Rolling contact fatigue of ceramics
Ceramic/ceramic and ceramic/steel contacts under lubricated rolling conditions are studied. This work is of interest to ball bearing manufacturers as the use of ceramics in the design of these components has some advantages over traditional bearing-steel materials. Low density and increased stiffness are the mechanical properties which gas-turbine and machine tool manufacturers are most likely to realise. Much research over the past two decades on material structure, quality control and manufacturing techniques has produced a material which can seriously challenge bearing steel in ball-bearing design. This is especially the case for hybrid ball-bearings, ie ceramic balls with steel bearing races which are now used as standard components. The purpose of this study is to examine the rolling contact fatigue failure modes of ceramics. This study concentrates on silicon nitride as this material has most potential for use by industry. The primary reason for studying ceramic balls is because of interest in ball-bearing applications, hence a modified four-ball machine is employed which correctly models ball motions and precisely defines ball load. Experimental and theoretical kinematic analysis of ball motion during modified four ball machine tests is presented. The kinematic analysis reveals that in practice, lower ball tracking exists at high speeds. Test conditions of lubricated contacts under high compressive stress show delamination type failures. Delamination failures are classified in terms of propagation and initiation from scanning electron microscope observations. Residual stresses are measured on delaminated surfaces, which implies plastic deformation of the ceramic. Also, chemical analysis implies that disruption of silicon, nitrogen and oxygen levels may take place on delaminated surfaces. Experiments illustrating various fatigue failure modes using artificially pre-cracked ceramic balls in contact with a steel upper ball are presented.