Bearings for aero engine applications are subjected to a high thermal impact because of the elevated speeds and loads. The high rate of heat generation in the bearing cannot be sustained by the materials used and in the absence of lubrication will fail within seconds. For this reason aero engine bearings have to be lubricated and cooled by a continuous oil stream. The heat which is generated in the bearings through friction is transferred into the oil. Oil itself has not unlimited capabilities and can only remove heat as long as its temperature does not reach critical limits. When the critical limits have been reached or even exceeded the oil will suffer chemical decomposition (coking) with loss of its properties and subsequently causing a detrimental impact on the rotating machinery. Oil is normally transferred into the bearings through holes in the inner ring thus taking advantage of the centrifugal forces due to the rotation.
In its way through the bearing the oil continuously removes heat from the inner ring, the rolling elements and the bearing cage until it reaches the outer ring. Since the oil has already been heated up its capability to remove heat from the outer ring is considerably reduced. The idea to provide the bearing with an “unlimited” quantity of oil to ensure proper cooling cannot be considered since an increase in the oil quantity leads to higher parasitic losses (churning) in the bearing chamber and increased requirements on the engine’s lubrication system in terms of storage, scavenging, cooling, weight, etc, not mentioning the power needed to accomplish all these.
In this sense, the authors have developed a method which would enable active cooling of the outer ring. Similar to fins which are used for cooling electronic devices, a spiral groove engraved in the outer ring material would function as a fin body with oil instead of air as the cooling medium. The number of “threads” and the size of the groove design characteristics were optimized in a way that enhanced heat transfer is achieved without excessive pressure losses.
An experimental set up was created for this reason and a 167.5mm PCD (Pitch Circle Diameter) ball bearing was investigated. The bearing was tested with and without the outer ring cooling. A reduction of 50% of the lubricant flow through the inner ring associated with a 30% decrease in heat generation was achieved.