The use of composite bearings in the many fields of engineering can offer designers and engineers significant advantages over conventional bearing materials.
The ability to offer maintenance free bearing solutions or reduced maintenance intervals can give savings in both costs and expensive down time of equipment.
The ability to be installed and work directly in conditions that would normally require sealing system and lubrication for conventional metal bearing material makes them a very desirable bearing solution. In sensitive areas of marine, hydro power, water supply or food processing, this environmentally friendly solution has many benefits and the potential of significant cost saving opportunities.
One of the significant growth areas for the use of composites is in the offshore industries, a move towards light weighting of topside equipment has seen composites become common place.
Bearing applications in this market sector have also significantly taken the place of conventional materials.
The big advantage is the maintenance free, fit and forget capability of these composite bearing solutions. Maintenance doesn’t happen most of the time; the environment can be very aggressive so the ability to perform straight out of the box is very beneficial.
Many benefits can be gained in rotating mass equipment the low density of the material at 1.35 grams/cc, and a high strength to weight ration can offer considerable weight saving opportunities.
Applications below the waterline need no sealing or lubrication provision, the selection of the correct material for the bearing counter-face will give long term bearing performance, it’s an excellent insulator and prevents the potential of bi- metallic corrosion.
We can paint a glowing picture for the use of composite bearings but we must be realistic, although they can offer many advantages it can’t do everything.
There are limitations to its capability, it’s important to recognise what those limitations are. We need to ensure that all the details and dynamics of the application are carefully considered, it’s important to understand by comparison to metal bearings, our materials have much higher levels of thermal expansion and much lower thermal conductivity and considerably different modulus values.
Unlike metal bearings with a single Young’s modulus our composite materials are anisotropic and require different design criteria.
It’s most important to understand that metal bearing tolerances and fits do not work for our composite bearings due to that significant difference in modulus.
With the correct design criteria applied a certain amount of compensation for these characteristics can be accommodated and a changeover to composite bearings can in most cases be achieved.
The real Achilles heel is elevated temperatures and most bearing failures can be attributed to not recognising the compensation for loss of performance attributed to this fact, or its inability to tolerate the thermal excursions that many metal bearings can work under.
However in the final reckoning our Tufcot bearing materials have found hundreds if not thousands of very successful applications around the world, but as a company we are investing in R & D projects to develop the next family of high performance Tufcot Composite bearing material for the next 37 years.