Article #7: Lubrication Practices: How Grease-Lubricated Bearings Function


A shielded, grease-lubricated ball bearing can be compared to a centrifugal pump having the ball and-cage assembly as its impeller and having the annulus between the stationary shield and the rotating inner race as the eye of the pump.


Shielded bearings are not sealed bearings. With the shielded type of bearing, grease may readily enter the bearing, but dirt is restricted by the close fitting shields. Bearings of the sealed design will not permit entry of new grease, whereas with shielded bearings grease will be drawn in as the bearing cage assembly rotates. The grease will then be discharged by centrifugal force into the ball track of the outer race.


If there is no shield on the backside of this bearing, the excess grease can escape into the inner bearing cap of the equipment bearing housing.


Single-shield bearings


Plants applying best-in-class-practices today consider the regular single shield bearing with the shield facing the grease supply (Figure 7-1) to be the best arrangement. Their experience indicates this simple arrangement will extend bearing life. It will also permit an extremely simple lubrication and relubrication technique if so installed.


This technique makes it unnecessary to know the volume of grease already in the bearing cartridge. The shield serves as a baffle against agitation. The shield-to-inner-race annulus serves as a metering device to control grease flow. These features prevent premature ball bearing failures caused by contaminated grease and heat buildup due to excess grease. Further, warehouse inventories of ball bearings can be reduced to one type of bearing for the great bulk of existing grease-lubricated ball bearing requirements. For other services, where an open bearing is a "must," as in some flush-through arrangements, the shield can be removed in the field.



Figure 7-1 Single-shielded equipment bearing, with the seal facing the grease cavity


Double-shielded bearings


Some manufacturers still subscribe to a different approach, having decided in favor of double-shielded bearings. These are usually arranged as shown in Figure 7-2. The housings serve as a lubricant reservoir and are filled with grease. By regulating the flow of grease into the bearing, the shields act to prevent excessive amounts from being forced into the bearing. A grease retainer labyrinth is designed to prevent grease from reaching the inner side of the bearing.




Figure 7-2 Double Shielded bearing with grease. Metering plate facing the grease reservoir


On equipment furnished with this bearing configuration and mounting arrangement, it is not necessary to pack the housing next to the bearing full of grease for proper bearing lubrication. However, packing with grease helps to prevent dirt and moisture from entering. Oil from this grease reservoir can and does, over a long period, enter the bearing to revitalize the grease within the shields. Grease in the housing outside the stationary shields is not agitated or churned by the rotation of the bearings and consequently, is less subject to oxidation.


Furthermore, if foreign matter is present, the fact that the grease in the chamber is not being churned reduces the probability of the debris contacting the rolling elements of the bearing.


On many pieces of equipment furnished with grease-lubricated double-shielded bearings, the bearing housings are not usually provided with a drain plug. When grease is added and the housing becomes filled, some grease will be forced into the bearing. At this point any surplus grease will be squeezed out along the close clearance between the shaft and the outer cap because the resistance of this path is less than the resistance presented by the bearing shields, metering plate, and the labyrinth seal.


Open bearings


High-load and/or high-speed bearings are often supplied without shields to allow cooler operating temperature and longer life. One such bearing is illustrated in Figure 7-3.




Figure 7-3 High load/ high speed bearings are often supplied without shield


If grease inlet and outlet ports are located on the same side, this bearing is commonly referred to as "conventionally grease lubricated." If grease inlet and outlet ports are located at opposite sides, we refer to "cross-flow lubrication." Figure 7-4 shows a cross-flow lubricated bearing.




Figure 7-4 Open bearing with cross flow grease lubrication


Lifetime lubricated, "sealed" bearings


Lubed for-life bearings incorporate close-fitting seals in place of, or in addition to shields. These bearings are customarily found on low horsepower equipment or on appliances, which operate intermittently.


Although a large petrochemical company in West Virginia has expressed satisfaction with sealed ball bearings in certain equipment applications as long as bearing operating temperatures remained below 150o C. (300o F) and speed factors DN (mm bearing bore times revolutions per minute) did not exceed 300,000. Close-fitting seals can cause frictional heat and that loose fitting seals cannot effectively exclude atmospheric air and moisture, which will cause grease deterioration.


Procedures for Re-Greasing Equipment Bearings


Rotating equipment bearings should be re-greased with grease, which is compatible with the original charge. It should be noted that the polyurea greases often used by the equipment manufacturers may be incompatible with lithium base greases.


Single-Shielded Bearings


To take advantage of single-shield arrangements, Phillips Petroleum developed three simple recommendations:


1. Install a single-shield ball bearing with the shield facing the grease supply on equipment having the grease fill and-drain ports on that same side of the bearing. Add a finger full of grease to the ball track of the backside of the bearing, during assembly.


