SKF won’t lose its bearings

Core product will remain as Swedish manufacturer sells off peripheral businesses

SKF will continue to manufacture and develop bearings despite its increasing focus on `added-value’ products and services, the company said this month.

Over the past two years, SKF has tried to deal with tough price competition in the bearings market by cutting costs and providing complete sub-assemblies and services around its core bearings products. For example, the company is working on a range of `drive-by-wire’ systems for the automotive sector which would replace conventional actuators with magnetronic devices.

It has also has a strategy of selling off peripheral businesses seen as having low-profit potential, such as machine tools and steel making.

However, the Swedish-based group will not separate out its bearings business, according to Henning Wittmeyer, senior vice president in charge of technology development. `Manufacturing bearings is still clever stuff,’ he says. `There are lots of secrets about manufacturing – it is not simply a case of just coming in with the drawings and getting started. It is the combination of design and manufacturing which is important.’

SKF is renewing its core range with products such as the Explorer, a long life spherical roller bearing being launched across Europe. A sealed version of the Explorer, which should require no extra lubrication and create no waste from used grease, will be on the market from September this year.

SKF is also adding value to its bearings by building in sensors. For example, a bogie monitoring system for trains, developed in cooperation with railway computing company Secheron, uses the bearing unit to capture speed, temperature and vibration data. Although train monitoring has been around for a while, the position of the sensor in the bearing and its ability to detect vibration is new. It can be used to build a history of the condition of bearings or wheels and components and warn of problems such as derailment or impending part failure.

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