A lubricant-film monitoring system for a conventional deep groove ball bearing (type 6016, shaft diameter 80 mm, ball diameter 12.7 mm) is described. A high-firequency (50 MHz) ultrasonic transducer is mounted on the static outer raceway of the bearing. The transducer is focused on the ball-raceway interface and used to measure the reflection coefficient of the lubricant in the "contact" ellipse between bearing components. The reflection coefficient characterizes the lubricant film and can be used to calculate its thickness. An accurate triggering system enables multiple reflection measurements to be made as each lubricated contact moves past the measurement location. Experiments are described in which bearings were deliberately caused to fail by the addition of acetone, water and sand to the lubricant. The ultrasonic reflection coefficient was monitored as a function of time as the failure occurred. Also monitored were the more standard parameters, temperature and vibration. The results indicate that the ultrasonic measurements are able to detect the failures before seizure. It is also observed that, when us,ed in parallel, these monitoring techniques offer the potential to diagnose the failure mechanism and hence improve predictions of remaining life
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