Purdue University Graduate School
Lorenz_SJ_Thesis_vFINAL (REVISED 10-27-2023).pdf (12.29 MB)

Investigation of Microstructural Modifications on Rolling Contact Fatigue Performance of Aerospace Bearing Contacts

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posted on 2023-10-30, 15:57 authored by Steven J LorenzSteven J Lorenz

Rolling contact fatigue (RCF) is one of the leading causes of failure in critical tribological components such as rolling element bearings (REBs), gears, cam and followers, etc. This is especially paramount for advanced aerospace applications where REB components need to operate for billions of RCF cycles before routine maintenance or inspection is performed. The rolling motion between the rolling elements and raceway produces RCF, wherein a complex, non-proportional, alternating contract stress is applied over a small material volume. Moreover, the highly localized stress occurs on the same length scale as microstructural features such as carbides, inclusions, grain size, hardness gradients from carburization, surface roughness, thereby amplifying their effect on fatigue performance. Therefore, the objective of this dissertation is to investigate critical microstructural modifications and their effects on RCF performance via experiments and computational modeling.

Initially, an investigation was undertaken to investigate surface roughness effects on RCF. The surface roughness of various REBs was measured through optical surface profilometry and used to construct rough surface pressure distributions, which were then used in a continuum damage mechanics (CDM) finite element (FE) framework. The results demonstrated that life is reduced as lambda ratio decreases. It was also observed that a 2-parameter Weibull cumulative distribution function can describe the relationship between the near surface orthogonal shear stress concentration and ratio of surface failures.

Next, the enhancement to RCF life from grain size refinement of through hardened bearing steels was studied. To capture the effects of grain refinement, torsion stress-life data of various grain size were used in the RCF model. A predictive life equation for different grain sizes was constructed based on the exponential trend observed between grain size and life from the simulation data. The life equation was then used to calculate the quotient of RCF at two different grain sizes. This quotient was defined as the life improvement ratio and it was observed that this investigation’s ratios compared well with existing life improvement ratios from RCF experiments.

Hardness gradient is a common microstructural modification to improve RCF life of tribo-components. Variation of hardness gradients is prevalent in case hardened (i.e. case carburized) bearing materials. Therefore, the CDM-FE RCF model was modified to investigate the effects of various hardness gradient types and depths on fatigue life improvement. The simulation results enabled the identification of potentially optimal gradients aimed to mitigate manufacturing challenges and provided the foundation for the construction of a general fatigue life equation.

A fundamental study to understand the impact various common RCF failure criteria have on RCF life estimation was then conducted using computational modeling. To capture the variation of a material’s resistance to fatigue, the critical CDM damage parameters were assumed to follow a probabilistic distribution instead of a singular value. The CDM-FE model was modified to consider the shear reversal, the octahedral shear stress, the maximum shear stress, the Fatemi-Socie criteria, and the Dang Van multi-axial fatigue parameter as failure criteria. Simulation life results revealed that the CDM-FE model with shear reversal and Fatemi-Socie criteria best match empirical predictions from well-established RCF life theory. Notably, the Fatemi-Socie exhibited the best agreement over all operating conditions.

The next investigation focused on the cleanliness of aerospace-quality bearing steels. Torsion fatigue experiments established the stress-life (S-N) relation for three common aerospace quality bearing steels. The S-N data was later used to calibrate the RCF model’s damage equation, which considered the Fatemi-Socie criteria following conclusions from a previous investigation. Simulation results were observed to corroborate well with RCF experiments that were conducted for all three materials, while noting the simulations offered a significant time saving. As a result, a subsequent investigation focused on establishing the stress-life relationship for one of the aerospace quality bearing steels through a combined experimental and analytical approach. Good corroboration was observed between simulations and experiments at three contact pressures. This finding is particularly significant as it strengthens the reliability of computational RCF model as an efficient means to assess the RCF performance of bearing materials.

Furthermore, the detailed investigation on RCF performance of each critical microstructural modifications and their respective effect greatly improves the state-of-the-art. The findings emanating from the various investigations offer informed fatigue design recommendations that aid in the selection of rolling element bearings for critical tribological and aerospace applications.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Mechanical Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Farshid Sadeghi

Additional Committee Member 2

Marcial Gonzalez

Additional Committee Member 3

Ganesh Subbarayan

Additional Committee Member 4

Pablo Zavattieri

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