Diagnostics of rolling element bearings have been traditionally developed for constant operating conditions, and sophisticated techniques, like Spectral Kurtosis or Envelope Analysis, have proven their effectiveness by means of experimental tests, mainly conducted in small-scale laboratory test-rigs. Algorithms have been developed for the digital signal processing of data collected at constant speed and bearing load, with a few exceptions, allowing only small fluctuations of these quantities. Owing to the spreading of condition based maintenance in many industrial fields, in the last years a need for more flexible algorithms emerged, asking for compatibility with highly variable operating conditions, such as acceleration/deceleration transients.

This paper analyzes the problems related with significant speed and load variability, discussing in detail the effect that they have on bearing damage symptoms, and propose solutions to adapt existing algorithms to cope with this new challenge. In particular, the paper will i) discuss the implication of variable speed on the applicability of diagnostic techniques, ii) address quantitatively the effects of load on the characteristic frequencies of damaged bearings and iii) finally present a new approach for bearing diagnostics in variable conditions, based on envelope analysis. The research is based on experimental data obtained by using artificially damaged bearings installed on a full scale test-rig, equipped with actual train traction system and reproducing the operation on a real track, including all the environmental noise, owing to track irregularity and electrical disturbances of such a harsh application.

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