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Less friction, fewer emissions: Solving the environmental impact of industrial machinery

Author : Chris Johnson, SMB Bearings

31 July 2023

According to the International Energy Agency, the industrial sector is responsible for a staggering 37 percent of global CO2 emissions, making it the largest emitting sector worldwide – with industrial machinery being a significant contributor. This alarming reality underscores the urgent need to address the environmental impact of industrial machinery and find sustainable solutions to reduce its carbon footprint.

Here, Chris Johnson, Managing Director at SMB Bearings, explores how speciality industrial bearings can play a pivotal role in mitigating these negative impacts, offering a path towards a more sustainable future.

Inefficient machinery can result in excessive energy waste and higher emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), as reported by Reuters, there are more than 300 million industrial electric motor-driven systems currently in operation. Replacing these with optimised, high-efficiency equipment has the potential to decrease global electricity consumption by up to 10 percent. This highlights the substantial energy waste caused by inefficient machinery, and the subsequent increase in emissions.

Fortunately, speciality bearings can help reduce the energy consumption of industrial machinery, another crucial factor in tackling the environmental challenges faced by engineers. Industrial machinery relies heavily on bearings for smooth and efficient operation. 

By harnessing the power of speciality bearings, it is possible to make substantial progress in reducing the environmental footprint of this machinery – but how? 

Reducing friction 
Friction in electric motors, pumps, and fans in industrial applications is a major contributor towards energy losses. The frictional forces within these systems generate heat, which causes energy to be dissipated as wasted heat instead of being efficiently converted into useful work. This reduces the overall efficiency of the equipment, requiring more energy input to achieve the desired output. 

Speciality bearings can reduce these friction losses – but they must be the right bearings. According to a study conducted by the US Department of Energy (DOE), it has been estimated that approximately one-third of industrial energy usage in motor-driven systems is consumed by friction in bearings. This includes both rolling element bearings and plain bearings.

Most types of standard bearings can be found in general machinery, but the reason why they underperform is that the material from which the bearing is made is not chosen in accordance with the application and load. 

A better option is to utilise high-performance bearings that are specifically engineered to reduce friction. By making the right choice of plastic, ceramic or steel bearing in the appropriate metric or imperial size for a given application, it is possible to enhance the overall efficiency of industrial processes. 

By reducing frictional losses, these bearings minimise the energy required to operate the machinery, resulting in lower energy consumption and subsequently reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

This brings us to issues of noise. Noise and vibration are not only detrimental to the comfort and well-being of workers but also have environmental implications. Excessive noise and vibration can disturb ecosystems, disrupt wildlife habitats, and contribute to noise pollution in surrounding communities. 

By minimising noise emissions, industrial manufacturers can mitigate their impact on local ecosystems and contribute to environmental preservation and conservation efforts.

Careful engineering 
Speciality bearings incorporate innovative technologies that dampen noise and minimise vibration, creating a more harmonious and environmentally friendly operating environment. 

One of the primary ways that SMB Bearings contributes to manufacturers' sustainability objectives is through its range of speciality bearings for industrial applications. These are engineered to minimise friction, allowing for smoother and more energy-efficient operation of industrial machinery. This includes factors such as bearing size, shape, and internal geometry. 

By carefully engineering these aspects, manufacturers can minimise internal clearances, improve load distribution, and enhance the overall smoothness and efficiency of the bearing operation.

Enhancing the bottom line 
Speciality bearings depend on precise manufacturing techniques. Tight tolerances and high-quality control during the production process must ensure that the bearings are precisely crafted, reducing inconsistencies and irregularities that can lead to increased friction.

By reducing frictional losses, manufacturers can optimise their processes and achieve significant energy savings. This not only helps reduce their environmental impact but also enhances their bottom line by lowering operational costs.

Traditional lubricants often contain harmful substances that can pose risks to both the environment and human health. However, speciality bearings are designed to accommodate advanced lubricants that are not only more effective but also environmentally friendly. 

By utilising bearings that are compatible with eco-friendly lubricants, manufacturers can transition to more sustainable lubrication practices. This shift not only reduces the release of harmful chemicals into the environment but also improves the overall performance and lifespan of the bearings. By extending the lifespan of machinery, manufacturers can reduce waste generation and contribute to a more circular economy.

The environmental impact of industrial machinery is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. Speciality bearings offer a promising solution to this challenge by enabling the use of eco-friendly lubricants, reducing energy consumption, and minimising noise and vibration. 

In the industrial sector, suppliers can play a crucial role in promoting sustainability through their expertise in delivering premium speciality bearings of high quality.

To learn more about how SMB Bearings’s speciality industrial bearings can help reduce energy consumption in industrial machinery, visit its website.

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