Nearly four decades of research in bearing steel metallurgy and processing has resulted in improvements in bearing life by a factor of 100 over that obtained in the early 1940s. For critical applications such as aircraft, these improvements have resulted in longer-lived, more reliable commercial aircraft engines. Material factors such as hardness, retained austenite, grain size and carbide size, number, and area can influence rolling-element fatigue life. Bearing steel processing such as double-vacuum melting can have a greater effect on bearing life than material chemistry. The selection and specification of a bearing steel is dependent on the integration of all these considerations into the bearing design and application. The paper reviews rolling-element fatigue data and analysis, which can enable the engineer or metallurgist to select a rolling-element bearing steel for critical applications where long life is required.
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