The lubricating life of a grease in rolling element bearings is limited by operation at high temperatures. The thermal and mechanical stresses imposed result in gross physical and chemical changes to the grease which contribute, eventually, to failure both of the lubricant and the bearing. The problem is very complex as both grease and bearing parameters contribute to failure and these are difficult to disentangle. Most of the research work in this area has been with bearing tests where samples of bulk grease have been removed for analysis after failure. Although this approach will yield results as to grease life and the condition of the grease at the end of the test it provides little insight into the fundamental mechanisms of failure. This paper approaches the problem from a simpler perspective. The aim is to develop experiments to artificially age greases under controlled conditions of thermal and mechanical stress, to characterize the changes that occur and to relate these changes to lubricating ability. This paper concentrates on thermal ageing: in future work mechanical working will also be studied. Thermal ageing tests have been carried out on simple lithium hydroxystearate greases and the resulting changes in their chemistry characterized by infrared spectroscopy. The lubricating performance of the aged greases has been assessed by measuring film thickness and oil release in a rolling contact under starved conditions. (Presented at the 53rd Annual Meeting In Detroit, Michigan May 17–21, 1998).
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