Analytical and experimental investigation of microstructural alterations in bearing steel in rolling contact fatigue

Sina Mobasher Moghaddam, Purdue University


Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF) is one the most common failure modes in bearings. RCF is usually associated with particular microstructural alterations. Such alterations (i.e. white etching cracks, butterflies, etc.) which lead to RCF failure are known to be among the most concerning matters to bearing industry. In the current work, an analytical as well as experimental approaches are used to investigate “butterfly wing” formation, crack initiation and propagation from inclusions. A new damage evolution equation coupled with a FE model is employed to account for the effect of mean stresses and alternating stresses simultaneously to investigate butterfly formation. The proposed damage evolution law matches experimentally observed butterfly orientation, shape, and size successfully. The model is used to obtain S-N results for butterfly formation at different Hertzian load levels. The results corroborate well with the experimental data available in the open literature. The model is used to predict debonding at the inclusion/matrix interface and the most vulnerable regions for crack initiation on butterfly/matrix interface. A new variable called butterfly formation index (BFI) is introduced to manifest the dependence of wing formation on depth. The value of critical damage inside the butterfly wings was obtained experimentally and was then used to simulate damage evolution. Voronoi tessellation was used to develop the FEM domains to capture the effect of microstructural randomness on butterfly wing formation, crack initiation and propagation. Then, the effects of different inclusion characteristics such as size, depth, and stiffness on RCF life are studied. The results show that stiffness of an inclusion and its location has a significant effect on the RCF life: stiffer inclusions and inclusions located at the depth of maximum shear stress reversal are more detrimental to the RCF life. Stress concentrations are not significantly affected by inclusion size for the cases investigated; however, a stereology study showed that larger inclusions have a higher chance to be located at the critical depth and cause failure. Crack maps were recorded and compared to spall geometries observed experimentally. The results show that crack initiation locations and final spall shapes are similar to what has been observed in failed bearings.




Sadeghi, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Mechanical engineering|Materials science

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