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SKF’s ambitions have a bearing on climate change

02 August 2012

Earlier this year, SKF announced a bold new strategy to ensure that its products meet increasingly demanding targets for environmental performance throughout the supply chain, from materials acquisition, through manufacturing to end use and eventual recycling. Les Hunt reports.

The initiative includes a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Savers Programme and the launch of the 'BeyondZero' portfolio of products, designed to improve energy efficiency and support more environmentally friendly energy production. 

It was an ebullient Tom Johnstone, SKF's president and CEO, who led the presentation of his company's new climate strategy to a group of international journalists at London's Science Museum last May. And he had every reason to be enthusiastic about this major initiative that his company was about to embark upon. SKF is a global leader in its field and Johnstone is also determined to see it lead the sector to reduce emissions, not just from its own operations, but also to help its suppliers and customers reduce their emissions too.

SKF is the first engineering components manufacturer to join the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF’s) Climate Savers Programme. A progress review in May 2012 showed that, with the support of WWF, the thirty or so Climate Savers member companies managed to cut their CO2 emissions by over 100 million tonnes since the programme began in 1999, at the same time creating competitive advantage and increasing shareholder value. 100 milllion tonnes is about twice the current yearly CO2 emissions of Switzerland.

Notably, SKF’s climate strategy includes aggressive targets for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions (particularly CO2) of its suppliers and logistics operations - as well as its customers – the latter to be achieved by providing products that have a designed-in capability to reduce CO2 emissions. This is the role of the BeyondZero portfolio, which includes products and assemblies that can improve both the energy efficiency of the end product and support more environmentally friendly energy production.

Hakan Wirten, secretary-general of WWF Sweden says SKF is in a unique position as an industrial engineering company to influence the emissions of many companies within a range of segments. “They show their level of commitment through their targets, which go beyond the direct emissions of the company itself and also drive positive change across their entire supply chain,” he said at the BeyondZero launch.

With its new climate strategy SKF has set itself some tough targets, not least being a pledge to reduce the total annual energy use of the SKF Group by 5 percent below the 2006 level by 2016. The company also plans to reduce the energy use per production output by 5 percent year-on-year during the period 2012-2016, and wants to see all of its energy intensive suppliers certified according to the new Energy Management Standard ISO 50001 by the end of 2016.

Moreover, it will be seeking a reduction of CO2 emissions per tonne-km for all transport managed by SKF Logistics Services of around 30 percent below the 2011 level by 2016, as well as an increase in the revenue from the BeyondZero portfolio from SEK 2.5 billion in 2011 to SEK 10 billion in 2016.

The BeyondZero portfolio
This is the nub of SKF’s new climate strategy and while it is impossible to do the complete portfolio justice within the confines of these two pages, there are some notable examples that demonstrate its intentions.

First among these is the eDrive series of ball bearings for electric and hybrid vehicle power train systems. These virtually eliminate friction torque variations over the bearing’s lifetime and use long-life grease that enables optimum performance in high speed applications and within a wide operational temperature range. Together, these design features enable higher operating speeds with low heat generation and low friction torque. To improve electric motor efficiency even further, eDrive bearings can be integrated with SKF’s rotor positioning sensor-bearing units, which have recently been enhanced for traction motors, improving energy recovery during braking. 

Another new entrant to the BeyondZero portfolio is the CASD-60 solar linear actuator, which contributes to CO2 emissions reductions by increasing the energy production from one solar panel by 5.8MWh/year. On average, a movable solar panel provides a 15 percent increase in power generation over that of a fixed alternative. The CASD-60 is claimed to provide high performance, accuracy and high efficiency as it positions the panel, tracking the sun’s position throughout the day and throughout the seasons.

With its customised Nautilus bearing portfolio, SKF can now offer a main shaft bearing for every wind turbine drive train, both on- and offshore. Presently, wind turbine drive trains utilise one of three concepts: turbines with gearboxes, hybrid turbines and gear-less turbines (direct drive). Whereas turbines with gearboxes were once standard, the latest trend is to design direct drive turbines with permanent magnet technology, which are lighter and more compact.

To satisfy these market trends, SKF recently introduced a range extension to the Nautilus portfolio, improving ease-of installation, reliability and operational safety. Significantly, these improvements enhance the efficiency of wind turbines in extreme conditions and climates, particularly in offshore applications. New features include a bolted inner ring, a sealed and pre-greased unit, and corrosion protection.

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