Tilting Pad Thrust Bearings

Heinz P. Bloch

Tilting pad thrust bearings are designed to transfer high axial loads from rotating shafts with minimum power loss, while simplifying installation and maintenance. The shaft diameters for which the bearings are designed range from 20 mm to more than 1,000 mm. The maximum loads for the various bearing types range from 0.5 to 500 tons. Bearings of larger size and load capacity are considered nonstandard but can be made to special order.

Each bearing consists of a series of pads supported in a carrier ring; each pad is free to tilt so that it creates a self-sustaining hydrodynamic film. The carrier ring may be in one piece or in halves with various location arrangements.

Multiple Options

Two options exist for lubrication. The first is to fully flood the bearing housing. The second, which is more suitable for higher speed applications, directs oil to the thrust face. This oil is then allowed to drain freely from the bearing housing.

Similarly, two geometric options exist. The first option does not use equalizing or leveling links (Figure 1). This option is used in many gear units and other shaft systems where perpendicularity between shaft centerline and bearing faces is assured.

Figure 1. Flooded Lubrication:
Typical Double-thrust Arrangement

Bearings for both flooded and directed lubrication are intended for machines where an equalized thrust bearing is specified by API requirements, or where the bearing may be required for other reasons.

Flooded vs. Directed Lubrication

The conventional method of lubricating tilting pad thrust bearings is to flood the housing with oil, using an orifice on the outlet to regulate the flow and maintain pressure. A housing pressure of 0.7 to 1.0 bar (10.1 to 14.5 PSI) is typical, and to minimize leakage, seal rings are required where the shaft passes through the housing.

Although flooded lubrication is simple, it results in high parasitic power loss due to turbulence at high speed. Where mean sliding speeds in excess of 50 meters per second (m/s) are expected, these losses may be largely eliminated by employing the system of directed lubrication. As well as reducing power loss by typically 50 percent, directed lubrication reduces the bearing temperature, and in most cases, oil flow.

Some typical double-thrust bearing arrangements using directed lubrication are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Directed Lubrication: Typical Double-thrust
Arrangements Designed to Prevent Bulk
Oil from Contacting the Collar

It should be noted that:

  • Directed and flooded bearings have the same basic sizes and use identical thrust pads.

  • Preferred oil supply pressure for directed lubrication is 1.4 bar (20.3 PSI).

  • Oil velocity in the supply passages should not exceed three meters per second (m/s) to ensure full pressure at the bearing.

  • The bearing housing must be kept free of bulk oil through an ample drain area around the collar periphery.

  • No seal rings are required on the shaft.

Manufacturers offer a variety of pad materials. Some polymeric materials are capable of operating at temperatures up to 120°C (248°F) higher than conventional white metal or babbitt. Also, pad pivot position can have an effect on thrust pad temperature.

All pads can be supplied with offset pivots, but center-pivoted pads are preferred for bidirectional running, foolproof assembly and minimum stocks. At moderate speeds, the pivot position does not affect load capacity; however, where mean sliding speeds exceed 70 m/s, offset pivots can reduce bearing surface temperatures and thus increase load capacity under running conditions.

Thrust bearings can be fitted with temperature sensors, proximity probes and load cells.

In hydraulic thrust metering systems, a hydraulic piston is located behind each thrust pad and is connected to a high-pressure oil supply. The pressure in the system then gives a measure of the applied thrust load. Figure 3 shows a typical installation of this system complete with control panel, which incorporates the high-pressure oil pump and system pressure gauge calibrated to read thrust load.

Figure 3. Hydraulic Thrust Metering

For systems incorporating load cells or hydraulic pistons, it is typically necessary to increase the overall axial thickness of the thrust ring.

Finally, thrust bearings incorporate hydraulic jacking provisions. These provisions ensure that an appropriate oil film exists between thrust runner and bearing pads while operating at low speeds.

At startup, the load-carrying capacity of tilting pad thrust bearings is restricted to approximately 60 percent of the maximum permissible operating load. If the startup load on a bearing exceeds this figure and a larger bearing is not an option, the manufacturer can supply thrust bearings fitted with a hydrostatic jacking system to allow the bearing to operate with heavy loads at low speeds. This system introduces oil at high pressure (typically 100 to 150 bar (1,450 to 2,175 PSI) between the bearing surfaces to form a hydrostatic oil film.

It should be noted that a similar approach is taken when making hydraulic jacking provisions for radial bearings. A hybrid thrust bearing is offered by Kingsbury and Colherne Company (based in the United Kingdom) under the name KingCole.

The bearing housing requirements for the KingCole LEG bearing are similar to those of standard thrust bearings. Oil seals at the back of the carrier rings are not required because the inlet oil is confined to passages within the base ring assembly. Fresh oil enters the bearing through an annulus located at the bottom of the base ring. The discharge space should be large enough to minimize contact between the discharged oil and the rotating collar. The discharge oil outlet should be sized so that oil can flow freely from the bearing cavity.

The manufacturer recommends a tangential discharge opening, equal in diameter to 80 percent of the recommended collar thickness. If possible, the discharge outlet should be located in the bottom of the bearing housing. Alternatively, it should be located tangential to the collar rotation. The bearing pads and carrier ring are constructed so that cool undiluted inlet oil flows from the leading edge groove in the bearing pad directly into the oil film. The cool oil in the oil film wedge insulates the white metal face from the hot oil carryover that adheres to the rotating collar.

In contrast to the LEG bearing, the oil for spray-fed bearings is injected between the bearing surfaces, not directly on them. This can result in uneven bearing lubrication and the need to supply nonpractical high pressure to achieve true effective scouring of the hot oil carryover adhering to the thrust collar. There is also a possibility for the small jet holes to clog with foreign material.

Friction power loss is claimed to be lower than both flooded and spray-fed bearings due to the reduced oil flow. The flow of cool oil over the leading edge lowers pad surface temperatures and increases the KingCole’s capacity.

The resulting performance improvements are shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. LEG Bearings vs. Standard Flooded Bearings and Spray-fed Bearings


Assuming an oil inlet temperature of 50°C (122.4°F), it is possible to estimate the white metal temperature of KingCole leading edge bearings from Figure 5. These temperatures are a function of surface speed and contact pressure.

Figure 5. LEG White Metal Temperatures at 75/75 Position (6- and 8-pad series, steel pads)


Bearing Selection

Thrust load, shaft RPM, oil viscosity and shaft diameter through the bearing determine the bearing size to be selected.

Leading edge bearings are sized for normal load and speed when transient load and speed are within 20 percent of normal conditions.

All curves are based on an oil viscosity of ISO VG32, with an inlet oil temperature of 50°C (122.4°F). The manufacturer recommends ISO VG32 oil viscosity for moderate- through high-speed applications.

Table 1.
Thrust Bearing Designation
Numbers and Bearing Area
(KingCole 8-pad thrust bearings)

Tilting Pad Radial Bearings

The basic principles of tilting pad journal bearing operation are explained in the selection guides and related literature of many competent manufacturers. One of these is Waukesha Bearings of Waukesha, Wisconsin.

The Glacier Metal Company in London, England and Mystic, Connecticut; Kingsbury Inc. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Waukesha Bearings in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Editor’s Note:
This article was published in Heinz Bloch’s book, Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities. This and other lubrication-related books are available through Noria's Online Bookstore.

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About the Author

Heinz Bloch works as a consultant for Process Machinery Consulting. He is the author of more than 400 technical papers and similar publications. He has written 17 books on practical machinery ma...