By Ken Korane
In a recent presentation at this year’s Hannover Fair in Germany, Stefan Spindler, CEO of the Industrial Group at Schaeffler AG outlined the company’s vision for the future. Schaeffler has one of the broadest ranges of rolling bearings and power-transmission products in the industry, offers extensive engineering expertise for its customers and strives for the highest possible quality, efficiency and delivery performance, he said.
In addition, noted Spindler, the company views Industry 4.0 and digitalization as key opportunities going forward. He spoke in detail about Schaeffler’s Smart EcoSystem, a digital infrastructure for integrating sensor-equipped components into cloud-based systems and specific business models based on digital service—and how it all ultimately benefits the user.
Smart EcoSystem is a comprehensive, cloud-based hardware and software infrastructure that takes into account every stage of digital added value—from components equipped with sensors through to digital services like tracking machine performance and predictive maintenance, he explained.
Components like rolling bearings equipped with sensors are the fundamental “enablers” for these digital services. Schaeffler’s aim is to continuously transform conventional mechanical products and integrate them into the digital world. While bearings and guidance systems equipped with sensors have been on the market for several years, Schaeffler has expanded such capabilities with the new FAG VarioSense rolling-bearing system—one key component of the Smart EcoSystem. It is based on standard products and can be configured in a modular fashion with several different sensors, which allows virtually every desired parameter to be monitored and permits easy access to digitalization and the Internet of Things.
FAG VarioSense bearings integrate several sensor elements into a ring-shaped housing with a section height of only 7 mm. The sensor cluster occupies approximately the same space as a rotary shaft seal, said company officials. For simple handling, the sensor housing is fixed to the outer ring and the sensor ring is fixed to the bearing inner ring, resulting in a compact overall unit.
Customers can set the number and combination of measured values for a specific application. Sensing parameters include:
• Temperature from -40° to 125°C.
• Speed up to 17,000 rpm.
• Rotation direction.
• Number of revolutions or position with 56 to 96 impulses/revolutions (depending on size).
• Vibration signals for long-term trending.
• Maximum radial shaft displacement to a resolution of 1 µm.
Recorded data transfer via a gateway to the Schaeffler cloud, where engineers can take advantage of the company’s rolling-bearing domain expertise. For example, automated rolling bearing diagnosis and remaining useful life calculations can provide precise information on the condition of the bearing and, thus, of the machine being monitored. That, in turn, lets experts recommend specific follow-up actions. It will even be possible to use actual load data to make adjustments to machine operations and processes in real time.
In one case, measuring radial shaft displacement in the bearing lets the software determine the radial force on the sensor bearing. If the model for a specific powertrain is stored in the Schaeffler cloud as an algorithm in the Bearinx calculation software, then forces, displacements and torques on other bearings, gears and other machine elements can also be determined indirectly from these data. This means that the most important values for monitoring process parameters in machines and equipment are known, and that provides significant added benefits for the operator. For instance, information on overloading can be easily recorded and used to limit torques or even switch off the drive if necessary.
Or the concept of digitalizing production can include monitoring machine processes in terms of vibration, force, temperature and pressure and provide critical data for predictive maintenance. Sensors can record information on the operating conditions of individual bearing in a drivetrain and transfer these data to the cloud for analysis and evaluation. Maintenance technicians, in turn, can access the data worldwide via an Internet connection for a report on the machine’s condition at any time. Finally, operators can receive text messages about analyzed damage and can plan maintenance measures before sudden breakdowns occur.
The first range of VarioSense bearings is available for commonly used 6205 to 6210 Series ball bearings. The VarioSense bearings are supplied with an interface box for power supply (in a range from 4.5 to 30 V), signal processing and networking.
Interest from potential customers is wide-ranging, said the company. Suitable applications for the sensor bearings include pumps and electric motors, drives for agricultural and construction machinery, electric vehicles and fork-lift trucks to wind turbines, conveyors and elevators.
Rolling bearings are ideally suited for gathering information, noted Schaeffler officials, because they are located at the heart of a machine’s flow of force and, thus, exposed to all the loads. Combining them with domain expertise about rolling bearings in specific applications made available via the cloud lets this information be used to control processes in a targeted manner. The end results are maximum capacity utilization and optimized product quality. The prerequisite for this is a holistic and standardized infrastructure from the sensor through to the cloud, which Schaeffler now provides with its Smart EcoSystem.