It’s often said that there is nothing new under the sun. Perhaps we simply tell old stories in new ways. That certainly could be said of the bearing; the fundamental design elements have not changed much in the last 132 years. But the bearing industry? Well, that’s a different story and there are more than a few plot twists in that narrative. To give our readers some insight and a little straight talk about what makes the industry move, we asked Rollon Corp. managing director Rick Wood for his take on the business of bearings.
Bearing Tips: What will be the most significant advance in bearings in the next 10 years?
Wood: Over the last 10 to 20 years, bearing manufacture has moved from high-cost countries to low-cost areas. New CNC processes had to replace many of the old automatic manufacturing machines. This changed the nature of the manufacturing processes and many factories became obsolete.
The next 10 years will bring more change, and bearing manufacture may return to higher cost countries that are geographically closer to bearings’ end-use markets. Shipping bearings across the sea is costly and that ties up time and cash in the transport process. Moving from batch processes to lean manufacturing will also make a more local source more timely and efficient. Lead times for customers are dropping and 16 weeks plus shipping from far away is no longer acceptable. Flexible design requirements also demand shorter lead times. However, changes in the raw material sources and supply chain (tube steel, linear guide rail cold rolled steel, steel shafts) will impact everyone. This might be the one area (not often visible to the market) which offers the greatest disruption to the bearing supply. As the supply chain goes through the boom and bust cycles, this is where shortages and surpluses often happen behind the scenes.
• Another prediction: Intelligence embedded into the bearing will be the next big thing with predictive failure and maintenance. I could envision the use of MEMS chips on bearings to sense vibration, temperature and possibly lube life, wired back to a machine controller which is monitoring the spindles for spikes, to predict an imminent failure. Sensors for position, travel and even crash could also be useful feedback to determine failure modes.
• We will see new competitors excel in the market while older competitors are merging and failing. Producers in low-cost regions will enter the market and manufacturers from former low cost regions will consolidate, sell or exit. I also anticipate that many of the larger and more mature producers will milk their product lines for high margin, while failing to enter into newer product spaces. We always think of our industry as one with high barriers to entry because of the high capital outlay required to produce. However, more companies enter every year and are getting up to speed with reduced ramp-up time. Specialists will also appear for assembly and modification of bearings (linear and round) and handle the tasks that the larger producers don’t want to do or cannot fit into their production system.
Bearing Tips: How have bearings changed, or for that matter not changed, since you got into the industry?
Wood: Not much has changed in the overall design since Mr. Fischer invented the ball manufacturing process in 1883. However, materials and ball applications have seen many iterations. We now see the industry’s greatest advances are in quality metrics, repeatability and low production costs.
Bearing Tips: What are some of the biggest bearing messes you’ve seen in your career and what could have been done differently to prevent the issue?
Wood: I think the price fixing in Europe and Japan which has yet to be settled in the US markets. Incredible fines coupled with people actually going to jail. Here are more details on the matter:
• AG Sues Ball Makers Over Price-Fixing
• KFTC punishes bearings cartel
• CCS fines first global cartel
• Collusion in the World Bearing Association
• European, Japanese bearing makers to pay more than €953 million
• Parts manufacturers plead guilty to price fixing
Bearing Tips: What are some best practices when working with bearings?
Wood: Design well. Pick the right bearing for the job and make sure it is properly protected and lubricated. Use a decent partner for the source. The cost difference between low and high-quality suppliers is small compared with the cost of failure. Delivery failure can be just as bad as product failure in the application.
Design for Delivery. Pick a common and available design, don’t be the only one in the world who uses that bearing.
Pay attention to the loads and dynamic elements of the system. Bigger is not always better since once things start moving around, all of that moving mass works against you for life.
Pay attention to where you put in your safety factors in sizing. 25% extra load capacity doubles life. Doubled load capacity extends life by eightfold. But often this extra load capacity makes other components bigger too, which increases the system’s moving mass … which then reduces life. That’s because 25% actual-load increase cut life by half. In other words, design for the right load, and apply the safety factor at the end of the equation, not in the beginning.
Bearing Tips: What advice do you have for people just getting into the industry or approaching mid-career?
Wood: You don’t get rich with the bearing industry, but if you know your stuff, you don’t become poor either. It is a fair and decent living that lets us work with, sell to, buy from and compete against mostly good people … from distributors and customers to other manufacturers.
Another point to remember: There is no magic pill with this stuff. Many people say, “Wow, you guys really know a lot about the products and industry,” and want us to teach them. So we do a seminar or two, and tell them as much as we can, and send them away. Three to six months later they ask, “Can you teach me everything you know about this stuff?” We ask, “What did you do with the last batch of information?” The response: “Uh, it’s around here somewhere … can we do a webinar or something?”
Here is a better approach:
• Listen to someone who knows their stuff about bearings (linear or round). Ask questions, and see where there might be differences between what they say and what you learn elsewhere.
• Go find catalogs for your product and all significant competitors, and then compare them.
• Ask your customer why he used a given bearing in the application, and why not another one.
• Teach someone what you learned.
• Go back to the beginning. Do it again.
For more information visit www.rollon.com