How to make bearing pivots maintenance-free

A tractor pulling harvesting equipment

There are a lot of factors to consider when designing a bearing pivot, including lifetime, machine purpose, loading capabilities, and environment, just to name a few. However, the most crucial element is knowing how corrosion, the number one cause of pivot failure, affects the housing, shaft and bushing. Understanding this will help you achieve a successful, maintenance-free pivot design.

Protect your bearing pivots against corrosion

a corroded bearing point on agricultural machinery

When using a metal bushing, you must use grease in order to keep the bearing pivot moving freely, and by doing this you are also protecting the shaft and housing from corrosion. However, there are downsides to this method. Dirt that is present in the environment sticks to the grease like a magnet, and since most end users don’t perform maintenance on their units as much as they should, the joint will most likely run on “dirty” grease (pictured left). A joint running in that condition is problematic since it causes excess wear on the shaft and bushing, eventually resulting in a premature failure of the joint.   

Designing a maintenance-free bearing pivot

The first step is to think about how you will protect the housing (pictured below, right) and shaft (pictured below, left) from corrosion.

a corroded metal plain bearing

One way is to apply a coating to the housing prior to bushing installation. Tests have shown that synthetic wax-based coatings – which go on like paint and dry so there is no liquid for dirt to stick to – work best for outdoor environments. If you need help researching and choosing the best coating for your housing, contact an igus® expert here.

You can also use coatings on the shaft, the most common being zinc, chrome and nickel. However, these coatings are only effective until they are worn off by the bushing. Once the coatings wear off, the bare alloy is exposed to environmental elements, causing corrosion, degradation to the surface finish, and premature bushing wear. 

Corroded shafting and bearing point in agricultural machinery

The better option would be to choose a shaft that has been treated with a process that transforms the outer layer into a hardened, corrosion-free surface, such as GKF shafting from igus®.

Finally, consider using dry-running engineered composite plastic bushings instead of metal ones. Plastic bushings don’t require any external lubrication, making them less likely to fail due to dirt, and can handle impact loads better than metal bushings. Plastic bushings are easier to install too since they don’t require as precise housing tolerances.

For more information on designing a maintenance-free bearing pivot, check out this in-depth tech talk.