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INVESTIGATION OF ROLLING ELEMENT BEARING LUBRICATION AND FRICTION
Lubrication and friction of modern rolling element bearings were investigated to develop a physics-based bearing friction model. A test rig was designed and developed to measure the frictional torque of radially loaded rolling element bearings with oil bath lubrication. Deep groove ball bearings and radial needle roller bearings were studied at various loads, speeds and lubrication conditions. Experimental results indicate that bearing friction models currently used in industry can be inaccurate, especially when predicting bearing fluid drag losses. A separate test rig was designed and developed to investigate the lubrication and friction of rolling element bearing cage pockets, as new cage pocket designs could improve bearing efficiency. Cage pocket oil starvation was observed for certain operating conditions, and the starvation was found to correlate strongly with cage pocket friction. In order to better understand friction and lubrication characteristics of bearings, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models were developed to compare with the experimental results. Fluid motion inside the rolling element bearings was investigated using CFD to determine fluid drag torque of bearing components. Fluid drag torque obtained from CFD and experimental measurements are in good agreement. Results from the CFD models also included pressure distributions over bearing surfaces and fluid velocity near rolling elements, but were limited to global length scales. At the micro-scale, rolling element bearing lubrication and friction is dictated by elastohydrodynamic lubrication (EHL). The radial needle roller bearings and deep groove ball bearings used in this investigation are characterized by line and elliptical contacts, respectively. EHL modeling was therefore developed for line contacts with a strongly coupled fluid solid interaction (FSI) solver. Solid bodies were modeled with finite element (FE) software to incorporate inhomogeneities such as inclusions and surface features which affect EHL pressure, film thickness and friction. Results were used to investigate lubricant film thickness at lubricated line contacts under various operating conditions. This work was further extended to model EHL circular contacts with an FSI approach, combining CFD and FE software. The newly developed FSI EHL model provided critical insights regarding fluid behavior in and around EHL point contacts and fluid properties within the lubricant film. Given the modeling results at the micro and macro scale within the rolling element bearings, a better understanding of bearing friction and lubrication is developed, and supported by experimental data.