Here we take a look at trends within the bearing space for 2023. Chris Johnson, managing director of specialist bearing supplier, SMB Bearings, shares his insights on what he sees developing over the course of the year.
- What value-add services, or in-house engineering support, have you provided to an OEM or other customer during the last 12 months?
“SMB Bearings provides a specialized bearing relubrication service. Using our bespoke relubrication facility, we clean and relubricate bearings from our own stock, as well as customer-supplied bearings. We can relubricate stainless steel, chrome steel, and hybrid bearings with customer-specified lubricants.
“As a supplier of specialist bearings, we are used to receiving requests for bearings with non-standard lubricants or to help with the relubrication of bearings. Larger manufacturers were often unwilling to offer these services for smaller- or mid-volume orders, but SMB wanted to help.
“So, around 30 years ago, we established our own in-house bearing relubrication facility. Over the years, our expertise in this area has grown exponentially and we have acquired a range of sophisticated equipment.
“SMB Bearings’ experienced technicians work in a highly-controlled environment, using sophisticated technology to achieve the required levels of precision. Much like a cleanroom, our purpose-built facility operates air filters to eliminate any sources of contamination that might be present during the process. The cleaning process uses specialized chemicals and ultrasonic cleaning equipment.”
2. What role does data play in your product designs? Specifically, with regard to big data, IoT, Industry 4.0 and beyond, etc.
“Big data and IoT technology have enabled design engineers to collect and analyze vast amounts of data on ball bearings including the material properties, load conditions, temperature, and vibration levels. This data is then used to simulate the behavior of the bearings and understand how they will be affected by different conditions. This, in turn, enables design engineers to create more robust and efficient designs.
“The use of big data and the IoT enables real-time data collection and analysis, including the monitoring of bearing performance in the field. With this information, engineers can adjust bearing designs in response to changes in conditions. This allows for the rapid improvement of designs, which can be implemented in a fraction of the time it would take without big data and the IoT.”
3. Has your company seen increased activity or demand from customers in any specific industries or application areas (robotics, factory automation, off-highway applications, medical, others, etc.)? If so, which ones and to what extent? Explain.
“SMB Bearings serves a wide range of industrial sectors, from robotics and automation to chemical and pharmaceutical. Highly- accuracy bearings are becoming increasingly important in a variety of industries that rely on precision machining, such as aerospace, automotive, and medical device manufacturing. As a result, bearing manufacturers are placing a higher emphasis on quality control and improved bearing accuracy, to give longer service life.”
“The use of advanced materials for bearings is also becoming more prevalent. Manufacturers are using materials like ceramic and hybrid materials to reduce friction, improve longevity, and increase the efficiency of bearings. This is especially beneficial in industries that require reliable performance in harsh environments, such as oil and gas.
“Finally, digital technologies are being gradually integrated more into modern bearings. These Industry 4.0 technologies are used to monitor bearing conditions and performance, as well as provide predictive analytics for maintenance and repair purposes. This is especially beneficial in industries like mining and construction, which require robust and reliable equipment for sustained operations.”
4. With the prospect of supply chain issues staying with us well into 2023, we’ve seen several motion control suppliers giving their customers a heads-up to plan for very long lead times (up to 6 to 12 months for some products!). How do you see customers — especially end-users and integrators, who work on more of a project-by-project basis — dealing with the longer lead times and uncertainty in the supply chain?
“Choosing a trustworthy bearings supplier is more important than ever, as global supply chains still face disruptions after the COVID-19 pandemic, and there remains a shortage of vital components such as semiconductors.
“As a result, many bearings suppliers are keeping higher stock levels to meet customer demand. But, as lead times continue to extend across many industries, it is getting harder for businesses to maintain their supply chains. For these reasons, it is more important than ever to select a reliable supplier that can act in your interest and offer support through any disruptions — those with a personal touch.
“Personal touch can be difficult to quantify when choosing between suppliers, but when customers can take advantage of benefits such as strategic purchasing, collaboration, and innovation, it’s worth making it a priority.
“Supply chain disruptions are a serious challenge for manufacturers in 2023. Delays in shipments can have a significant knock-on impact on production, logistics and, ultimately, profits. However, through the careful selection of suppliers and relationship management, manufacturers can ensure that disruptions are minimized and any problems are resolved as quickly as possible. At SMB Bearings, we have a small highly technical team that does just that.”