Bearing it all
Industry experts highlight some of the major hurdles that engulf the bearings industry.
BY TEAM MT
Bearings are the backstage performers in any industry. Doing their work silently, in tough environments they are hidden in machines in such a way that you cannot see them. Yet it is bearings that enhance the functionality of machinery and help save energy. A surprisingly large number of bearings can be found all around us. An automobile for example has about 100-150 bearings in it. Without bearings, the wheels would rattle, the transmission gear teeth wouldn’t be able to mesh, and the car wouldn’t run smoothly.
Talking of various types of bearings and its uses, Sanjay Koul, chairman and MD, Timken India said, “Typically you would find tapered, deep groove, spherical and cylindrical ball bearings in the Indian market. They are used in an array of industries and equipment like agriculture (farm tractors and combines), mining (long wall shearers, draglines, shovels and continuous miners), construction (loaders, excavators, compactors and crawler dozers), railcars and locomotives (freight and passenger cars and high speed rail systems), cement (cement crushers, conveyors and screens), power generation (wind energy turbines and coal crushers), food and beverage, oil and gas, paper and pulp and metal industries.”
The application and performance requirements of the bearings places quite stringent demands on the way it is handled and stored after it is manufactured and while it awaits fitment. Agreeing, Sathyanarayanan Gopalakrishnan, plant head, FAG India averred, “The bearings are produced in a high technology environment with enhanced care for cleanliness. They have to be stored in clean and dry conditions and should be devoid of any dirt or contamination. If not, the performance of the bearing can suffer and also significantly reduce its life. Exposure to moisture is another great detriment to the bearing which is quite prone to developing rust if not properly protected.”
Even handling with naked hands can cause rust over a period of time and this can reduce the performing life of the bearing. It is best not to remove the bearings from their original packing till the time of installation. “During application of the bearing, care needs to be taken to use the recommended methods and tools and any kind of impact on the bearing can cause serious damages that can ruin it. They should also not be subjected to any vibration while in transport or in storage,” added Gopalakrishnan.
Also, a small amount of moisture or chemical left on an unprotected bearing by a glove or hand can result in a small etched area, which may initiate bearing fatigue. Recommending the best ways to store bearings, Sunil Chrungu’s, VP, industrial markets distribution and strategic accounts, India & SW Asia, SKF India said, “Store bearings flat, in a vibration-free, dry area with a cool, steady temperature. One should also control and limit the relative humidity of the storage area as: 75% at 20 °C (68 °F); 60% at 22 °C (72 °F); 50% at 25 °C (77 °F). Bearings should be kept in their original unopened packages until immediately prior to mounting to prevent the ingress of contaminants and corrosion.”
Koul emphasised that a customer must check with the distributor or the retailer as to how they have stored the bearings. “For example, a tapered roller bearing must be stored with its taper down and not one on top of the other. They have to be stored at a particular angle that reduces or eliminates the possibility of damage to rolling elements and raceway, since it could be weeks or months before the bearing stored is actually put into use. Bearings are generally manufactured with very close tolerances and therefore require special handling. They must be treated as fragile items at all times. They must always be stored in clean and sterile environments and kept away from moisture, dust and chemicals. The consumer should also check if there is enough factory lubricant in the bearings to prevent it from rust.”
These days the Indian bearings industry has been facing large threats from the grey or spurious markets. “These are produced in substandard manufacturing conditions without appropriate technical and systemic inputs which reduce the performance quality. However, they are sold to gullible customers at prices that are not comparable and this can damage the market perception. Also, it can cause severe damage to the reputation of the manufacturer whose bearing has been imitated. Bearing manufacturers are using unique identification and packaging methods that would let their customers know of the genuineness of the parts. Customers are also educated on the same from time to time so that they are in a position to discern the original from a spurious bearing,” informed Gopalakrishnan.
One of these methods developed by SKF is called genuine@SKF.com. “Customers can just send a photo of the packaging and product at any point of time on the website and our experts determine the authenticity of the bearings in a short span. If the customer has accidentally purchased a counterfeit or wants to anonymously inform about any such activity in a particular area they can write to us on the website. Based on this we take further actions so that our customers don’t suffer in the future through machinery breakdown, costly production stoppages or injuries to people,” stated Chrungu.
Fake or duplicate bearings are mostly seen in the replacement market, which is the after demand when the bearings are replaced by new bearings after wear/tear or any premature failures. Talking about the strategy employed by Timken to deal with this, Koul avowed, “Besides replacing the bearing with a new one, we offer to repair it for the customer and that results in a 50-60% savings for him. We are also geared to provide reliability and MRO for items that need special care.”
Another peril that looms over industry is that of illegal imports. According to industry sources, 40-45% of the bearings demand in India is met by imports. While some of the imports come through official channels, huge volumes of it are illegal. Seconding, Chrungu pointed out, “Earlier the Indian market was highly protected on account of import duty as high as 150% to 240% ad valorem, as a result of which illegal imports became the order of the day. Due to reduction in import duty, the illegal import scenario is far better than what it was before.”
Gopalakrishnan revealed that the most practical way to deal with this is for organisations’ to continuously look for cost reduction measures and make their own product more competitive in the market and ensure that the risk of using spurious bearings is willfully avoided by the buyers. “Keeping your eyes and ears to the ground and being in constant touch with the market helps.”
In the industry there are practices and measures that have been put in place to create awareness for the presence of spurious bearings and to anticipate the risks it presents to the end users. Concurring, Koul notified, “The Ball and Roller Bearings Manufacturers’ Association (BRBMA) and World Bearing Association have several initiatives to prevent spurious imported bearings flooding the market. Bearing manufacturers have to get registered with the customs authorities to get a chance to inspect and thereby prevent inflows of spurious imported bearings into India.”
Though there are problems in the industry it does not mean that the Indian bearing industry cannot compete successfully with the global markets. However, there are certain measures that it needs to put into place. For example, investments of adequate resources with technical and techno commercial interventions would have to be made to effectively enhance the ability of the supply base.
“Absolutely. This is extremely important to achieve the desired quality and quantity with the desired cost to enhance competitiveness. Also, though the quality of steel has improved over the last decade we still need to improve the cleanliness to a level that is required to improve the fatigue life of bearings. Secondly, the supply base for the components need to become world class and meticulously quality oriented,” suggested Gopalakrishnan.