Excessive vibration will increase bearing noise and can drastically shorten the life of a bearing.

Bearing rings and balls are not perfectly round and the balls and raceways, even after extensive fine grinding and polishing, are not perfectly smooth. There are machining imperfections in the form of rough or uneven surfaces which will cause one ring to move or oscillate radially in relation to the other causing bearing vibration and noise.  The smoothness or quietness of a bearing can be checked by accelerometers which measure bearing vibration at the outer ring, usually with the inner ring rotating at 1800 rpm. To understand how bearing vibration is measured, it is important to understand how vibration works.

Ball bearing vibrationThe amount of oscillation in a vibrating object is called displacement. When a bearing outer ring vibrates, the outer surface will move upwards to the upper limit, then down to the lower limit and then back to the start point. The measurement between upper and lower limit is called peak to peak displacement. The whole oscillation movement from start point through upper and lower limits and back to start point is called a cycle. This vibration cycle will repeat as long as the bearing is rotating. We can also measure the number of these cycles in a given time. This gives us the frequency. Frequency is most commonly expressed as cycles per second (CPS) or Hertz (Hz) which is the same thing.

Vibration can increase the rate of fatigue and shorten bearing life. Displacement measurements do not tell us enough. Vibration in a bearing or a machine will usually occur at many different frequencies and they all contribute to fatigue so we need to take all of these frequencies of vibration into account in our measurements of vibration. We can achieve this by measuring vibration velocity.

Vibration velocity (displacement x frequency) gives us a good indication of the severity of the vibration. If a bearing component is moving a particular distance (displacement) at a particular rate (frequency) it must be moving at a certain speed. The higher the vibration velocity measurement, the noisier the bearing. Vibration velocity is measured on a  Bearing Vibration Tester in microns per second or an Anderon Meter in Anderons. One Anderon equals 7.5 microns per second. The readings are separated into three frequency bands: low (50 to 300 Hz); medium (300 to 1800 Hz) and high (1800 to 10000 Hz).  Although vibration velocity shows the fatigue potential, vibration force can cause deformation to balls and rings and can be very damaging at high frequencies where velocity readings may be quite low. For this reason we also measure vibration acceleration.

Vibration acceleration is an indication of vibratory force (force = mass x acceleration) and since force is damaging at higher frequencies, vibration acceleration is a useful measurement where a bearing will experience vibration frequencies above 2000 Hz. Vibration acceleration is measured in G (9.81 m/s²) but you will often see these measurements converted to decibels (dB).

A low noise/vibration rating is achieved by paying particular attention to the surface finish of the raceways and balls, the roundness of the rings and balls and correct cage design. Finely filtered low noise greases can also be used. These contain fewer, smaller solid particles which generate noise when they pass between the balls and raceway.

External factors such as surrounding vibration can affect bearing noise. Another problem, particularly with smaller and thin-section bearings, is ring distortion caused by poor shaft or housing roundness. Dirt or dust contamination will also increase noise and vibration levels. Poor fitting practice or incorrect handling is sometimes to blame, causing shock loads which, in turn, create scratches or dents in the raceway.

Our determination to remain specialised gives us a high level of product knowledge, providing bearing and lubrication solutions to existing or potential customers, whether individuals or large corporations. We don’t just sell bearings, we help to solve your problems. - Chris Johnson, managing director of SMB Bearings.