In elastohydrodynamic lubrication (EHL), an extreme smoothness of the contacting surfaces is essential for the formation of a thin lubricant film, which separates the moving surfaces from each other. Sharp asperities, in particular, are very detrimental for the sliding surfaces. Because of the limited thickness of the lubricating film, the contact zone is very vulnerable if the lubricant contains contaminants, especially if hard particles are present in the lubricant.
The present paper focuses on the acoustic emission (AE) measurement method for the monitoring of the lubrication situation in a grease lubricated rolling bearing. The aim of the investigation was to clarify how the contaminants in the grease influence the acoustic emission of the rolling bearing. In the paper, the results of tests with clean greases and with deliberately contaminated greases, and the influence of the cleaning and re-greasing of the bearing are discussed. The results showed that the AE measurement indicated very clearly the lowest contaminant concentration included in the study that was as low as 0.02 weight-%. Small size contaminant particles generated a higher AE pulse count level than large size particles. The AE time signal analysis method proved to be a suitable method to indicate the hardness of the contaminant particles. Cleaning the bearing of contaminants and re-greasing with a clean grease reduced the AE level of the bearing.