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Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327

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Engineering Failure Analysis

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/engfailanal


The wear characteristics of thrust washer in conflux planetary gear train

of power shift transmission
Hongwei Wang a,b,⇑, Biao Ma a, Lanqin Niu b, Changsong Zheng a
School of Mechanical Engineering, Beijing Institute of Technology, Beijing 100081, PR China
School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Hebei University of Engineering, Handan 056038, PR China

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The wear between planet gear and thrust washer has been investigated based on the thrust
Received 8 March 2011 washers in planetary transmission. The reasons leading to the wear failure are studied and
Received in revised form 7 June 2012 the measurements for the reduction of abrasive wear are also exploited. A typical wear fail-
Accepted 21 June 2012
ure of thrust washer has been analyzed in terms of macromorphology observation, SEM
Available online 5 September 2012
observation of microstructure, material composition test, the metallographic analysis on
radial cross section, and microhardness testing. Oil viscosity, oil contamination, and ele-
ment spectra are analyzed and used to interpret the failure reasons. Through comprehen-
Thrust washer
Wear failure
sive analyses of metallographic structure and microhardness, the temperature distribution
Axial force of thrust washer is obtained, which demonstrate that the adhesive wear is the main wear
Critical temperature type for thrust washer although the fatigue wear is also observed. The most wear of thrust
Lubrication washer can be attributed to the great axial force during the working process, which leads to
big contact stress. The high temperature at friction surfaces could surpass critical temper-
ature and cause phase transition of austenite in the material. Inadequate cooling effect due
to lack of lubrication oil is the main reason for high temperature caused by wear. Upon the
comprehensive analyses, in the last section of this work some measurements are put for-
ward for the reduction of the wear.
Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

The power shift steering transmission equipped on tracked vehicles can integrate the functions of gearshift and steering
together based on power split principle, two power of which are integrated to the planetary gear train and then output to the
wheels. The wear between thrust washer (as shown in Fig. 1) and spur planet gear is a common failure mode, which can
accelerate failure process of bearings, gears and other components, especially under high-speed conditions. Therefore, it
is very important to investigate the wear characteristics of planetary gear thrust.
A number of investigations have been reported to study the frictional characteristics of planetary gear thrust washers.
However, most of them focused on the helical planetary gears. In 1983, Ulezelski and co-workers [1] did experimental study
on the wear phenomenon between thrust washers and helical planetary gears, which transferred small power. They found
that the wear was caused by axial force on the thrust washers, which was actuated by the helical planetary gear. Jackson and
Green [2–5] have investigated the friction characteristics and the mechanism of axial force of the thrust washer bearing from
systematic theoretical and experimental level and found that the axial force on the thrust washer was non-symmetric. When
the speed of planetary gear was slow, the wear of thrust washer was relative slight. However, the wear became serious at

⇑ Corresponding author at: School of Mechanical Engineering, Beijing Institute of Technology, Beijing 100081, PR China. Tel.: +86 13401133757; fax: +86
E-mail address: wanghw689@126.com (H. Wang).

1350-6307/$ - see front matter Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
H. Wang et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327 319

high-speed and heavy loading conditions. The high temperature of thrust washer is one of the main reasons for its serious
wear. In 2009, Yang [6] studied the axial force between planetary gear and frame in the spur compound planetary gear set.
The results showed that axial force was proportional to relative velocity and loading of thrust washers. Severe wear or dam-
age would happen if the thrust washers worked at high speed and heavy duty conditions. However, the publications so far
about the wear failure of spur planetary gear thrust washers still remain scarce. Herein, the analysis of failure mechanism
and reasons based on the change of the material of thrust washer was presented.

