The formation of white etching cracks (WECs) is a dominant failure mode in wind turbine gearbox bearings that can significantly shorten their operating life. Although the phenomenon of WECs has been communicated in the field for more than a decade, the driving mechanisms are still debated, and the impact of proposed mitigation techniques is not quantified. Leading hypotheses to inhibit the formation of WECs center on material solutions, including the use of steel with high levels of retained austenite (RA). The present work aims to explore the impact of RA on the formation of WECs within AISI 8620 steel under boundary lubrication. A three ring-on-roller benchtop test rig was used to replicate WECs in samples with different levels of RA. While varying levels of RA had a minimal effect on time until failure, a significant effect on crack morphology was observed. Additionally, potential underlying mechanisms of White Etching Area formation were elucidated. Under the current test conditions, the microstructural alterations adjacent to the cracks in the lower RA samples were more developed compared to those of the higher RA samples. Additionally, the WEC networks in the high RA samples contained significantly more crack branches than those of the low RA samples.
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