Bearing degradation and defects can result in a premature failure. Water ingress into the bearing is a factor for premature degradation, as water may corrupt internal parts and degrade the bearing grease. This paper presents the investigation of the properties of grease degradation from bearings with water-related degradations. This research provides insight into the internal state of bearings that have been replaced due to grease degradation as a result of water ingress.

Separately, the railroad industry has observed bearing roller “bluing” or “lube staining.” This discoloration may be a harmless surface effect, or it may be similar to heat bluing. Determining true metallurgical effects may lead to the understanding between these two different types of “bluing”.

To study bearings with water-related lubrication degradation, grease samples were collected from two populations of bearing lubrication at bearing service locations. One population contains bearings identified with water-related damage, and a second population is a control set of bearings. Primary grease analysis was done per ASTM 7918, providing metrics of wear, contamination, consistency, and oxidative properties. Additional testing was performed where results indicated utility; including measurements of anti-oxidant remaining in grease and microscopic analysis of wear particles in the grease.

“Bluing” or “lube stain” bearing components were examined through analysis of lubrication and metallurgical metrics. Collections of samples from bearing shops included representative small amounts of grease and “blued” steel parts from bearings exhibiting surface discoloration. A second sample set included steel parts and grease samples from a control set of bearings. A third set of rollers were heat blued in the lab. Lube stained rollers and control set rollers were tested for metallurgical changes. Analysis of the bearing steel consisted of hardness and micro-hardness testing of polished samples, examination to compare microstructural features, and residual stress tests.

The tests conducted in the investigation of water-related bearing grease degradation indicate a difference between bearings with “Water-Etch” and “Non-Verified” degradation modes based on ferrous debris levels in the grease. This difference is due to wear of the bearing material deposited in the grease. The tests conducted in the investigation of lube stain in bearings show lube stain does not affect any tested metallurgical material properties, other than surface discoloration.

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