2. Working condition and lubrication system

The working condition of supporting components for the planet gear is serious. The relative speed range of planet gear is
0–6000 r/min, and the radial load of planet gear axle is in a range of 0–16000 N [7].
As shown in Fig. 1, the thrust washer in planet gear train of power shift transmission has circular disk-shaped structure
with thickness of 2.6 mm and material of 65Mn. Washers are installed on the axle of planet gear, located between the planet
gear and planet carrier. The requirement for the washer is that it can rotate freely in assembly status. Planet gear is sup-
ported by a needle roller bearing with an outer ring, which is installed on the axle of the planet gear. The outer ring of needle
roller bearing is assembled in the hole of planet gear with interference fit.
There are three working modes for the motion of thrust washer. First, there is no relative motion between the thrust
washer and planetary carrier, while the relative motion exists between the thrust washer and planetary gear. Second, the
thrust washer slips with planetary carrier but keeps motionless against the planetary gear. Third, the thrust washer slips
against both planetary gear and planetary carrier. So the relative motion between the thrust washer and planetary gear
or between the thrust washer and planetary carrier is inevitable.
In this paper, we mainly focus on the first mode of thrust washer motion because there is no obvious wear between the
thrust washer (as shown in Fig. 2a) and planetary carrier (as shown in Fig. 2b) in the actual condition. The texture of the
surface of thrust washer is clear, which implies that there is almost no relative slipping on the contact surface. The wear
occurs between the thrust washer and planetary gear because of relative motion, as shown in Fig. 3. Obvious wear has been

Precision filter

Plnaet gear Needle roller bearing

Planetary carrier 1 Planetary carrier 2

Pressure sensor Other

mechanics Axle of planet gear
Oil pump Lubricantion pipe

Thrust washer 1 Thrust washer 2

Coarse filter

Oil tank

Fig. 1. Diagram of planet gear bearing component and lubrication system.

Fig. 2. Wear between the thrust washer and planet carrier.

320 H. Wang et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327

Fig. 3. Wear between the thrust washer and the planet gear, bearing face.

observed in two areas. One is the contact area between the planet gear and thrust washer, the other is the contact area be-
tween the face of bearing outer ring and thrust washer, which results in the second wear band. So according to the analysis
from Figs. 2 and 3, the axial force generated by planetary gears will push the thrust washer against planetary carrier, which
will induce relative motion between the thrust washer and planetary gear. The friction is boundary lubrication or dry friction
between the faces of bearing outer ring, planetary gear and thrust washer.
In order to ensure sufficient lubrication and cooling, a lubrication oil system is designed to supply oil with pressure, as
shown in Fig. 1. The lubrication oil is 15 W-40CF. The oil flows along oil channel in planetary carrier 1 and then into the cav-
ity of planetary gear axis. Then the oil passes through two oil holes and reaches the needle roller bearing. The oil flows from
the center of the bearing to both the two ends and thrust washers. As described above, the thrust washer slips against plan-
etary gear but keep stationary with planetary carrier. Most of lubrication oil will flow out through the gap between thrust
washer and planetary gear. Only a small mount of oil can pass through the gap between the thrust washer and planetary
gear. And then it flows out from the gap between thrust washer and planetary carrier.
If the thrust washer works under well lubrication conditions, the lubrication oil will take away the heat energy generated
by the friction, inhibiting effectively the increase of the temperature. As shown in Figs. 2 and 3, the thrust washer will contact
with planetary gear because of the axial force, therefore, the thrust washer works under the condition of dry friction or
boundary lubrication, will result in more frictional energy and high temperature.

3. Analysis of typical wear failure cases

Early damage to the supporting components of planet gear in planet gear train is a common failure mode, which is accom-
panied by damage of thrust washer. According to a failure in the road test for power shift steering transmission after
3000 km (3000 km is the distance of oil change cycle for the power shift transmission), that is the damage to the left planet
gear train. After the disassembly of the power shift steering transmission, it can be found that one planet gear was burned
seriously and the thrust washer also worn severely. In order to detect the wear characteristics and reasons of failure, some
experiments were carried out to provide some clues for the reasons of damage to planet gear train.

