The study aims to investigate the influence of rare earth (RE) addition on the rolling contact fatigue (RCF) behaviour of M50 bearing steel. Ball-on-rod RCF experiments were conducted on specimens extracted from M50 bearing steels with and without RE addition. Results indicate that RE addition remarkably improves the RCF life, and the L10, L50 and LVS fatigue life is increased by 96.2%, 61.7% and 55.0%, respectively. For M50 bearing steel, a criterion on RCF failure types is given for the first time. According to the criterion, the failure is mainly surface-initiated for the M50 steel with RE addition, whereas the failure is mixed and subsurface initiated for the M50 steel without RE addition. As a corroboration, compared with steel with RE addition, steel without RE addition exhibits higher density butterflies and longer accompanied cracks in the subsurface. This result shows that the ability of M50 bearing steel to resist subsurface damage from RCF can be greatly improved by the refined primary carbides resulting from RE addition. The RCF life of bearing steel with RE addition can be much higher than that of bearing steel without RE addition if the RCF failure is mainly subsurface initiated.

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