2. After assembly, the balance of the initial lubrication of this single-shielded bearing should be done with the equipment idle. Remove the drain plug and pipe. With a grease gun or high volume grease pump, fill the grease reservoir until fresh grease emerges from the drain. The fill and drain plugs should then be reinstalled and the equipment is ready for service.


It is essential that this initial lubrication not be attempted while the equipment is running. It was observed that to do so would cause, by pumping action, a continuing flow of grease through the shield annulus until the overflow space in the inner cartridge cap is full. Grease will then flow down the shaft and into areas where it is not wanted. This will take place before the grease can emerge at the drain.


3. Relubrication may be done while the equipment is either running or

idle. (It should be limited in quantity to a volume approximating one-fourth the bearing bore volume.) Test results showed that fresh grease takes a wedge-like path straight through the old grease, around the shaft, and into the ball track. Thus, the overflow of grease into the inner reservoir space is quite small even after several relubrications. Potentially damaging grease is thus kept from the stator winding, in motors. Further, since the ball and cage assembly of this arrangement does not have to force its way through a solid fill of grease, bearing heating is kept to a minimum. In fact, it was observed that a maximum temperature rise of only 20 o F. occurred 20 minutes after the grease reservoir was filled. It returned to 5 o F rise two hours later. In contrast, the double-shield arrangement caused a temperature rise of over 100 o F (at 90 o F ambient temperature the resulting temperature was 190 o F.) and maintained this 100 o F rise for over a week.


Double-Shielded Bearings


1. Ball Bearings


  A. Pack (completely fill) the cavity adjacent to the bearing. Use necessary precautions to prevent contaminating this grease before equipment is assembled.

  B. After assembly, lubricate stationary equipment until a full ring of grease appears around the shaft at the relief opening in the bracket.


2.  Cylindrical Roller Bearings


  A. Hand pack bearing before assembly.

  B. Proceed as outlined in (1) and (2) for double shielded ball bearings.


If under-lubricated after installation, the double shielded bearing is thought to last longer than an open (non-shielded) bearing given the same treatment because of grease retained within the shields (plus grease remaining in the housing from its initial filling).


If over-greased after installation, the double-shielded bearing can be expected to operate satisfactorily without overheating. This will be as long as the excess grease is allowed to escape through the clearance between the shield and inner race, and the grease in the housing adjacent to the bearing is not churned, agitated and caused to overheat.


It is not necessary to disassemble equipment at the end of fixed periods to grease bearings. Bearing shields do not require replacement.


Double-shielded ball bearings should not be flushed for cleaning. If water and dirt are known to be present inside the shields of a bearing because of a flood or other circumstances, the bearing should be removed from service.


All leading ball-bearing manufacturers are providing reconditioning service at a nominal cost when bearings are returned to their factories. As an aside, reconditioned ball bearings are generally less prone to fail than are brand new bearings. This is because grinding marks and other asperities are now burnished to the point where smoother running and less heat generation are likely.


Open Bearings


Equipment with open, conventionally greased bearings is generally lubricated with slightly different procedures for drive-end and opposite end bearings.




Figure 7-5 Double-Shielded Bearings


1. Lubrication procedures for drive-end bearings


  A. Relubrication with the shaft stationary is recommended. If possible, the equipment should be warm.

  B. Remove plugs and replace with grease fitting.

  C. Remove large drain plug when furnished with the equipment.

  D. Using a low pressure, hand operated grease gun, pump in the recommended amount of grease, or use 1/4 of bore volume.

  E. If purging of system is desired, continue pumping until new grease appears either around the shaft or at the drain opening. Stop after new grease appears.

  F. On large equipment provisions have usually been made to remove the outer cap for inspection and cleaning. Remove both rows of cap bolts. Remove, inspect and clean cap. Replace cap, being careful to prevent dirt from getting into bearing cavity.

  G. After lubrication allow the equipment to run for fifteen minutes before replacing plugs.

  H. If the equipment has a special grease relief fitting, pump in the recommended volume of grease or until a one-inch long string of grease appears in any one of the relief holes. Replace plugs.

  I. Wipe away any excess grease which has appeared at the grease relief port.



2. Lubrication procedure for bearing opposite drive end


 If bearing hub is accessible, as in smaller equipment with large couplings or drip-proof equipment, follow the same procedure as for the drive end bearing. For fan-cooled equipment note the amount of grease used to lubricate shaft end bearing and use the same amount for commutator-end bearing.


Motor bearings with grease inlet and outlet ports on opposite sides, are called cross-flow lubricated. Regreasing is accomplished with the equipment running. The following procedure should be observed:


2.1. Start equipment and allow to operate until normal equipment temperature is obtained.


2.2 Inboard bearing (coupling end):


  A. Remove grease inlet plug or fitting.

  B. Remove outlet plug. Some equipment designs are equipped with excess grease cups located directly below the bearing. Remove the cups and clean out the old grease.

