The ever-changing auto industry moves quicker than ever. Can an industry like bearings keep up?
The wheel might be the oldest human invention, but bearings come a close second. As the world of motion takes a faster track, a time-tested invention would have to keep up with it. Whether it is improvement in
lubrication or in the bearings material itself, manufacturers are looking into how bearings can contribute to the industry trends as well developing intelligent bearing solutions for various automotive
OEMs and aftermarket
Bearings are a part of mechanical accessories and like all mechanical parts the aftermarket segment is proliferative. Bearings tend to experience a lot of mechanical failures which means that they need to be
replaced. The replacement bearings are sourced from the aftemarket, which allows for bearings manufacturers to be suppliers, not just to OEMs, but also to SMEs who source their products from the aftermarket
Take for example NRB, which is one of the oldest bearing companies in the country and has been operating since 1965. They first set up a joint venture with a French company known for producing all kinds of
roller bearings, eventually becoming an independent producer for India in 1965. Today, NRB is present in 90 per cent of the vehicles running on the Indian roads. It offers a wide range of high precision friction
solutions for all mobility applications and the client list includes all the world leaders in the automobile industry viz Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Honda, John Deere, Bosch, ZF and Getrag just to name a few. It has close
to 70 per cent market share in needle bearing segment and is a market leader in automotive cylindrical bearings with a growth rate of 46 per cent in this segment. Bearings producers like NRB definitely have a
strong presence with OEMs. But at the same time they also cater to the aftermarket with their needle roller bearing products.
Texspin India, for example, is gearing up for the ever-expanding industry. The company has been functional since 1961 and is also a major bearings provider for the aftermarket sector, as well as to OEMs.
“The automotive industry is fast evolving in India and has become extremely competitive with most adopting global standards and major global automotive manufacturers eyeing this market for driving growth. The
product life cycle is also getting shorter by each passing day as automotive manufacturers are pitching in with newer models much faster than ever before to capture market share. This has thrown up fresh
challenges to the component manufacturing industry in terms of technology, flexible manufacturing and supply chain,” says Dipen Makwana, Managing Director, Texspin Bearings Ltd India.
The company has entered relatively newer segments such as industrial assemblies, clutch assemblies and unitised taper roller bearings (TRBs)
“One of the most enduring and demanding segment is the wheel bearings and wheel-end hub units where Texspin has designed and developed a unique and niche generation two types of wheel hub units with
unitised double row taper roller bearing for the commercial vehicle (segment). The current wheel end design in most of the commercial vehicles, off road vehicles and in many SUV consists of two independent
taper roller bearings which has some very distinct disadvantage in terms of misalignment and preload, sealing, quality and quantity of lubricants and periodic maintenance,” comments Makwana, regarding their
offerings in the bearings segment.
Most of the customers in the aftermarket segment are mechanics and small garages. Disruptions like the GST and demonetisation have resulted in major losses for the SME sector. Companies like Texspin have
had to face the brunt, as in the bearing industry, the aftermarket makes up a large portion of the sector.
“From Texspin’s perspective we would remain focused in introducing and expanding our market presence for the new products and new technology already developed or in the pipeline as well as work on
reinforcing and expanding our penetration in both domestic and global markets. In general we feel that efficient and effective channel management with a focus on differentiated service delivery may be a key
growth driver going ahead,” says an optimistic Makwana about the future of bearings aftermarket.
Hybrid bearings in the industry
A relatively new and very expensive type of ball bearings are known as ceramic or hybrid bearings. These are bearings with hardened steel races or casings but the rolling element is made of silicone nitride
(Si3N4), a compound which consists of silicon and nitrogen and has a high melting point and is also chemically inert (non-reactive). This compound is used in both ceramic and hybrid ceramic bearings while the
bearings themselves have found their use in areas where corrosion, and electric fields can ruin metal.
Ceramic hybrid bearings have found favour in several industries due to their high friction-resistance, low thermal expansion rate and also their electrical insulating properties. The latter makes them ideal for
implementation in the EV space and also in electrification processes.
One of the properties of ceramic bearings is that their physical structure is very smooth and hence they are considered to be ‘free rolling’ elements. Owing to this, the bearings are highly friction-resistant which can
prevent long term failure of the bearings due to galling or false brinelling. Unlike steel bearings, that slowly deposit bits of their own material on to races (galling or cold welding), ceramic bearings don’t make gouges
or scratches on the surface. They are also non-corrosive which constributes to their friction-resistance.
Hybrid bearings run cool since the ceramic rolling elements have a low rate of thermal expansion. At the same time they can also function with as little lubrication as possible. This prevents failure of the bearing
due to overheating and also extends grease life. Lubricant deposits, which contribute to bearing failure, can be avoided.
Hybrid bearings have another advantage to them which is high speed. Ceramic balls weigh lesser than steel balls by 60 per cent. Coupled with its low co-efficient of friction, ceramic rolling elements can increase
the overallbearing life.
Bearings also tend to face failure due to contamination. In the case of ceramic bearings, these solid contaminants will simply be pushed out of the races as the bearings fall into motion.
Despite their immense usefulness, hybrid bearings are not used as widely as one thinks. For starters, they are very expensive. Cheaper quality ceramic rolling elements won’t be able to take load as well as their
steel counterparts. Automobile manufacturers also need to be careful of spurious ceramic balls, which are in fact ceramic coated steel balls.
Hybrid bearings mainly have their application in motorsport racing and in aerospace. In Formula 1 racing, silicon nitride elements are used in gear boxes, wheel hub bearings and the engine as well. However,
applications for everyday use may be difficult. Vehicles on roads are used almost regularly, have to carry bigger loads than race-cars and are exposed to unstable roads, unlike a race track. Overtime all these
factors can heve an effect on any kind of bearing, let alone hybrids.
