Innovating for Growth
The Indian industrial bearings industry contends with its customers’ demanding needs for cost-effective and productivity-enhancing operations by Mitalee Kurdekar
Industrial bearings form an integral part of every moving mechanism in machining operations. As a result, the demand for these machining parts has been steady over time. More recently, the continuous trend towards the replacement of ageing fleet, coupled with growing demand from the industrial and infrastructural sector, is expected to drive growth. The Indian bearings market is estimated at Rs 85 billion, yet it constitutes only 4-5% of global demand.
Automotive bearings forms the leading application segment and there’s a growing demand for light weight, high performance automobiles, and computer peripherals such as disc drives, leading to increased usage of smaller and light weight bearings, which is expected to boost demand. Development of bearings that enable more cost-effective wind energy generation has led to increased adoption across wind turbine applications. Also, the global ball bearings market size is growing as the product offers smaller surface contact that reduces the friction and functions very smoothly. Tapered roller bearings and needle roller bearings are also adding to the growth of this industry.
From commencing its first applications even before the Industrial Revolution, in the form of wooden bearings, to the latest forms of special material used in modern automated operations, the journey has been long and arduous, but always keeping customer needs in mind. Over the years, the industry has seen numerous innovative ideas that have transformed the face (and the size) of bearings.
Continuous changes in customer specifications have led to innovative ideas. While the basic need to reduce friction between moving machine parts and constrain the motion to desired levels remains key, evolving requirements have seen the development of high wear resistance, maintenance free and cost effective bearing systems for use in customer applications. Sanjay Koul, managing director, Timken India Limited, states, “The discussion today is not so much about cost-competitiveness, but is more focused on the cost-value equation. For instance, we have developed an innovative maintenance-friendly product called Adapt bearings. Another example is solid housed units, which replace a conventional housed unit operating in harsh environments.”
Koul suggests that Timken have a strong lineage of research, engineering and design to manufacture superior products and provide customers with an extended product lifetime and lesser downtime. “We are at the forefront of providing not only the bearings but also the solution for friction management and power transmission industries,” Koul proclaims proudly.
Customer focus was also evident when SKF India unveiled their new Sibco product range of bearing housings and accessories. Bearing housings are critical as they help to support the bearing, transmit the loads and also protect the bearing and lubricants from contamination. They play a key role in maximising the performance and service life of the incorporated bearing. The Sibco range of solutions caters to standard as well as customised performance requirements of the bearing housings and accessories market.
Commenting on the launch, Shishir Joshipura, managing director & country head, SKF India, said that the company was happy to introduce a domestically manufactured range of bearing housings and accessories, which met application specific performance requirements for different segments across industries.
“Indigenously designed and manufactured in Pune, the Sibco range of solutions helps increase reliability and reduces maintenance for our customers. Coupled with our Sibco range of solutions and imported SKF housings, SKF is now a complete solution provider for the bearing housings and accessories market,” states Joshipura.
Innovation is Key
Innovation has always been a key aspect of the bearings industry, not unlike other growth-oriented sectors. But being close to the customer in bringing out innovative ideas has been instrumental for this industry. Timken believes that it has been at the forefront in bringing state-of-the-art technology in small and large bearings to India.
Koul explains, “Timken’s R&D facility in Bengaluru is one of the company’s four captive innovation and development centres around the world. The market potential is very high and manufacturers are definitely investing in technology that will help optimise the bearing design and yet deliver intended performance.”
These upgrades could be in the space of alternate materials, heat treatment and also in the unconventional metal forming process. R&D on bearings extends beyond bearings to gaining a full understanding of the bearing environment, believes Koul. Elaborating on the future phase of innovation, Koul suggests that Timken will look beyond bearings and value to its customers in the power transmission space. “Going forward, our customers will look for better and cleaner technologies and more value added services (like maintenance of equipment, reliability monitoring, and remanufacturing) that keep their equipment running longer and more efficiently.”
Another interesting feature in the industry is its dedication to sustainable development. At SKF, the focus of their technology development is to reduce the environmental impact of an asset during its lifecycle, both in their own as well as their customers’ operations. The SKF BeyondZero product portfolio is the latest example of what SKF has to offer in this area. SKF’s environmental approach is based around the implementation and integration of environmental life cycle management into core business processes.
Use of greaseless and lead-free bearings is another way of promoting compliance with stringent environmental regulations in many countries, restricting the use of enviro and human unfriendly substances. Auxiliary service supporters like Henkel Adhesive Technologies have also contributed to these efforts (see box) by bringing in engineering adhesives both for original designs and maintenance applications. Their brand of anaerobic adhesives (Loctite) has become the preferred method of retaining assemblies for machine manufacturers worldwide.
Amidst the turmoil of a global slowdown for two years in a row, industry players devised strategies to grow further. For example, Timken India has leveraged on its global acquisitions and expanded its products and solutions portfolio in local operations, which helped them to boost exports from India.
Offering specific solutions across the mechanical power transmission space was another strategy adopted. Rail infrastucture has been a major growth driver in India, as the capital outlay in this large Government enterprise is expanding significantly. Industry players expect big opportunities in this space to flow through as the infrastructure investments in new rolling stock and transport systems increase.
Koul feels that Timken’s global expertise and experience, especially in the aerospace and cement segments, will give Timken India an edge over competitors. He is confident that the India growth story is going to be centred on infrastructure and defence requirements. The infrastructure sector looks promising, and that is where Timken India’s focus is for profitable growth and development.
Essentially, the bearings industry is bullish about India’s economic recovery and the policies pursued in this context. With the automotive and aerospace sectors booming, there is reason to suspect that industrial bearings will benefit from the surge. And that is going to be at the crux of future revenues and profitability for this industry.