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Maintenance Minders

Bearing Failures
By Julia Postill, PE; Malcolm Leader, PE; and Ray Kelm, PE

New bearing system keeps circulating water pumps running in a

nuclear power plant.

fter 8 years of problem-free operation, a bearing fail- journal was umbrella-shaped and attached to the motors
ure forced an outage at a nuclear power plant. When shaft, with the lower half submerged in an oil bath sump.
two more bearing failures followed in the next three Two diametrical opposite holes at the bearing journals lower
months, the plant launched an analysis. half were aligned with the bearings bottom circumferential
he plant assembled a failure analysis team that included groove as pumping tubes for oil supply.
plant engineers, turbomachinery consultants, repair shops
and bearing manufacturers. Following a thorough investi- Computational Fluid Dynamics Analysis
gation that included computational modeling and rotordy- Using computational uid dynamics (CFD) software, the
namics analysis, the team found that temperature uctua- analysis team developed numerical models of the passages in
tions created clearance issues in the bearings, causing them the oil sump and bearing liner. he analysis examined several
to fail. In response, the team designed a new proled bear- conditions that could prohibit proper oil delivery, including
ing that was more tolerant of temperature-related clearance the pumping holes alignment with the distribution groove
changes and provided excellent support to the system. (the bottom circumferential groove), the sumps oil level and
the oil viscosity and temperature.
Pump Configuration One computational modela free-surface model of the
he plants generation station had eight vertical pumps that sump, rotating umbrella assembly and inlet to the pumping
circulated condenser water. A 28-pole, 2,500-horsepower tubeshelped shed light on the issue. he team developed
synchronous motor above each pump operated at 271 rpm. the model to determine the quality of the oil inlet condi-
Each generating unit included four pumps. he units could tions at the pumping tubes and to evaluate how the sumps
run at full capacity with three pumps, but capacity dropped oil height and sump oil temperatures aected oil ow.
by 10 percent when two pumps were out of service. he free-surface model showed that the pumping tubes
In each failure scenario, a lower motor guide journal had to be aligned with the lower circumferential bearing
bearing, located opposite the thrust end, failed after a sudden groove to make the pumps action ecient. Misalignment
drop in the ambient temperature. his bearing was 16 inches could reduce the volume of oil owing through the tubes by
in diameter and 3.4 inches long. Each bearing had a circular 10 to 15 percent, which could starve the bearings upper half
bore divided by six axial slots connecting two circumferential of oil, particularly if the viscosity was high. he team also
grooves at each end. he bearing was designed to run with found that variations in the oil sump level had not caused
tight clearances to minimize vibration. he lower bearing the failures. However, the model showed that the eects

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bearing failures cause was still unclear.
It appeared that the upper half of each
bearing, situated above the sump level,
was rubbing, which is why the team
had closely scrutinized the lubrication
method. he bearings clearance was
about half a mil per inch shaft, a tight
clearance used only in a vertical orien-
tation. In this orientation, the bearing
must produce enough support for the
rotor to withstand imbalance forces and
transient loads.
he bearings featured a plain, circu-
lar design that provided sucient direct
damping for the system. he team found
that the tighter the clearance, the more
direct damping the oil lm would pro-
duce. he tight clearance also produced
some direct stiness to help support the
system. Because the clearance was so
tight, however, any clearance reduction
caused by temperature changes could
cause the bearings to rub and ultimately
Bearing configuration fail.
of temperature on the oils viscosity could aect the system.
While the sump temperature never dropped below 50 F while Profiled Bearing Analysis
in operation, if an equipment operator started the motor after When creating a new bearing design, the teams goal was to
it sat idle in below-freezing temperatures, it would not have increase the bearings clearance and provide good lateral rotor
adequate lubrication. support. he team considered an oset taper pad arrangement,
he team then made a three-dimensional ow model of which provides a high level of support. hese motors must
the sump to examine its ow velocities and look for areas that transition from minus 250 rpm to plus 275 rpm at every start,
had entrained air or were oil-starved. he model included the though, so they needed a symmetric bearing prole design.
pumping tubes, bearing area and drain tubes, but excluded the he team proposed a new proled bearing design with
sumps free-surface model to make the numerical solution prac- preloaded pads. Proled bearings have pads with a radius of
tical. he model showed that entrained air made up less than curvature that is not concentric with the rotor journals geo-
3 percent of the sumps volume, that the bearing journals rota- metric center. he design creates preload from a converging and
tion caused the oil velocities in the grooves and that the sump diverging oil lm on the bearings surface to provide positive,
had good ow through the axial grooves and out the drains. hydrodynamic loading. As oil is forced into the converging sec-
tion, it creates a pressure buildup that provides the necessary
Plain Bearing Analysis stiness and damping. When the lm diverges toward the trail-
When the team performed its rotordynamics analysis, the ing edge, the reduction in pressure draws out the hot oil so that
fresh cool oil can enter and reduce the bearing temperature.

