To get cost savings through increased efficiency and reduced maintenance time has been the order-of-the-day for OEMs in numerous industries. This has led to a shift in focus in the bearing industry to look more closely at new materials, new designs and better operating standards.
Bearing manufacturers have worked to increase bearing life spans through material cleanliness, metallurgical processes and internal design optimization. Improving the internal design geometry of a bearing can increase its load capacity, which can be further improved through the use of special higher alloy steels. However, the industry standards that govern load ratings and fatigue life have not kept pace with the developments in the bearings themselves. As a result, bearing manufacturers use different methods to reflect the performance improvements in the published ratings. In some cases, factors have been included in the life calculation methods without changing the load ratings. In others, the load ratings themselves have been increased. This situation has required customers to exercise greater caution when searching for bearings.
Improvements in bearing design have extended beyond metal bearings and into plastic ones as users have called for more plastic bearings to be made with materials that meet FDA and RoHS standards, as more industries, such as packaging, are becoming more stringent. There has even been an increasing call for materials to meet the standards of EU directive 10/2011/EC, which also takes the material manufacturing process into account.
Users have also sought ways to increase performance and efficiencies through predictive maintenance. Following the discovery of the benefits behind machine health monitoring, technologies such as vibration analysis, oil analysis and noise analysis have become more common.
According to Bimal Nathwani, engineering manager for NSK, by anticipating or predicting when bearings or other components may fail, maintenance personnel can plan for repairs or replacement, significantly reducing their maintenance costs. Additionally, bearing failure analysis can often lead to improved performance on existing equipment by understanding what is causing the bearings to fail. This can often be used to detect problems related to other processes within the equipment, such as installation, lubrication and alignment.
The growing number of experienced maintenance personnel reaching retirement age has also motivated bearing manufacturers to further support proactive maintenance practices by making improvements to seals, lubrication, materials, designs and monitoring systems. There are also efforts to help with bearing selection and training on proper installation.
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Filed Under: Bearings