Unexpected causes of bearing failure

There are many moving parts to any piece of equipment. One moving part requiring particular attention are the bearings. When maintained and operating well, they allow the machinery to run with very few problems. When the bearings fail, though, the motor fails along with it.


There are many moving parts to any piece of equipment. One moving part requiring particular attention are the bearings. When maintained and operating well, they allow the machinery to run with very few problems. When the bearings fail, though, the motor fails along with it.Courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE Media

Most of us are familiar with the common reasons for bearing failure. They include:

  • Bearing misalignments
  • Improper mounting
  • Contaminated or improper lubrication
  • High temperatures
  • Bearing fatigue
  • Improper storage techniques.

These are on average the first things to look for when problems occur with bearings. There are also other issues that arise and result in premature bearing failure. Here are three that may not be on the usual radar.

Damage to the bearing cage

Many different issues occur with the bearing cage, resulting in a shortened bearing life. Included among these matters is cage pillar fractures and guide or pocket wear.

Damage occurs to the bearing cage for different reasons, many associated with the handling and mounting of the bearings. Issues also occur due to vibration, inadequate lubrication, high temperatures, and large loads. To avoid a problem with the bearing cage, reduce vibration and mount the bearings as instructed. You should also lubricate the bearings to reduce temperature and friction; again following manufacturers instructions.

Bearing seizure

Seizure of the bearings occurs when excessive heat exists during rotation. As a result of the excessive heat, many of the elements associated with the bearings begin to soften and melt, including the rolling elements, raceway rings, and the cage. These issues lead to bearing seizure and the possibility of damage to the equipment where they are used.

Some of the issues that lead to bearing seizure include:

  • Improper lubrication techniques
  • Lubrication contamination
  • Excessive rotational speed
  • Load and shaft misalignments.

It is possible to avoid many of these problems using proper lubrication and sealing the bearings. These two tasks reduce excessive loads. Making regular examinations of shaft alignment becomes part of an effective maintenance program.


Another issue that occurs with bearings is fretting. Fretting takes place between the rolling elements and the raceway ring. It often shows up as black or brown particles.

Like many issues associated with the bearings, fretting result because the bearings are not lubricated following a set schedule. Fretting also occurs with certain types of vibration.

The bearings often tell a tale when equipment failure takes place. Take the time to examine the bearings inside and out. Learn from any mistakes.

Above all, apply the principles of a preventive maintenance program at your facility to ensure that problems are few and far between.

Three types of bearing maintenance strategies

Periodic maintenance, predictive maintenance, breakdown maintenance can help with bearing maintenance strategies.

Periodic maintenance

Over time, your applications and equipment will begin to wear down and fail. In fact, a study found that 45% of unscheduled downtime is a direct result of aging equipment.

Periodic preventive maintenance sets up a regular schedule for you to clean, inspect, and fix up your applications and parts to maintain the health of your equipment. A well-planned maintenance schedule can save your business a lot of money and allow you to have more control over downtime instead of waiting for an issue.

Predictive maintenance

The following are potential warning signs for aging or failing applications:

  • Excessive vibration
  • Overheating
  • Steam, air, or gas leaks
  • Contamination
  • Electrical imbalances
  • Misalignment.

These check-ins can be performed through manual inspection or through monitoring technology. If no signs are spotted, it means that you should be set until the next inspection.

Run-to-fail/breakdown maintenance

This type of maintenance isn’t so much a strategy as much as the choice not to conduct any maintenance work until something stops working. While this usually isn’t the most cost-effective solution for businesses that can’t afford unexpected downtime, there are some situations where it can be an advantageous approach.

One such example is if equipment failure won’t affect production and can be quickly and easily repaired. However, this approach likely is a bad choice for parts like bearings.

Consider this simple piece of advice: doing things right the first time saves you problems down the road.

One way to limit to the amount of time and resources spent on maintenance is to invest in quality bearings. Good bearings can keep your application running smoothly while lasting longer than poorly-made or ill-fitting parts.

Bearing failure accounts for over 50% of all electric motor breakdowns. Recognizing how those problems occur and knowing how to prevent them allows your equipment to run smoothly over time.

David Manney is marketing administrator at L&S Electric. This article originally appeared on L&S Electric's online blog. L&S Electric is a CFE Media content partner. 

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
August 2018
Choosing an automation controller, Lean manufacturing
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me