This paper describes a novel design of oil-film monitoring sensor capable of measuring oil-film thickness in concentrated contacts. The approach is to use a thin (approx. 4 μm) sputtered coating of piezoelectric material, such as Aluminium Nitride. When correctly electroded this acts as an ultrasonic sensor with a usable bandwidth from 20–350 MHz. This sensor allows the interrogation of the small lubricated region between the ball and raceway without any special focusing requirements. Typically the dimensions of the contact region is less than a millimeter wide. This sensor system is then demonstrated experimentally on a deep groove ball bearing with the piezoelectric thin film on the external surface of the bearing outer raceway. The interaction of ultrasound with the oil-film is modeled using a quasi-static spring model and this allows properties such as film thickness to be extracted. The measured thicknesses are shown to agree well those obtained from classical elastohydrodynamic lubrication theory for the high bearing loads and low speeds where several data points can be collected from the contact during a ball passage. Measurement of oil film thickness in the region of 0.1–1 μm is demonstrated.

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