3.1. Macromorphology characteristic

Fig. 4a shows the macroscopic appearance of the damaged thrust washer while Fig. 4b shows the picture under scanning
electron microscopy (SEM) with low magnification (11), which provides more information for the damaged areas. Fig. 4
shows that serious wear has occurred on the thrust washer. Combined with Fig. 3, an obvious groove on the contact surface
between thrust washer and bearing was observed. It can be inferred that there was relative displacement between the bear-
ing and planet gear in axial direction, so that the bearing face protruded from the face of the planet gear. So the axial loading
was supported by the thrust washer and bearing. The contact stress is large due to small contact areas.
The relative displacement between the bearing and planet gear could be attributed to the axial force between them,
which surpasses the friction force between the bearing and planet gear. It can be known that the supporting components
bear large loading burden during working period. Hence the high loading burden is the main reason accounting for wear
failure of thrust washers.
In theory, there should be no axial force when a spur planet gear works. The case implies that meshing force of planet gear
not only has partial force in radial direction to balance with supporting force of bearing but also has tangential force, which
leads to torsional torque. The torsional torque could induce the planet gear to incline towards one side, thus the needle roller
H. Wang et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327 321

Fig. 4. Macroview of the damaged thrust washer.

bearing slants and causes axial force. Therefore, the factors causing the planetary gear and bearing to slant result in the axial
force generated from planetary gears. These factors can be mainly classified into two types. One is the unreasonable design,
low precision of manufacture and assembly of planetary gear components. For example, the tooth profile error of gear, which
causes unsymmetrical loading distribution, generates torsional force for the planetary gear. The other one is serious vibra-
tion and deformation of the relevant parts during working process.

3.2. Wear morphology observed by the scanning electron microscope

In order to analyze the wear mechanism and detect wear type, worn surface morphology was observed with JSM-6610LV
SEM. Before the observation, the sample was cleaned ultrasonically using anhydrous ethanol. With focus on the significant
features of the damaged areas, the results were shown in Fig. 5a–d.
Most of the worn surface morphology is shown in Fig. 5a and b. The serious scraping and coarse scratch marks imply that
the wear type is heavy adhesion wear. Fig. 5c indicates obvious plastic scratch, which shows that the contact pressure is very
large during working period. Some local worn areas show squamous cracks (Fig. 5d), which indicate the significant features
of fatigue wear. So the wear of thrust washer is mainly adhesion wear, accompanied by some fatigue wear.

3.3. Chemical composition test

The quality of the material is one of the basic factors of failure reasons. The chemical composition of the material can be
used to evaluate the quality of the material. In addition, the structure of metallic materials, which determines the

Fig. 5. Morphology of the worn surface of thrust washer observed using SEM.
322 H. Wang et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327

Table 1
Chemical composition of 65Mn serious worn thrust washer (wt.%).

C Si Mn S P Cr Ni Cu
0.68 0.30 1.08 0.029 0.022 0.018 0 0.004

performance of the material, depends on its chemical composition and technology process. Herein, the chemical composition
of the material is tested with a direct reading spectrometer SPECTRO TEST instrument. The test result is shown in Table 1.
According to the technical requirement for 65Mn in GB/T 699–1999, the chemical composition of products meets the
requirement. It shows that the failure is not caused by the chemical composition, and provides a basis for the analysis of
metallographic study.

3.4. Metallographic examination

The wear between the thrust washer and the face of bearing is more obvious, which results in a significant ring groove.
The changes of the metallographic characteristics can reflect the overall structure changes of the thrust washers. The struc-
ture of radial cross-section in the groove areas is shown in Fig. 6a, which shows that the cross section can be divided into
three areas from the top surface to the inner areas, labeled as area A, area B, and area C. Area A is the surface areas with
acicular martensite structure, as shown in Fig. 6b. Area B presents a white fan-shaped area, which has martensite structure,
as shown in Fig. 6c. The area C has uniform sorbite structure, as shown in Fig. 6d.

