Investigation of Bearing Axial Cracking: Benchtop and Full-Scale Test Results

Jonathan Keller, Benjamin Gould, Aaron Greco

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


The most common failure mode in wind turbine gearboxes is axial cracking in intermediate and high-speed-stage bearings, also commonly called white-etching cracks (WECs). Although these types of cracks have been reported for over a decade, the conditions leading to WECs, the process by which this failure culminates, and the reasons for their apparent prevalence in wind turbine gearboxes are all highly debated. This paper summarizes the state of a multipronged research effort to examine the causes of WECs in wind turbine gearbox bearings. Recent efforts have recreated WECs on a benchtop test rig in highly loaded sliding conditions, wherein it was found that the formation of a dark etching microstructure precedes the formation of a crack, and a crack precedes the formation of white-etching microstructure. A cumulative frictional sliding energy criterion has been postulated to predict the presence of WECs. Bearing loads have also been measured and predicted in steady state and transient drivetrain operations in dynamometer testing. In addition, both loads and sliding at full scale will be measured in planned uptower drivetrain testing. If the cumulative frictional sliding energy is the dominant mechanism that causes WECs, understanding the amount of frictional sliding energy that wind turbine bearings are subjected to in typical operations is the next step in the investigation. If highly loaded sliding conditions are found uptower, similar to the examined benchtop levels, appropriate mitigation solutions can be examined, ranging from new bearing coatings and improved lubricants to changes in gearbox designs and turbine operations.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 2019

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5000-67523


  • bearing axial cracking
  • gearbox bearings
  • testing
  • WEC
  • white etching cracks
  • wind turbine


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