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SPRING-SUPPORTED THRUST BEARINGS USED IN

HYDROELECTRIC GENERATORS: FURTHER


DEVELOPMENTS IN THE FINITE ELEMENT ANALYSIS
OF THE PAD DEFLECTION
A. L. BROWN, J. B. MEDLEY
University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave., Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, CANADA; e-mail: al2brown@uwaterloo.ca

J. H. FERGUSON
GE Hydro, 107 Park St. N., Peterborough, Ontario, K9J 7B5, CANADA; e-mail: james.ferguson@ps.ge.com

SUMMARY
The bearing analysis software, recently developed to predict the performance of large spring-supported thrust bearings
operating under isothermal hybrid lubrication conditions, couples finite element analysis (FEA) for pad deflections with
the finite difference (FD) solution of the lubricant flow in an iterative procedure. The present study establishes optimal
FEA model parameters that ensure an accurate "mesh independent" solution without excessive computational effort. The
influence of the spring arrangement and oil properties demonstrates the necessity of their consideration in design. This
study helps to clarify appropriate modelling and design techniques so that in the future, the developed software can be
extended to include thermal deflections with the eventual goal to incorporate it into an existing comprehensive software
package to obtain solutions for the full thermohydrodynamic lubrication regime.

Keywords: spring-supported thrust bearing, thrust pad deflection, finite element analysis, hydrostatic lubrication,
hydrodynamic lubrication

1 INTRODUCTION to investigating the influence of the FEA model


parameters and certain bearing design specifications.
Spring-supported thrust bearings have been used
Full details on the comparison between analytical
successfully in hydroelectric generators for many years
predictions and the experimental data are presented in
but theoretical predictions of bearing performance have
Brown [4] and Brown et al [5].
been sparse in the academic literature. Vohr [1] made
the first attempt to predict bearing operating
2 GEOMETRY AND OPERATING
temperatures by coupling the lubrication, energy, and
pad elasticity equations in an iterative, numerical
CONDITIONS
analysis. Ettles [2] refined this approach that used the Thrust bearings manufactured by GE Hydro have a
finite difference (FD) method exclusively to solve the number of stationary pads separated by constant width
governing equations by including a thorough treatment grooves that are supported by, but not attached to, a
of the thermohydrodynamic lubricant flow with elastic tight packing of high stiffness springs. Once the load
pad defections. However, many recent advances in applied to a spring exceeds an initial preload, the spring
numerical techniques suggest that using the alternative deflection is linear. Hydrostatic lubrication is achieved
method of finite element analysis (FEA) to solve the pad by activating a high-pressure lift system, which injects
elasticity equations could increase modelling precision oil between the bearing surfaces through a supply pocket
and give more geometric flexibility. to ensure the development of the oil film at low speeds.
Hydrodynamic action is also present at low rotor speeds
The bearing analysis software recently developed by
due to the entraining motion of the rotor.
Brown et al [3] coupled a commercial FEA software
program to solve for pad deflections with the FD A test bearing, for which limited experimental data was
solution for the pressure distribution of the lubricant available from the GE test facility [6], was used to
film in an iterative procedure. The software included investigate the influence of the various aspects of the
modelling of hydrostatic and hydrodynamic (or hybrid) FEA model in this study. The test bearing was run at
lubrication while assuming isothermal, steady-state low rotor speeds with the oil injection system activated,
operating conditions. Hence, it was not necessary to thus achieving hybrid lubrication. The test bearing size
solve the energy equation. The eventual goal was to was on the low end of those used in hydroelectric
extend the developed software to include thermal generators (Table 1). The operating conditions permitted
deflections and then to incorporate it as an option for the the assumption of isothermal conditions, as well as
comprehensive software package of Ettles [2] to achieve laminar flow in the oil film. Thus, the temperature of the
a full thermohydrodynamic lubrication solution with a bearing and surrounding oil flows were assumed to be
somewhat more refined deflection model. equal to the temperature measured at one point in the
pad, TP. Pressures and film thickness values were
Although comparison of the numerical predictions of the
obtained using the developed software for an applied
developed software and limited experimental data is
load of 181.1 kN (a specific load of 4 MPa).
important [4], the focus of the present study is restricted
Outer radius [m] 0.5840 was investigated to determine the resolution necessary
Inner radius [m] 0.3555 for a "mesh independent" solution.
Angular extent of pad [º] 23.6
Rotational speed [rpm] 15 3.1.1 Number of Elements Through the Pad
Surface velocity at outer radius [m/s] 0.9173 Thickness
Specific load [MPa] 4 FEA meshes were created with 1, 2, and 4 elements
Pad temperature, Tp 56°C through the pad thickness for a spring radius of 20 mm.
Number of pads 12 There was no significant difference between the
Supply pocket flowrate [m3/s] 1.0515 x 10-5 predicted film thickness profiles (Figure 2) or the
Number of springs 12 predicted supply pressures (Table 2) of the three
Table 1: Geometry and operating conditions of the meshes. The numerical analysis did predict some local
bearing considered. fluctuations in the film thickness profile for the model
with only one element through the thickness. This was
3 MODELLING INVESTIGATIONS most likely caused by the poor aspect ratio of some
The test bearing was modelled by generating an FEA elements near the springs. These local fluctuations
mesh of the pad that conformed very closely to the disappeared when at least two elements were used
actual spring geometry (Figure 1). Each of the 12 through the pad thickness. However, using four elements
springs was represented in the FEA model by a circle of through the pad thickness was not justified, especially
spring elements. These spring elements were attached to since the greater number of elements more than doubled
nodes and applied nodal forces to the back face of the the analysis time (Table 2).
pad, representing the contact stress between the pad and 60

