Thrust Bearings Hydrodynamic or Fluid Film Lubrication

Thrust Bearings Hydrodynamic or Fluid Film Lubrication

In hydrodynamic lubrication, sometimes referred to as fluid film lubrication, the wearing surfaces are completely separated by a film of oil. This type of lubricating action is similar to a speedboat operating on water. When the boat is not moving, it rests on the supporting water surface. As the boat begins to move, it meets a certain amount of resistance or opposing force due to viscosity of the water. This causes the leading edge of the boat to lift slightly and allows a small amount of water to come between it and supporting water surface. As the boats velocity increases, the wedge-shaped water film increases in thickness until a constant velocity is attained. When the velocity is constant, water entering under the leading edge equals the amount passing outward from the trailing edge. For the boat to remain above the supporting surface there must be an upward pressure that equals the load.

The same principle can be applied to a sliding surface. Fluid film lubrication reduces friction between moving surfaces by substituting fluid friction for mechanical friction. To visualize the shearing effect taking place in the fluid film, imagine the film is composed of many layers similar to a deck of cards. The fluid layer in contact with the moving surface clings to that surface and both move at the same velocity. Similarly, the fluid layer in contact with the other surface is stationary. The layers in between move at velocities directly proportional to their distance from the moving surface. For example, at a distance of h from Surface 1, the velocity would be V. The force F required to move Surface 1 across Surface 2 is simply the force required to overcome the friction between the layers of fluid. This internal friction, or resistance to flow, is defined as the viscosity of the fluid. Viscosity will be discussed in more detail later.

The principle of hydrodynamic lubrication can also be applied to a more practical example related to thrust bearings used in the hydropower industry. Thrust bearing assembly is also known as tilting pad bearings. These bearings are designed to allow the pads to lift and tilt properly and provide sufficient area to lift the load of the generator. As the thrust runner moves over the thrust shoe, fluid adhering to the runner is drawn between the runner and the shoe causing the shoe to pivot, and forming a wedge of oil. As the speed of the runner increases, the pressure of the oil wedge increases and the runner is lifted as full fluid film lubrication takes place. In applications where the loads are very high, some thrust bearings have high pressure-pumps to provide the initial oil film. Once the unit reaches 100 percent speed, the pump is switched off.