This is the final installment of a 5 part series on bearing trends.
By David R. Mikalonis
5. LUBRICANT ALTERNATIVES
Lubrication is critical to bearing and equipment performance, but issues have always persisted, whether involving how and when the lubricant is applied, proper amounts, potential degradation, and disposal, among others. Alternative lubricant solutions – when the application is appropriate – have emerged as viable substitutes for standard bearing greases or oils.
Example: Solid oil bearing technology is a good example of an unconventional but highly practical alternative. With this technology, bearings are filled at the factory with an oil-saturated polymer matrix to create a consistent lubricant supply able to withstand very cold temperatures, aggressive chemicals, contaminants, and high centrifugal forces. Relubrication of the bearing becomes unnecessary during the normal bearing lifecycle, because the polymer matrix contains two- to four-times more lubricating oil than standard grease-filled bearings. Suitable applications can range from food and beverage equipment to those where the accessibility to manually lubricate bearings is unsafe, impractical, and/or impossible.
One of the other key lubricant-oriented trends – encompassing other trends, too – is the introduction of pure refrigerant lubricated bearings pioneered for direct drive centrifugal compressors in chillers. These are unique, oil-free solutions using low-viscosity refrigerant as the bearing lubricant. By eliminating a need for oil lubrication, these bearings can reduce chiller energy use, simplify system design and maintenance requirements, and eliminate oil-related environmental issues in terms of storage, potential leakage, and disposal.
All these trends exemplify that the world of bearings is a forward-thinking world very much in play. Evolving knowledge and technologies will continue to help improve the performance and reliability of bearings and rotating equipment, minimize maintenance, boost productivity, and optimize overall operations across the board.