Film Thickness [µm]


the spring assembly. The pad was constrained from z=4
50
motion by fixing the deflections in the x and y directions z=2
at point A and in the x direction at point B. The supply 40 z=1
pocket of the high-pressure lift system (Figure 1) was 30
not included in the FEA model.
20

10

0
0 5 10 15 20
LE θ [ο ] TE
Figure 2: Influence of the number of elements through
the pad thickness on the film thickness profile.

Elements Psup hmin hmax Analysis


through [MPa] [µm] [µm] Time
Thickness [h:m]
Figure 1: A sample FEA model with spring radius of 1 8.88 4.02 68.3 5:47
20 mm and two elements through the pad thickness. 2 8.88 3.77 68.3 6:55
4 8.88 3.79 68.3 12:47
The graphical representations of the numerical results
consisted of film thickness values along the Table 2: Results for models with varying numbers of
circumference of the pad at a radius of 0.5613 m. This elements through the pad thickness.
location was chosen to correspond with the path of a
proximity probe used to measure film thickness values 3.1.2 Number of Elements in the Horizontal Plane
for the experiments previously conducted with this Increasing the number of elements in the horizontal
bearing [6]. plane also increased the number of spring elements
The importance of the level of geometric detail to the representing each spring assembly. Three meshes were
accuracy of the solution was examined. The accuracy of created with varying numbers of elements in the
an FEA model could also depend very much on the horizontal plane with two elements through the thickness
number and order of elements used. This issue and and a spring radius of 12.5 mm. However, the
others were investigated to determine the appropriate differences in predicted film thickness profiles could not
number and order of elements to achieve good accuracy be distinguished on a graphical representation.
with acceptable computational effort. Furthermore, the minimum and maximum film thickness
values and the supply pressures were very similar
3.1 Mesh Resolution (Table 3). Thus, the minimum number of elements
required to model the spring assemblies with circles of
The number of elements through the pad thickness as
spring elements was sufficient to ensure a mesh
well as the number of elements in the horizontal plane
independent solution.
Number of Psup hmin hmax Decreasing the spring radius moved the supporting
In-Plane [MPa] [µm] [µm] spring elements further from the edges of the pad,
Elements allowing slightly more bending at the leading and
533 9.11 4.24 70.2 trailing edge (Figure 4). Thus, the minimum and
716 9.13 4.54 70.1 maximum film thickness values were greatest for the
1673 9.15 4.54 69.9 smallest radius of 6.25 mm (Table 5). The smaller radius
also gave a higher supply pressure, most likely because
Table 3: Results showing the influence of the mesh the support was concentrated towards the centre of the
resolution in the horizontal plane. pad.
60
3.2 Element Type

Film Thickness [µm]


r = 22
The FEA software included the option of using second 50
r = 12.5
order 20-node brick elements rather than the linear 8- 40 r = 6.25
node brick elements. The influence of the higher order
30
element was investigated with an FEA mesh consisting
of one element through the pad thickness and a spring 20
radius of 12.5 mm. The film thickness profiles were very
10
similar, although the 20-node elements did eliminate the
local fluctuations seen in the 8-node element model 0
(Figure 3). This outcome was similar to adding a second 0 5 10 15 20
layer of elements through the pad thickness (Figure 2). LE θ [ο ] TE
However, the 20-node elements required many Figure 4: Influence of the spring radius.
additional nodes, which greatly increased the analysis
time (Table 4). Thus, the use of higher order elements
was not justified. Spring Radius Psup hmin hmax
60
[mm] [MPa] [µm] [µm]
Film Thickness [µm]

8-node elements 20.0 8.88 3.77 68.3


50 12.5 9.13 4.54 70.1
20-node elements
40 6.25 9.26 4.70 70.9
30 Table 5: Results showing the influence of the spring
radius.
20