  C. Remove hardened grease from the inlet and outlet ports with a clean probe.

  D. Inspect the grease removed from the inlet port. If rust or other abrasives are observed, do not grease the bearing. Tag equipment for overhaul.

  E. Bearing housings with outlet ports: (1) insert probe in the outlet port to a depth equivalent to the bottom balls of the bearing; (2) replace grease fitting and add grease slowly with a hand gun. Count strokes of gun as grease is added; and (3) stop pumping when the probe in the outlet port begins to move. This indicates that the grease cavity is full.

  F. Bearing housings with excess grease cups: (1) replace grease fitting and add grease slowly with a handgun. Count strokes of gun as grease is added and (2) stop pumping when grease cavity is full.


3. Outboard bearing (fan end):


a. Follow inboard bearing procedure provided the outlet grease ports or excess grease cups are accessible,

b. If grease outlet port or excess cup is not accessible, add 2/3 of the amount of grease required for the inboard bearing.

c. Leave grease outlet ports open-do not replace the plugs. Excess grease will be expelled through the port.

d. If bearings are equipped with excess grease cups, replace the cups. Excess grease will expel into the cups.


Lev Nelik

Pumping Machinery, LLC




Some additional feedback from the professionals in the field:


Roy A. Forson, CLS
Maintenance Manager
Imerys Performance Minerals :


Type A: The proper bearing re-lubrication with a drain plug is:

  1. Check Temperature
  1. Wipe grease fitting
  1. Remove purge plug and clean out hard grease (unit must be down. If you cannot take the top cap off, then insert small spoon-type tool and feel for hard grease. If no hard grease is found, then continue below.
  1. Check seals for excessive grease (blown seals, cracked seals. These should be replaced)
  1. Pump new grease until new grease exits out of the purge plug drain.
  1. Run unit with purge plug removed for 10-30 minutes. (This will allow the grease to equalize)
  1. Clean and replace the purge plug.


Type B: The proper bearing re-lubrication without a drain plug is:

  1. Check temperature
  1. Shut down & immediately remove grease fitting to allow the bearing to self-purge
  1. Clean and replace the fitting
  1. Pump a limited quantity of grease to avoid rupturing the grease seal
  1. Remove the fitting and allow for equalization
  1. Repeat until grease comes out
  1. Replace grease fitting

Type C: The proper bearing re-lubrication with a relief fitting is:

  1. Check temperature
  1. Clean fitting and pump grease until it relieves
  1. If it doesn't relieve, fitting may be plugged. Remove and replace
  1. Run and check for relief/temperature


Additional general considerations for re-lubrication of bearings other than electric motor bearings:


(Remember, if you are not going to use any calculation for re-greasing, then you are guessing)
1.        If unit is running, check temperature of all bearing surfaces. It is important to know if it's running hot.
2.        Using all safety precautions, locate grease fitting and clean the fitting of debris by wiping it off with a clean rag.
3.        Verify the type of grease in the grease gun - do not take for granted that what is marked on the pump is what's in the pump.
4.        Pump a little bit of grease out of the gun and wipe the end. This will remove any debris trapped in the nozzle
5.        Install the end of the grease nozzle onto the grease fitting and verify it is on properly
6.        Pump grease into the bearing based on the plant "grease amount" recommendations.

 Caution - if grease will not pump into the bearing, the grease fitting is probably bad (check valve probably stuck)
7.        Observe the seal of the bearing and be sure not to over-grease. Over-greasing will cause the seal to open, consequently breaking the seal.
8.        After greasing, listen for any unusual sounds.

There are more technical instructions for the serious user like calculating re-lubrication amounts based on bearings size, re-greasing frequencies based on bearing size, speed, conditions, etc.

Know the thickener type. If grease tube mentions polymers  - these are additives that can improve things like increase base oil viscosity and increase adhesiveness and really have little to do with compatibility. The thickener type is most important. Some thickeners are not compatible with others. For example, aluminum is not compatible with lithium, polyurea is not compatible with most thickeners, barium, clay, calcium thickeners are not compatible with other types. Some of the complex mixes are compatible, but you really have to know what it is your are commingling. My advice is to conduct a compatibility test in a lab. Also, when mixing two incompatible thickeners, you may get one of two typical reactions - a soft and soupy solution where the grease does not stay put, or you can get a rock hard material in the bearing housing. This occurs when the oil leeches from the grease and all that remains is the thickener.

Additionally, remember grease is comprised of three components - base oil, thickener, and additives. 85% of the three components is oil so it's important to know what type of oil is being used, mainly synthetic.

Sorry to be long winded, but most places I use to go to have no idea of the differences in greases. In many cases, a salesman will try to sell you something and tell you it's compatible, but he really may not know.

Roy A. Forson, CLS
Maintenance Manager
Imerys Performance Minerals


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