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Fluid and magnetic bearings
Main articles: Fluid bearing and Magnetic bearing
Fluid and magnetic bearings can have practically indefinite service lives. In practice, there are fluid bearings supporting high loads in hydroelectric plants that have been in nearly continuous service since about 1900 and which show no signs of wear.
Rolling element bearings
Rolling element bearing life is determined by load, temperature, maintenance, lubrication, material defects, contamination, handling, installation and other factors. These factors can all have a significant effect on bearing life. For example, the service life of bearings in one application was extended dramatically by changing how the bearings were stored before installation and use, as vibrations during storage caused lubricant failure even when the only load on the bearing was its own weight; the resulting damage is often false brinelling. Bearing life is statistical: several samples of a given bearing will often exhibit a bell curve of service life, with a few samples showing significantly better or worse life. Bearing life varies because microscopic structure and contamination vary greatly even where macroscopically they seem identical.
Bearings are often specified to give an "L10" life (outside the USA, it may be referred to as "B10" life.) This is the life at which ten percent of the bearings in that application can be expected to have failed due to classical fatigue failure (and not any other mode of failure like lubrication starvation, wrong mounting etc.), or, alternatively, the life at which ninety percent will still be operating. The L10 life of the bearing is theoretical life and may not represent service life of the bearing. Bearings are also rated using C0 (static loading) value. This is the basic load rating as a reference, and not an actual load value.
For plain bearings, some materials give much longer life than others. Some of the John Harrison clocks still operate after hundreds of years because of the lignum vitae wood employed in their construction, whereas his metal clocks are seldom run due to potential wear.
Flexure bearings rely on elastic properties of material. Flexure bearings bend a piece of material repeatedly. Some materials fail after repeated bending, even at low loads, but careful material selection and bearing design can make flexure bearing life indefinite.
Although long bearing life is often desirable, it is sometimes not necessary. Harris 2001 describes a bearing for a rocket motor oxygen pump that gave several hours life, far in excess of the several tens of minutes life needed.
Depending on the customized specifications (backing material and PTFE compounds), composite bearings can operate up to 30 years without maintenance.
For bearings which are used in oscillating applications, customized approaches to calculate L10 are used.
The service life of the bearing is affected by many parameters that are not controlled by the bearing manufacturers. For example, bearing mounting, temperature, exposure to external environment, lubricant cleanliness and electrical currents through bearings etc. High frequency PWM inverters can induce currents in a bearing, which can be suppressed by use of ferrite chokes.
The temperature and terrain of the micro-surface will determine the amount of friction by the touching of solid parts.
Certain elements and fields reduce friction, while increasing speeds.
Strength and mobility help determine the amount of load the bearing type can carry.
Alignment factors can play a damaging role in wear and tear, yet overcome by computer aid signaling and non-rubbing bearing types, such as magnetic levitation or air field pressure.
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