The measurement of lubricant-film thickness using ultrasound

RS Dwyer-Joyce, BW Drinkwater, CJ Donohoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)


Ultrasound is reflected from a liquid layer between two solid bodies. This reflection depends on the ultrasonic frequency, the acoustic properties of the liquid and solid, and the layer thickness. If the wavelength is much greater than the liquid-layer thickness, then the response is governed by the stiffness of the layer. If the wavelength and layer thickness are similar, then the interaction of ultrasound with the layer is controlled by its resonant behaviour. This stiffness governed response and resonant response can be used to determine the thickness of the liquid layer, if the other parameters are known. In this paper, ultrasound has been developed as a method to determine the thickness of lubricating films in bearing systems. An ultrasonic transducer is positioned on the outside of a bearing shell such that the wave is focused on the lubricant-film layer. The transducer is used to both emit and receive wide-band ultrasonic pulses. For a particular lubricant film, the reflected pulse is processed to give a reflection-coefficient spectrum. The lubricant-film thickness is then obtained from either the layer stiffness or the resonant frequency. The method has been validated using fluid wedges at ambient pressure between flat and curved surfaces. Experiments on the elastohydrodynamic film formed between a sliding ball and a flat surface were performed. Film-thickness values in the range 50-500 nm were recorded, which agreed well with theoretical film-formation predictions. Similar measurements have been made on the oil film between the balls and outer raceway of a deep-groove ball bearing.

Translated title of the contributionThe measurement of lubricant-film thickness using ultrasound
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)957-976
Number of pages20
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2032
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2003

Bibliographical note

Publisher: The Royal Society


  • Elastohydrodynamic lubrication
  • Film-thickness measurement
  • Lubricant-film measurement
  • Ultrasound

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