10 3.4 Modelling the Babbitt Layer


0 Since the Babbitt layer (E = 29 GPa) is more compliant
0 5 10 15 20 and thinner than the steel substrate (E = 207 GPa), it
LE θ [ ο] TE was not considered necessary to include it in the
deflection model. The validity of this assumption was
Figure 3: Influence of the element type. explored by including the Babbitt layer in an FEA mesh
with 8-node elements, two elements through the pad
Nodes per Psup hmin hmax Number Analysis thickness, and a spring radius of 20 mm. Nevetheless,
Element [MPa] [µm] [µm] of Nodes Time the results were nearly identical regardless of whether or
[h:m] not the Babbitt was modelled, thus substantiating the
8 9.12 70.2 4.59 1630 5:23 assumption (Table 6).
20 9.18 69.8 4.76 5325 12:43
Table 4: Results showing the influence of element type. Babbitt Psup hmin hmax
Modelled? [MPa] [µm] [µm]
3.3 Spring Radius No 9.03 68.3 3.77
Yes 9.09 68.0 3.78
The influence of the radius of the circle of spring
elements representing each spring assembly was Table 6: Results showing the influence of including the
explored by using radii of 20 mm, 12.5 mm, and 6.25 Babbitt layer in the FEA mesh.
mm. While it was thought that the 20 mm radius was the
most realistic representation of the contact between
4 DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS
spring assembly and pad, previous researchers have The affects of changing the spring arrangement and the
represented each spring assembly with only four spring oil viscosity are presented since they were found to have
elements positioned at the nearest nodes [2]. By great influence on thrust bearing performance.
changing the spring radius in this investigation, the level
of detail required for accurate results could be observed. 4.1 Spring Arrangement
The FEA meshes were created with 8-node elements and Ettles [2] suggested that the arrangement of springs
two elements through the pad thickness to optimize the supporting the pad could significantly affect bearing
analysis time and avoid local deflection fluctuations. performance. The extent of this influence was explored
by adding a spring towards the outside radius of the TP Oil Viscosity Psup hmin hmax
leading edge of the test bearing model. The resulting [oC] [Pa.s] [MPa] [µm] [µm]
film thickness profile was much different than that of the 56 0.0149 8.88 68.3 3.77
12-spring model (Figure 5). The additional spring did 50 0.0182 8.91 72.4 4.39
not permit as much bending at the leading edge. This
made the film more uniform and increased the supply Table 8: Results showing the influence of changing the
pressure (Table 7). Interestingly, the minimum film oil viscosity.
thickness values were located at the inside radius of the 5 CONCLUSIONS
trailing edge in both cases.
Some optimization of modelling parameters for the
60
bearing analysis software has been performed. At least
Film Thickness [µm]

12 springs two elements through the pad thickness should be used


50
13 springs to avoid poorly shaped elements. Sufficient accuracy
40 was obtained when 8-node elements and the minimum
number of elements possible for the method of
30
modelling the springs with circles of spring elements
20 were used. The radius of these circles was not highly
influential and the Babbitt layer does not need to be
10
modelled. These results provide guidelines for the FEA
0 models of bearings analyzed by the developed software.
0 5 10 15 20
The investigations also show that the spring arrangement
LE θ [ο] TE
and the oil viscosity have significant affects on the film
Figure 5: Influence of spring arrangement. thickness distributions. Therefore, bearing design
parameters should be chosen carefully.
Number of Psup hmin hmax 6 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Springs [MPa] [µm] [µm]
This research was funded by NSERC, Materials and
12 9.03 3.77 68.3
Manufacturing Ontario (MMO), and GE Hydro,
13 9.67 5.94 53.2
Peterborough, Ontario.
Table 7: Results showing the influence of changing the
spring arrangement. 7 REFERENCES
[1] Vohr, J. H. (1981) Prediction of the operating
4.2 Oil Viscosity temperature of thrust bearings. ASME J. Lub. Tech.,
103, 97-106.
The chosen value of the pad temperature, TP, [2] Ettles, C. M. (1991) Some factors affecting the
determined the oil viscosity. Lowering the temperature design of spring- supported thrust bearings in
by only 6oC at TP = 56 oC increased the oil viscosity by hydroelectric generators. ASME J. of Trib., 113, 626-
22%. Although the supply pressure was unaffected, as 632.
would be expected (Table 8), this change in viscosity [3] Brown, A., Medley, J. B. and Ferguson, J. H.
increased the film thickness values by 3-4 µm (2001) Spring-supported thrust bearings used in
(Figure 6). The deflected pad shape was also slightly hydroelectric generators: finite element analysis of pad
altered. deflection. Tribology Series 37, Elsevier Science, in
press.
60
Film Thickness [µm]

50C [4] Brown, A. L. (2001) Hydrostatic and


50
56C hydrodynamic lubrication analysis of large spring-
40
supported thrust bearings with finite element analysis of
pad deflection. MASc Thesis, University of Waterloo,
30 Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
20 [5] Brown, A., Medley, J. B. and Ferguson, J.H.
(2001) Spring-supported thrust bearings used in
10
hydroelectric generators: comparison of experimental
0 data with numerical predictions including finite element
0 5 10 15 20 analysis of pad deflection. ASME J. of Trib. To be
LE θ [ο] TE submitted.
[6] Yuan, J. H., Medley, J. B. and Ferguson, J.H.
Figure 6: Influence of oil viscosity on the film thickness.
(1999) Spring-supported thrust bearings used in
hydroelectric generators: laboratory test facility. STLE
Trib. Trans., 42, 1, 126-135.