That being said, companies like SKF are looking into how these bearings can be used for electrification purposes owing to their insulating properties.
Role of bearings in current automotive trends
In EVs, hybrid ball bearings can be used in the electric motor to prevent the passage of electric current. However, as the country and the world at large is experiencing a push towards EVs, incorporating hybrid
bearings on a large scale would not be cost-effective.
Regular bearings have been going through a change as well with Timken India, the premier technology provider for the SUV and high-end utility vehicle segment, developing a new generation of bearings.
“As the vehicle is becoming more electrical, the need for engine and transmission bearings will come down. However, the EVs need a high-end product due to weight restrictions, etc. Timken is working with
several EV manufactures to offer right solutions. Bearings with sensors that can alert on the vibration, temperature etc, are available with Timken. The development work on these new generation bearings is going
on continuously to offer customers bearings that can communicate. In addition to power dense bearing, we offer to our customers in India sealed bearings that do not require any service for up to half a million
kilometres. We have also proposed use of compatible lubricants to support the high-end bearings,” says Sanjay Koul, Chairman and MD, Timken India Limited, about the company’s efforts towards developing
bearings that are compatible with the recent trend towards electrification.
“As the industry goes from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels, the demands on the bearings would change as well. We at Timken are already working on the new generation products and we will see these products
launching as per the trends of the market. Smart bearings are part of our portfolio already,” adds Koul.
Not only is Timken working towards contributing to the electrification trend, but it is also helping with lightweighting and fuel-efficiency as well. Koul rightly observes that fuel is one of the highest operatig costs to
any fleet operator, which is why Timken also employs fuel-efficient and power-dense-fuel-efficient (PDFE) designs for use in heavy truck pinions, differentials and wheel ends. Power dense fuel efficient bearings
designed into the axle system would result in improved fuel economy, reduced operating temperature, less noise, improved power density and reduced bearing weight.
“Fuel Economy is one of prime selling point for any automobile manufacturer. Therefore, continuous efforts are put by manufacturers in this area and reducing the weight of the vehicle with same or improved
performance is the key. Timken is continuously supporting the manufacturer towards reducing the overall weight of the bearing and also improved greases,” says Koul.
At the same time Dharmesh Arora, CEO and MD, Schaeffler India, stresses on how governments globally are pursuing more stringent norms on emissions and fuel economy to improve air quality in urban area.
“India too has announced the implementation of BS VI norms by 2020 and soon will adopt the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) norms, which require cars to be 30 per cent or more fuel efficient from
2022 and 10 per cent or more between 2017 and 2021. It is our belief that the efficiency of ICE can continue to be enhanced using new technology solutions. Schaeffler has the necessary technologies and solutions
available having a profound impact on helping engines to consume less fuel and comply with increasingly stringent performance and emissions standards,” comments Arora.
He adds, “Schaeffler is regarded as the number one specialist in products that contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions and help protect the environment. Our product range is very diverse and for automotive
industry, includes components and systems for conventional internal combustion engine as well as hybrid and electric vehicle applications. The innovative and light weight designs by Schaeffler in terms of bearigs
and light weight differentials give significant advantages in terms of space, weight and fuel consumption.”
Schaeffler is already making strides by developing a technology demonstrator car that takes a popular sedan and applies its range of technical solutions and have achieved a 10 per cent fuel efficiency improvement,
Modern cars and SUVs designed with lightweight materials and components are more fuel efficient and maneuverable, lightweight vehicles tend to get better performance ratings because they can accelerate much
quicker. Reducing a car’s weight by as little as one-tenth will boost its fuel economy by six to eight per cent.
Speaking further about Schaeffler’s contribution to light-weighting, Arora says “Our product range offers maximum benefits to our customers such as extended operating life of their vehicles via highly-developed
components and assemblies with durable materials; reduced fuel consumption; and increased cost-efficiency through weight optimised products and systems.
The road ahead for bearings
As the world of mobility moves faster, there is an immense pressure on the bearings industry in order to ensure that demands are being met. However, manufacturers seem to be welcoming the fast changes in the
Makwana opines that constant improvements in the engine and clutch performance has meant significant increases in transmission torques which places ever increasing demands on automotive transmissions and
their components for optimised design and highest functional reliability. Texspin, he believes, has put years of research and has developed a niche solution for one of the most important and challenging component in
a transmission ie synchroniser and synchroniser immediate rings which are highly engineered to meet the ever demanding application requirement of a transmission.
“Innovation would lead this world for a safer and a greener tomorrow where companies would be measured by their social value creation and not purely shareholders wealth creation,” adds Koul.
It is our belief that the efficiency of ICE can continue to be enhanced using new technology solutions. Schaeffler has the necessary technologies and solutions available having a profound impact on helping engines
to consume less fuel.”
CEO and MD, Schaeffler India Limited
The product life cycle is also getting shorter by each passing day as automotive manufacturers are pitching in with newer models much faster than ever before to capture market share. This has thrown up fresh
challenges to the component manufacturing industry in terms of technology.”
One of the most enduring and demanding segment is the wheel bearings and wheel-end hub units where Texspin has designed and developed a unique and niche generation two types of wheel hub units with
unitised double row taper roller bearing for commercial vehicles”
MD, Texspin Bearings Ltd India
Bearings with sensors that can alert on the vibration, temperature etc, are available with Timken. The development work on these new generation bearings is going on continuously to offer customers bearings that
Chairman and MD, Timken India Limited