This paper merges the analysis of a case history and the simplified theoretical model related to a rather singular phenomenon that may happen in rotating machinery. Starting from the first, a small industrial steam turbine experienced a very strange behavior during megawatt load. When the unit was approaching the maximum allowed power, the temperature of the babbitt metal of the pads of the thrust bearing showed constant increase with an unrecoverable drift. Bearing inspection showed that pad trailing edge had the typical aspect of electrical pitting. This kind of damage was not reparable and bearing pads had to replaced. This problem occurred several times in sequence and was solved only by adding further ground brushes to the shaft-line. Failure analysis indicated electrodischarge machining as the root fault.
A specific model, able to take into consideration the effect of electrical pitting and loading capacity decreasing as a consequence of the damage of the babbitt metal, is proposed in the paper and shows that the phenomenon causes the irretrievable failure of the thrust bearing.