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Correct lubrication is critical to bearing performance. It provides a thin film between the contact areas in a bearing to reduce friction, dissipate heat and inhibit corrosion on balls and raceways. The lubricant will affect maximum running speed and temperature, torque level, noise level and, ultimately, bearing life.  There are a range of options depending on the application.


Mineral or synthetic based lubricants are the most commonly used and are designed for general and high speed use. Finely filtered versions are used for low noise applications.  There are versions that are water resistant, offer low or high temperature capabilities.
Silicon lubricants have wide temperature ranges and change viscosity less with temperature. They also have good water-resistance and are safe to use with most plastics.  They are not suitable for high loads and speeds.

Perfluorinated lubricants or PFPE lubricants are non-flammable, oxygen compatible and highly resistant to many chemicals. They do not react with plastics or elastomers.  Many have low vapour pressure and are suitable for vacuum or clean-room applications.  Some can also withstand temperatures of up to 300°C.
Dry lubricants are often specified where standard lubricants may cause contamination such as vacuum environments.  Dry coatings such as molybdenum disulphide or tungsten disulphide are often burnished on to the balls and raceways of bearings to give smooth operation and higher running speeds than unlubricated bearings.  These coatings are also resistant to water and dilute acids.
Dampening greases are widely used in automotive parts to prevents rattles and squeaks.  They are also used to give a “quality” feel to switches, slides, threads and gears.  They can be used in slow rotating bearings in, for example, potentiometers for the same reason.
Food grade lubricants are required for the food and beverage industries to conform with strict hygiene regulations. HI approved lubricants are required for bearings were there may be incidental contact with food and H2 approved greases are used where there is no contact.  These greases are also designed to be highly resistant to being washed out by cleaning processes.


Lubricant Viscosity

Low viscosity oils and greases are used where low lubricant resistance is required such as sensitive instruments. Higher viscosity lubricants may be specified for high load, high speed or vertical shaft applications. Low viscosity oils (or greases with low viscosity base oils) are preferred for high speed applications as they generate less heat. Although greases often provide much greater resistance than oils, many modern low torque greases can produce torque figures that are similar to some oils, particularly where a low grease fill is used.


Oils

Most oils maintain their consistency well over a wide temperature range and are easy to apply. For very low torque applications, a light instrument oil should be specified. Higher running speeds are possible with oil but, as it tends not to stay in place, continuous lubrication must be applied by oil jet, oil bath or oil mist unless speeds are low or rotation is for short periods. An oil-impregnated phenolic retainer or a synthetic retainer made from a material with a very low coefficient of friction such as Torlon do not need continuous external lubrication.  These types of retainer are often used in high speed, low torque dental bearings.


Greases

Greases are simply oils mixed with a thickener to so that they stay inside the bearing. Greases are generally more suitable for heavy loads and have the obvious advantage of giving constant lubrication over a long period without maintenance.


Surprisingly, too much grease can be bad for a bearing. A high grease fill will mean greater rolling resistance (higher torque) which may not be suitable for many applications but worse still is the risk of heat build-up. The free space inside a bearing is important in allowing the heat to radiate away from contact area between balls and raceway. As a result, too much grease can lead to premature failure unless speeds are low. The standard fill is 25% – 35% of the internal space but this may be varied if required. A smaller percentage may be specified for a high speed, low torque application while a much higher fill may be advisable for a low speed, high load application.


Grease Speed Rating

Greases have speed ratings sometimes called “DN” ratings. The calculation for the “DN” of an application is as follows:


Speed in rpm x (bearing ID + bearing OD) ÷ 2


Assume a bearing rotates at 20,000 rpm. The bearing ID is 8mm and the OD is 22mm. The above formula produces a DN of 300,000 so the grease should be rated above this figure. Many modern greases are suitable for high speeds with some rated at 1 million DN or more.

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We stock many lubricants but for more information on our standard oils and greases, please see our Lubricant Tables

Alternatively, go to the relevant manufacturer's website by clicking on one of the following links:


Anderol - Castrol - DowCorning/Xiameter - DuPont - Kluber - Kyodo Yushi - Mobil/Exxon - Rocol - Shell

Ball Bearing Lubricants