One key to service life is the remanufacturing process where companies like Kaydon assess the remanufacturing potential of slewing bearings between 10 to 240 inches in outside diameter (OD). “We get first-hand knowledge of what is and what isn’t working in the field as these bearings come back to us,” Shaw says. “Improvements can immediately be made once we examine the working conditions the component has been through.”
It’s also an added benefit when dealing with the costly components found in the larger market. “For the more expensive bearings, remanufacturing is a viable alternative. You might need a $250,000 bearing that we can remanufacture for $100,000 with warrantiesequal to a brand new slewing bearing,” Shaw says. “We have dedicated personnel and equipment specifically for this process.”
Kaydon works with construction manufacturers, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force on a regular basis toremanufacture bearings. “We have programs in place with several organizations for remanufacturing, particularly those that need a spare bearing on the shelf,” Shaw says.
NTN Bearing provides bearing inspection and engineering field support that also assists with design andmaintenance issues. “We inspect everysingle aspect of the product,” Franiuk says. “If something goes wrong, our engineering team can go back and identify the problem, offer solutions and use this knowledge in the future.”
Adds McGovern at NTN, “For construction and steel applications, the right design decisions can make surean entire production line doesn’t shut down.”
When discussing what separates big slewing bearings from their smaller counterparts, delivery, installation and lubrication present a series of challenges.
“We have bearings between 60 and 220 inches for the marine industry, 120 to 240 inches in steel and 200 inch bearings in above-ground mining applications,” Shaw says. “You’ll find them in off-shore cranes, mooring systems on large ships and in ladle turrets and large pails.”
The delivery of equipment this size can be a problem if the company is not equipped with the necessary resources for the global bearing market.
“We’re finding, particularly in wind, that everyone wants local delivery right now, which presents a challenge for us,” Franiuk says. “We have to expand local production to ensure that our global
customers are taken care of.”
“Even though Kaydon has four different production facilities and a great deal of flexibility, you’ll still find customers that needed the bearing two weeks ago,” Shaw adds. “Customers will always want the product sooner than later. It’s just a part of the business.”
Mounting and lubrication of large bearings offer additional obstacles.“Installation is a very difficult andtimeconsuming process, particularly for steel mill and mining operations,”McGovern at NTN says.
Wikstrom at SKF adds, “Since the bearing is a key part of the entire structure, mounting is very important and difficult due to the size. Also, achieving proper sealing can also be a challenge because of high circumferential speed of the large shaft—as well as ensuring constant and well controlled lubrication. This is usually done on these large structures through a central lubrication system that pumps grease or oil to the locations where it is needed.”
SKF strongly relies on experience and testing for lubricant models, and by nature, this experience is greater in smaller applications since there are more of them.
“With continuously improved understanding and computer modeling of lubricant behavior inside a bearing, the need for lengthy testing in one-off or few-off projects will reduce further,and our ability to predict service life with greater precision will increase,”Wikstrom says.Franiuk thinks the industry might be able to solve lubrication issues with more communication between bearing manufacturers.
“Communication in this industry seems to hold everyone back. Nobody really shares any information on individual experiences. If companies started talking to each other about the variety of lubrication problems they’ve encountered and how they’ve handled them, a lot of these problems could be avoided in the future.”
Though plenty of analysts wax poetic about economic relief, the truth is nobody knows what’s really going to happen in the future. There are plenty of infrastructure projects in development, especially overseas. Wind is still an area of great growth and potential, but it’s not happening as fast as many
people in the market initially hoped. The alternative energy market, in general, might yet play a role in the resurgence of the heavy industrial segment.
“Most industrial markets are not growing right now and wind is, but it’s not as enormous as people thought it would be,” Franiuk says. “With the right incentives, we’re still going to eventually see the boom they’ve been
“Wind energy, together with general investments in heavy industry, has slowed down as a result of the economic downturn, but it is coming back strong. Government stimulus packages combined with legislation have supported the rapid comeback. Ocean energy (wave and tidal) is emerging and is expected to become an interesting business in a couple of years,” Wikstrom says
“NTN is absolutely ready for these markets as they continue to gain some ground, especially ocean tide and direct drive wind,” Franiuk says. “We’re also getting more work in the solar market.
NTN is also seeing some improvements in construction. “Our construction customers have posted some good numbers in the last quarter,” McGovern says. “A lot of that has to do with the work being done in the Chinese, Indian and Russian markets.”
Shaw also sees some growth potential in China and India that Kaydon will be keeping a close eye on. “One area in particular is tunnel boring. There’s a demand in China and India right now for water treatment, water supply and transportation hubs. Most of this activity is going to be done underground,and we see it as a potential long-term growth market.”
“All over the world, the growing population is driving infrastructure and energy projects like wind power, hydropower, tunnels, bridges and roads,”Ander says. “With this come large bearings in the constructions themselves and in the machinery required to build them. In turn, this drives growth in steel production and mining, two other areas where large bearings are used. We believe that the integration of our five platforms (bearings, seals, mechatronics, lubrication and services) will be our major driver for growth.”
But if there is a manufacturing boom in heavy industries, Shaw says it won’t be here as quick as some market analysts think.
“We’re noticing pockets of recovery in some segments of the industry while other segments remain pretty flat. I believe it’s going to stay this way for some time.