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These 'not-so-plain' bearings take a bigger load

28 February 2016

Paul Mitchell looks at three of the biggest issues affecting the plain bearings industry – and how engineers can use them to their advantage.

Availability - There is an ongoing battle between engineers and procurement departments to balance cost, performance and availability of components. Purchasing departments are under constant pressure to lower costs and are looking to engineers to find more cost effective alternatives wherever possible. This can often lead to a redesign which in many cases can ultimately be more expensive. 

As a result, engineers are increasingly turning to specialist suppliers to find suitable components such as bearings, which is why availability will continue to be such an important word in 2016. 
Sourcing products, whether that means supplying, manufacturing or adapting existing designs, is becoming more and more critical – and this will deliver additional benefits for OEMs, of course.  

Manufacturers and suppliers that can guarantee availability - however specialist the requirement – will be the most valuable to their customers. We are also seeing the importance of rapid prototyping to reduce start-up costs and time-to-market.

Innovation - Another big issue is the continued drive towards innovation in new materials to improve the performance, capabilities and durability of bearings. Bearing manufacturers have invested heavily in research and development in recent years and we are really starting to see the benefit as an industry. New alloys have been introduced, along with new techniques for manufacturing, testing and fault analysis. 

This level of innovation will increase long-term performance and help to deliver a cost-effective overall solution– both of which will remain critical for any OEM, of course. Our new BowMet range is a good example, manufactured from the copper-nickel-tin 'ToughMet' alloy developed in the USA.

The BowMet range of plain, rolled bearings offers a higher load capacity and longer life than comparable bearings, together with outstanding heat, speed and corrosion capabilities. Its static load of 820N/mm2 is unrivalled in the plain rolled bearings industry.
For the first time, rolled bearings can deliver the load capacity required for the heaviest of applications and harshest of conditions, from agricultural machinery, construction plant and large marine vessels, to motorsport vehicles, cranes and many more. 

ToughMet alloy had previously only been available as thick-walled tubes or rods, but thanks to the modification of processes and equipment which were actually created to produce tiny springs in smartphone cameras, it is now available in thin sheets, enabling the manufacture of plain, rolled bearings.

Basic bronze materials are often chosen for lower load-bearing applications because they are corrosion resistant, require little lubrication, and tend to be easy to form. However, the development of ToughMet sheet is significant because standard bronze is not strong enough to handle the strain of many high load applications. Manufacturers of heavy plant and equipment generally turn to hardened steel, which requires more lubrication and maintenance.
Until BowMet came along, designers were faced with the choice of utilising over-sized bronze bearings in order to take the loads, which would add weight and take up more space to get the necessary load and lubricity level, or switch to hardened steel. Instead, BowMet has allowed manufacturers to use smaller bearings with higher load ratings to save space and weight, or replace existing bearings and get a much higher load rating and longer life.

Supply Chain - Finally, another big shift that will become more evident in 2016 is the way in which suppliers are expanding their service to streamline the supply chain for OEMs. It has long been a requirement of the automotive industry that a component manufacturer ensures the highest levels of quality, price and on-time delivery alongside the parts.
Now we are seeing a growing demand for this level of service from other manufacturing industries including construction equipment, commercial vehicles and marine, amongst others. I believe suppliers that are able to offer that same level of service to all customers will be the most successful in 2016.

Paul Mitchell is managing director of Bowman International

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