3.5. Microhardness of the radial cross section

In order to detect the hardness distribution in the profiles of groove areas of worn specimen, the microhardness (HV,
0.2 kg) was measured with Akashi MVK-H1 microhardness tester from the surface of the worn specimen to internal areas.
The position of test line is shown in Fig. 6a. The microhardness HV is converted to HRC hardness. The hardness distribution
curve is shown in Fig. 7.
It can be seen from the picture that the hardness value presents a downward trend at first, and then the value increased
slowly along test line from top surface of the worn specimen to inside. Compared with the targeted value (45–50 HRC), the

(a) A

The line for

microhardness test
C and temperature

Fig. 6. Metallographic structure of the cross-section in groove areas. (a) Overall view of the cross-section in groove areas 50. (b) Area A with large
magnification 1000. (c) Area B with large magnification 1000. (d) Area C with large magnification 500.

Fig. 6. (continued)
H. Wang et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327 323

Fig. 6. (continued)

Fig. 6. (continued)



Hardness (HRC)





0 0.3 0.6 0.9 1.2 1.5
Depth from the top surface (mm)

Fig. 7. Hardness distribution along the measure line of the specimen.

areas with higher hardness value are close to the surface of the worn specimen while the areas with lower hardness value are
away from the surface. The maximum value of hardness is approximate 62 HRC while the minimum value is approximate 35

3.6. Analysis of lubricating oil

After the vehicle runs 3000 km, lubricant specimen is obtained from the lubrication system for analysis. Oil contamina-
tion and deterioration of physicochemical performance are often the reasons for serious wear of relevant components. So
some analyses including viscosity of lubrication oil, contamination, and elemental spectra are carried out. The oil sample
is collected at the output of fine filter. The tested results are shown in Tables 2–4.
The viscosity of the lubrication oil is 7.9% higher than that of unused oil, but it is still in reasonable range. Element spec-
troscopy analysis shows that the main element proportion in test oil is within the critical value. It indicates that there was no
324 H. Wang et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327

Table 2
The tested results of oil viscosity (in 100 °C).

Program Tested oil New oil

Oil kinematic viscosity (mm2 s1) 16.59 15.38

Table 3
The tested results of oil contamination (NAS1638).

Program Tested cleanness Targeted cleanness

value value
Contamination 11–12 9

Table 4
The elemental concentration of spectra analysis (mg/kg).

Element Fe Cu Pb Si Al Mn
Tested value 76.7 64.2 38.3 3.4 3.3 3.1
3000 km Critical value [8] 70.0 62.5 44.6 3.5 2.9 3.9

serious wear in system. So the oil property was good in terms of excellent lubrication and wear resistance. From the tested
results we know that the contamination is 2.5° higher than the required value. The more contaminants in the oil may lead
serious friction wear, which is one of the reasons for serious damage of thrust washer but may not be the main reason be-
cause of none obvious observed wear in other friction pairs.
Through the above analysis, we can draw a conclusion that the failure of thrust washer is not caused by oil deterioration.
Therefore, the failure reason of thrust washer caused by lubrication oil may be as follows. The lubrication oil is insufficient,
and cannot bring frictional heat energy away in time. The effective lubrication oil film cannot be formed under such work
conditions. The oil contamination degree is high, which might accelerate the wear process.

4. Temperature field characteristics

Over high temperature of thrust washer is an important factor for its wear. So the study of temperature distribution is
beneficial to take measurements for the improvement of thermal distribution. Combined with analysis of metallographic
structure and hardness test, the temperature characteristics and gradient in the low depth areas under surface of the washer
could be evaluated approximately. The worn areas of thrust washer which contact with the bearing are taken as an example
to investigate the temperature field distribution.

