Home>Plant, Process & Control>Power transmission>What's shaping the bearing industry?

What's shaping the bearing industry?

23 July 2021

Ian Breeze explores key drivers shaping the bearing industry and how engineers can harness these trends when choosing the right bearing supply partner for their facility

DESPITE BEING a stalwart of most industrial systems, Split bearings have remained largely unchanged since their invention at the beginning of the 1900s – but this is no longer the case. In recent years the bearing industry has transformed itself inline with the changing needs of modern industry, so that it can best serve its customers in achieving uptime, saving money and reducing energy consumption.

Statistically speaking, running a piece of equipment to the point of failure is estimated to cost up to 10 times as much as a regular maintenance program and according to the U.S Department of Energy, predictive maintenance saves up to 40%over reactive maintenance procedures.

The industrial sector is waking up to the benefits of correctly maintained machinery

The industrial sector is waking up to the benefits of correctly maintained machinery and this is driving demand for performance-engineered components that can (if required) be adapted to suit specific applications. Engineers want these products delivered quickly from a manufacturer that offers a consultative supplier relationship - not just products, packed and shipped.

These drivers of innovation, availability, bespoke adaptation, and consultative expertise are shaping the way the bearing industry serves its customers, and they should be considered important considerations when choosing the right bearing manufacturer or supply partner.  

Let us take a look at those drivers in more detail:

1. Innovating performance-engineered bearings

The pressures of modern manufacturing, not least the introduction of more automation and increasingly complex machinery has meant that bearing designs have been forced to evolve and innovate to reduce maintenance time and handle higher loads - in particular the ability to simultaneously handle both radial and axial loads.
Leading manufacturers, like Bowman, continue to invest heavily in the innovation of bearing designs that meet the needs of modern manufacturing. Taking a ‘blank page’ approach to solving real industry issues.

One such innovation is the Bowman Advanced Split Roller Bearing which, thanks to state-of-the-art 3D printing, can outperform all other split roller bearings and solid bearings for high-load applications. Alongside this increased performance, comes impressive maintenance benefits too, creating a real shift towards specifying split roller bearings industrial applications that have long relied on conventional solid bearing products.

Innovating bearings for modern industry is about improving performance and making maintenance processes quicker and easier. To ensure a supply partner is innovating bearing products that optimize performance and promote lean maintenance processes, engineers should ask about research and development. Are they using state-of-the-art materials, and designing feature-rich components from scratch rather than just evolving old products? These are the signs that a manufacturer is dedicated to the research and development of industry-changing products.

2. Availability: the key to uptime

We live in a world where fast delivery has become an expectation rather than an added bonus. In fact, a recent invesp survey showed that 96% of consumers now consider 'fast delivery' to mean within 24 hours of placing an order

Slowly but surely, this expectation is creeping into the workplace too, with more customers demanding stock availability and rapid dispatch for components like bearings.

The demand for fast delivery and the desire for performance-driven product innovation can cause friction, with many bearing manufacturers not financially or logistically capable of warehousing newly innovated stock in enough locations around the world to offer both variables in tandem.

When looking for a supply partner, engineers should ensure that stock availability of both traditional and newly innovated products is maintained at a healthy level, in a geographical location that can provide fast delivery to their facility.

Bowman for example, work to the ethos: ‘to have products in stock and available immediately’. This promise is delivered via a global network of distribution partners so that products are never too far away – allowing us to deliver a broad portfolio of stock within 24 hours, including our latest innovations.

3. Bespoke adaptations for niche applications

With machinery and industrial environments becoming more complex, the need for bespoke bearing adaptations is on the up. When the need for such a product arises, engineers should not need to locate an alternative supplier, if their current provider offers a bespoke adaptations service.

Again, the need for fast delivery and ability to innovate come into play here, and engineers should look for a supply chain partner that can offer innovative application-specific bearing designs with fast lead times. As the only bearing manufacturer to so far harness the speed and product performance benefits of 3D printing, creating bespoke adaptations to our Advanced Split Roller Bearings is fast and cost effective, with no need for tooling or setting up production lines.

It is important to consider future requirements as well as present day pain points

For factories evolving towards digitalisation, it is important to consider future requirements as well as present day pain points. Your facility may not require bespoke bearing adaptations now, but with expansion and change on the horizon, it may be a requirement in the future. Choosing to work with a manufacturer capable of providing this service, will save time and money further down the line should it become a requirement. 

4. Consultative expertise promotes informed specification

Gone are the days when engineers habitually specified bearings like-for-like despite repeat failure or performance issues. Now, more than ever before, engineers want to understand how components work compared to competing products, and what makes one bearing more suitable than the next.

This is where a consultative partner comes into play. Working with a manufacturer that can educate and advise rather than just pack and post products will directly translate to cost savings and more uptime. Engineers should seek out manufacturing partners who work alongside their customers, to ensure the right bearings are specified on an application-by-application basis.

It is through consultation that many of Bowman’s longstanding high-load customers have decided to switch from standard solid bearings to our new Advanced Split Roller Bearings, in order to reap the performance and maintenance benefits of a superior product. Without our consultative approach to supply chain partnerships, they would not have been aware of these untapped performance and financial benefits.

Choosing the right bearing supply partner can improve maintenance procedures, promote uptime and save money. The bearing industry is striving to deliver innovation, product availability, consultative expertise and bespoke adaptation services to its customers around the world at a time where delivering output and maintaining production speed is key. Engineers can use these trends to drive efficiencies and performance benefits throughout their facilities, by working with a bearing supply partner that is leading the way in delivering what really matters to the industrial sector.

Ian Breeze is technical director for Bowman Advanced Split Roller Bearings