By Mike Santora
Bearing Tips caught up with Nippon Bearing’s national sales manager, Brian Pinkham to talk about NB’s position in the bearing industry and what trends he expects through 2020.
Bearing Tips: First, can you tell us about Nippon Bearing?
Brian Pinkham: Since our establishment back in 1939, Nippon Bearing has been a privately owned company. We’re now at our third generation in. We went global back in 1987 when we based our company in Chicago, Illinois. Since then, we have opened offices in Amsterdam and we’re soon to have one in Malaysia as well.
BT: What is the focus of the business for right now? What can design engineers expect to see from NB in the near future?
BP: Well, we want to be more of a global manufacturer. We are starting to hit areas of the world that we haven’t in the past. Our goal is to start becoming a global company. Again, we’re opening an office in Malaysia to have more of a presence there. A lot of the business from the United States ends up over in Asian countries so we need a better presence there.
BT: So expansion is obviously a focus right now for Nippon Bearing. Anything on the component level? What, specifically are engineers coming to you for most frequently?
BP: I would say there’s a couple things. First is availability of product. Customers these days need product quickly. I think many companies get away from stocking product, which can lead to lost orders, so we’ve increased our product availability out of Chicago to meet those needs.
Second of all, they want a quality product. There are many international opportunities to select a cheaper option. What I’m finding with American companies is that they would rather invest the extra money on the higher-quality product.
As for most common requests, I would say linear-guides and cross-rollers. Linear-guides are more of a commodity now. Second would be cross-roller bearings. We’re doing well in the market right now as far as cross-roller bearings.
BT: What markets, whether that be medical, manufacturing, industrial or others, are showing the most interest for your product.
BP: I think our biggest growth rate is in life science and medical opportunities. That seems to be where the real growth is. With semi-conductor, so much manufacturing is overseas in Asia. That’s one of the reasons why we have an office in Malaysia. We want to keep the business we have in the U.S. It’s nice that in the United States all your medical and biotechnology type equipment is still manufactured here. It’s not going overseas. That seems to be a big growth avenue for us right now.
BT: Medical seems to be red hot right now. What components for the medical device industry are most popular right now?
BP: I would say linear-guides first of all. For us, eye equipment is important; we do a lot of work with companies that manufacture equipment for eye surgeries. Lasix, glaucoma, cataract type surgeries. Also, our ball screw actuators are used in those machines as well.
One company in particular uses our actuator for pressurization of the eye during cataract surgery. In a situation like that, you need an accurate, precision product that you feel safe with.
On the life science side, the world is changing rapidly; everything is going to genome scanning and so forth. We’re seeing a need for high accuracy products there as well. Again, guides, we’re using the cross-roll. We’re seeing companies needing high-precision stages for our cross-rollers. Really, a broad spectrum of products are being used. Every company’s needs are different; it depends on the company.
BT: Lastly, what overall trends are you noticing in the bearing industry now, what do you see coming down the line?
BP: I think everything is going towards automation. With the cost of personnel these days. I think so many companies are looking to automation to save money in the long run. I think that, yes, the growth predictions through 2020 sound accurate. I’ve heard that we’re going to increase somewhere from 15 to 20% just in the next four years.
Also, as far as what customers are asking from us, they want more value add these days. They want to be able to order an actuator and a motor from us. They don’t want to have to go to different avenues. They’re looking for ease of ordering.