preferred for installation of a grounding ring, to protect bearings in attached equipment such as a gearbox, pump, fan, or encoder.

For any motor with cylindrical roller, Babbitt, or sleeve bearings, the end with such bearings should be electrically isolated, and the grounding ring should be installed at the opposite end. 

Testing and analysis

Measuring shaft voltage on a VFD-driven motor provides valuable information for determining whether there is a risk of electrical bearing damage. The best time to take such measurements is during the start-up of a new or recently repaired motor. Every motor has its own unique parameters. Combined with vibration analysis, thermography, or other diagnostic services, results (including saved oscilloscope-screen images) can be presented in a report to the customer. Results should also be used in developing preventive and predictive maintenance programs.

Figure 7: The six-step (or square) oscilloscope waveform shown here is typical of motors exhibiting maximum peak-to-peak shaft voltages, but no discharges through the bearings. Courtesy: Electro Static Technology

Figure 8: The above waveform shows the rapid voltage discharge through the motor’s bearings that occurs when shaft voltages reach a level where they overcome the dielectric properties of bearing grease. Courtesy: Electro Static Technology

Shaft voltages are easily measured (using appropriate safety procedures) by touching an oscilloscope probe to the shaft while the motor is running. The best probe will have a tip of high-density conductive microfibers to ensure continuous contact with the rotating shaft. A portable oscilloscope with a bandwidth of at least 100 MHz should deliver accurate waveform measurements (see Figures 7, 8, 9, and 10). Probe/oscilloscope kits are available.

Figure 9: The continuous discharge pattern indicated by the relatively low-voltage waveform on this oscilloscope screen is the result of the bearing lubrication becoming conductive. Courtesy: Electro Static Technology

Figure 10: With an effective, properly installed grounding ring to protect its bearings, a motor produces an oscilloscope waveform like this one, with peak-to-peak discharges of only 2 or 3 V. Courtesy: Electro Static Technology

Just as shaft voltage measurements can show that a motor’s bearings are in danger of electrical damage, they can confirm that a shaft grounding ring is working. If a proven ring has been properly installed, typical discharge voltage peaks should be less than 10 V, depending on the motor. 

Adam Willwerth is sales and marketing manager for Electro Static Technology.


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