4.1. Temperature assessment for area A and area B

The normal structure of thrust washer should be tempering troostite with hardness value between 45 and 50 HRC. How-
ever, the hardness of area A and area B is between 58.5 and 62.5 HRC. Combined with the microstructure described in Section
3.4, the structure in area A and area B can be further identified as martensite. Therefore, area A and area B can be identified as
well known tribological white layer. Area A and B are called white layer in the following section. The reason of local fan-
shaped white layer generation is as follows. The local frictional energy is generated faster than the emission energy from
base body. The temperature of sub-surface area reaches a very high value, which equals or exceeds the temperature for
a ! c phase transition. Such high temperature makes the local area turn into austenite. The temperature for phrase transi-
tion of austenite should be above the critical temperature Ac3. While the critical value of phase transition for 65Mn is
approximate 765 °C [10]. So the temperature of white layer in a certain time during working period should surpass
765 °C, even can reach up to 800 °C or a higher value. The lubrication oil flows along the gap between thrust washer and
planet gear to lubricate and cool the relevant parts. Typically, the temperature of lubrication oil should not exceed
120 °C. When the cooling oil of 120 °C flows along the surface of the parts with 800 °C, which corresponds to the quenching
in the heat treatment process, the martensite appears accordingly.
Some publications [11,12] reported that the temperature during processing and deformation is sufficient to meet or ex-
ceed the a ! c phase transition temperature, which causes that the material at local areas changes into austenite. Suzuki and
Kennedy [13] found that the temperature can exceed 1000 °C during less than 2 ls sliding on the contact surfaces. Eyer and
Mashloosh [11] found that the transient temperature can exceed 800 °C, which results in the change of material to martens-
ite and makes the sub-surface reach the tempering temperature of 600 °C. This paper presents the assessment temperature
of the white layer, which is approximate 800 °C. This confirms the finding in previous publications [11–13]. The thickness of
H. Wang et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327 325



Temperature (°C)


500 Area C
White layer
0 0.3 0.6 0.9 1.2 1.5
Depth from the top surface (mm)

Fig. 8. Temperature distribution along the measure line.

white layer region is about 0.25 mm. The average temperature of central area is set to 800 °C. The temperature on junction
areas of white layer and area C is supposed to be 765 °C. The temperature on the surface is about 835 °C according to linear
interpolation method. Through the above method, the temperature distribution along the test line can be obtained in white
layer region, as shown in Fig. 8.
Some conclusions have been shown in Ref. [9]: (1) normal loading (contact stress) is necessary for the formation of white
layer. No matter what mechanism is for the formation of white layer, plastic deformation of the surface and frictional heat
source can only be normal loading; (2) many studies indicate that relative sliding velocity and sliding distance are not con-
trol parameters for the formation of white layer. Therefore, we should try to reduce the normal contact stress on washer
section. Some measurements, for example, the radial size of washer can be used to increase the contact area with planetary

4.2. Temperature assessment for area C

The friction heat energy of white layer region can bring tempering phenomenon in the internal area of area C. The hard-
ness of area C is about 34.9–43.3 HRC. And the composition is sorbite according to structure analyzed in part 3.4. The reason
for sorbite generation can be explained that the temperature of internal area does not exceed the critical temperature of
phrase transition.
Ref. [10] showed the values of hardness of 65Mn steel after different tempering temperatures, as shown in Table 5.
From the data in Table 2, the relationship between tempering temperature and hardness value of 65Mn steel can be ex-
pressed using least square polynomial fitting method, as shown in following equation:

t ¼ 0:1708  H2 þ 1:1871  H þ 716:4254; ð1Þ

where t is tempering temperature, H is Rockwell hardness value.
According to Eq. (1), the temperature of area C along the test line from shallow to deep is from 537 °C to 439 °C, as shown
in Fig. 8. The required tempering temperature of thrust washer is (360 ± 20) °C. So the temperature of area C is higher than
the tempering temperature in actual production, which makes the hardness value lower than the designed value.