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Maintenance Minders

he proposed bearings diametrical center-of-pad

clearance ranges from 10 to 16 mils, while the dia-
metrical edge-of-pad clearance is 3 to 4 mils greater
than that.
Compared to the old design, the new bear-
ing has 158 times more direct stiness and pro-
duces more direct damping at speeds above 138
rpm, helping it control rotor motion more eec-
tively. he plain bearings damping was greater at
low speeds, which was a concern, since the motor
rose from minus 250 rpm to plus 257 rpm at each
start. To address the issue, the team recorded the
pump starting and used a special, high-speed sam-
pling routine to track the shafts centerline position
during the transition. he data showed that the new
bearing could control the transition adequately.
he team also conducted an unbalance
response analysis and found no resonances, regard-
less of the bearings design. he analysis showed
that the new design reduced the rotors amplitude
by 24 percent at operating speed.
CFD-calculated oil velocities
Finite Element Analysis
Even though the bearing design eliminated the explained the failures root cause fully. Why the bearings had
plants failure problems, the teams lubrication analysis had not only failed in the top half was still a mystery.

68 MAY 2012 www.pump-zone.com PUMPS & SYSTEMS

Many team members suspected that a drop in ambi- After the team concluded its analysis, the plant replaced
ent temperature had caused the motor frame to contract and its plain bearings with the new proled bearings in all eight
squeeze the bearing. pumps. Despite many plant exposures to low ambient tempera-
Since the top of the bearing is attached to the motor frame, tures, all the pumps continue to operate smoothly.
the frame would only pinch the top as it contracted. Using P&S
thermal data for one motor, the team found that the ambient
Julia Postill is a mechanical engineer at
temperature inuenced the bearings temperature. Specically,
Turbo Components and Engineering, a
for every 4 F change in the ambient temperature, the bearings
John Crane company and a registered pro-
temperature changed by 3 Fa change in line with other elec-
fessional engineer in the state of Texas.
tric motor bearings cooled by ambient air.
Postill can be reached at julia@tce1.com or
Once the ambient temperature reached 30 F, however, the
bearings temperature rose as the ambient temperature con-
tinued to drop. At a certain point, the bearings temperature
Malcolm Leader is a turbomachinery con-
would continue to rise as the ambient temperature stayed the
sultant and the owner of Applied Machinery
same. Once the ambient temperature reached 27 degrees, the
Dynamics in Durango, Colo., and a regis-
bearings failed. he data suggested that some mechanism in the
tered professional engineer in Texas.
bearing produced more heat in lower ambient temperatures.
While the thermal analysis was complex, the team gener-
Ray Kelm is the owner of Kelm Engineering,
ally found that as the ambient temperature decreased, the bear-
LLC, in Friendswood, Texas and a registered
ing needed a higher heat ux, causing the bearings temperature
professional engineer.
to rise.
he thermal distortion then caused the top of the bearing
John Crane is a provider of engineered products and services
to tilt inward. As the ambient temperature continued to drop,
for major process industries. For more information, visit
the clearance continued to decrease as well until the bearing

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PUMPS & SYSTEMS www.pump-zone.com MAY 2012 69