Hot-pressed silicon nitride was evaluated as a rolling-element bearing material. This material has a low specific gravity (41 percent that of bearing steel) and has a potential application as low mass balls for very high-speed ball bearings. The five-ball fatigue tester was used to test 12.7-mm- (0.500-in-) dia silicon nitride balls at maximum Hertz stresses ranging from 4.27 × 109 N/m2 (620,000 psi) to 6.21 × 109 N/m2 (900,000 psi) at a race temperature of 328K (130 deg F). The fatigue life of NC-132 hot-pressed silicon nitride was found to be equal to typical bearing steels and much greater than other ceramic or cermet materials at the same stress levels. A digital computer program was used to predict the fatigue life of 120-mm- bore angular-contact ball bearings containing either steel or silicon nitride balls. The analysis indicates that there is no improvement in the lives of bearings of the same geometry operating at DN values from 2 to 4 million where silicon nitride balls are used in place of steel balls.

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