4.3. Comprehensive analysis of temperature field

According to the analysis from layer A to area C, the temperature field of cross section shown in Fig. 6a can be described in
the following: the contact areas between the surface of thrust washer and the face of bearing have heat source with high
temperature, and the shape of which is similar as area B. The arc-shaped boundary line between area B and area C is an iso-
therm. Because of heat conduction, the temperature distribution expansion is toward outward areas along the normal direc-
tion of area contour. The temperature distribution along vertical direction on the worn surface (the measure line in Fig. 6a) is
shown in Fig. 8.
From the above analysis, it can be seen that the local temperature on contact surface of the thrust washer can reach
800 °C or a higher value. The highest temperature point exists at the center line of contact surface areas. Under such high
temperature, the lubrication oil loses its function and the hardness of the material is low with poor wear resistance. It

Table 5
Values of hardness of 65Mn steel after different tempering temperatures.

Tempering temperature (°C) 150 200 300 400 500 550 600 650
Hardness value (HRC) 61 58 54 47 39 34 29 25
326 H. Wang et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 28 (2013) 318–327

can be seen from Fig. 8 that the vertical temperature gradient is also big. So the thrust washer bears large thermal loading. In
a word, the thrust washer works under the coupling of high mechanical and high thermal loadings.

5. Conclusions

In summary, the following conclusions can be drawn based on the series of experiments and analyses:

(1) The main wear type is the adhesive wear accompanied by little fatigue wear, which indicates that thrust washers work
under the condition of dry friction regime or boundary lubrication regime.
(2) There is a big axial force among the thrust washer, planet gear and the bearing during the working process of the sys-
tem, which causes dry friction between their contact surfaces. It is the main reason for thrust washer failure. The main
reasons for axial force could be come from unreasonable design, low precision of manufacture, assembly of planetary
gear components supporting, serious vibration, and deformation of relevant parts during working.
(3) The local temperature on the friction pairs can reach up to 800 °C, which causes phase transition for the material. The
high temperature is the direct reason for failure.
(4) Insufficient lubrication may also be one of the reasons, which accelerates wear on the thrust washer.
(5) Serious contamination of lubrication oil can reduce the service life of friction pairs. Failure is not caused by deterio-
ration of physical and chemical properties of lubrication oil in case of above study. The element of friction pairs in the
lubrication oil is not much. In other words, oil lubrication has good lubrication property and wear resistance.
(6) The composition of thrust washer is qualified, which is not the reason for its failure.

6. Measurements to reduce the wear of thrust washers

According to conclusions above, two aspects can be done to reduce wear of thrust washers.

(1) Axial force is one of the major reasons for the wear of thrust washer. So the measurements to reduce the axial force
should be considered, which includes improvement of design, manufacture, assembly accuracy of the planetary gear’s
supporting components, and increase of the stiffness of relevant supporting components, the latter could be used to
reduce working deformation and vibration.
(2) Because of the manufacturing errors and assembly errors, the deformation and vibration during working process can-
not be eliminated. Hence the axial force can only be reduced but not fundamentally eliminated. The axial force on the
planet gears is inevitable; therefore, other measurements could be taken as following:
(a) Regarding structure design, the radial size of thrust washer should be increased as much as possible, and the con-
tact area between thrust washer and planetary gear could be increased to reduce contact stress.
(b) Radial grooves should be machined on thrust washers to produce hydrodynamic lubrication effect, which results
in dynamic pressure to balance axial force. Such design can achieve non-contact effect, thus reduce wear.
(c) Control the amount of oil to ensure adequate supply of lubrication oil.
(d) Control the oil contamination to improve the targeted cleanliness and extend the lifespan of friction pairs.
(e) Consider using other materials which have good wear resistance, such as steel with sintered bronze–PTFE (poly-
tetrafluoroethylene) composite material. This material is a kind of solid lubricating material, which can be adapted
to fit for the dry friction regime.


This study has been supported by the advanced Program (40402060104). The authors would like to express their sincere


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