Bearings are an essential part of any industrial facility, and
one that can easily be done wrong. The mission-critical role
that they play in a manufacturing facility merely compounds
their importance to manufacturers and distributors alike.
Know What You Need
Dave Shephard, U.S. Sales Manager for Amcan Bearing USA,
Inc., says the basics of bearings start with knowing what you need.
“Using the correct bearing is important,” Shephard says, “Replacement
of bearings with the same style and size as originally
designed will ensure machinery functions properly.” In this way,
the end user is able to maximize productivity and avoid premature
machinery failure at the fault of the bearing.
Different materials have different applications. “For example,
using a steel bearing in salt water will result in a premature failure,
where a chemically inert material like ceramic would be far
more appropriate,” says Jason Flanzbaum, Vice President of ecommerce
and Marketing for Boca Bearing.
Flanzbaum also notes the severity to which a bearing failure can
escalate: “Using the wrong bearings for an application can result
in everything from extended downtime to bodily harm, depending
on the situation.” While the consequence of injury is less common
than pure downtime for a facility, the possibility is one that needs
to be taken into consideration when factoring in cost savings as
well as productivity numbers for a plant. Utilizing bearings that
are past their prime, or failing to properly lubricate bearings, can
cause breakage or result in the fusing of parts and machine lockups.
This escalation of a problem that could have been prevented
with routine maintenance can end up costing a facility both fi -
nancially and in days lost due to an equipment failure. "All of this
means zero production until bearings can be replaced and other parts of your equipment can be fixed," notes Flanzbaum.
In addition to monitoring bearings for optimized maintenance schedules, bearings also
need to be evaluated to make sure that the solution being used is cost effective. While
higher prices often mean better quality, that is not always the case. Nicole Lang, Product
Manager for igus iglide bearings, notes that sometimes a less expensive product can do the
same job as more expensive ones, especially in less critical applications at industrial facilities.
Once the right bearings have been selected, the next hurdle is to fi gure out which ones
a facility needs to stock themselves, and which ones they can leave up to the distributor to
handle. Any bearing that would incur sizeable amounts of downtime if it fails should be
stocked on hand at the manufacturing facility itself. Shephard encourages facilities to do
this, as "it is vital to identify critical bearings and have them in stores for immediate access.
Less critical bearings can be locally stocked at a distributor or available from the manufacturer
Lang notes that distributors can benefi t from working with manufacturers that not only
carry a great line of bearings, but that also have the capability to drop ship directly to the
distributor’s customers. This helps eliminate some stock from the distributor’s shelves, while
also cutting lead times for the end user of the bearing.
The Future of Bearings
The marketplace for bearings is just getting broader with new materials and products
being introduced every year. “Ceramic hybrid and full ceramic bearings have transformed
many high tech industries like semiconductor manufacturing and gas and oil extraction,”
The appearance of polymer blends is also happening at igus. “From FDA compliant bearings
to those withstanding extreme chemicals and temperatures, plastic bearings are the
new trend in the marketplace,” says Lang. She also notes that demand is growing for lightweight
bearings and more environmentally friendly bearings.
Shephard echoes that specialty bearings – made from specialty materials – are defi nitely
on the rise. There are “specifi c applications and industries where they offer improved bearing
performance,” says Shephard. He adds that “cage designs, improved sealing, and new
lubricants have improved bearing life in general applications as well.” This is in addition
to new breakthroughs in preventative maintenance and new “smart bearings” that can
send constant feedback to a computer or device at the facility with their condition and any
potential points of failure.
Creating a Strategy
While that may sound like talking machines are not too far in the future, we are still a
long way from removing the human equation in the bearing marketplace. Predictive technologies
and technically trained maintenance personnel remain a key factor in a facility’s
Distributors today have the opportunity to offer an array of value-added services when it
comes to bearings. Whether they are simply meeting their customer’s needs with products
off the shelf, or performing whole plant surveys for a comprehensive replenishment strategy,
distributors can actively foster relationships with their customers by meeting their needs
on several levels.
In order to make this strategy a winning one, a distributor needs to both note and market
the services that they are offering. Shephard stresses this, pointing out that “documenting
these services and representing their value in real costs savings can help distributors
cement long term customer relationships.”
Kriebs, Abbigail. "Get your bearings." Industrial Distribution. 2013: 2. Web. 12 Jul. 2013. <http://digital.inddist.com/industrialdistribution/july_august_2013