Get Your Bearings
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 as needed."
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,” notes Flanzbaum.
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 bearing strategy.
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