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Phil Burge, communication manager at SKF, has explained how a new generation of deep-groove ball bearings and tapered roller bearings can help to reduce energy consumption by up to 30 per cent.

Bearings are possibly some of the most widely used components in industry and, despite the fact that they are generally seen as commodity products, are vital for the reliable operation of plant and machinery.

What is not generally realised is that the rapid evolution of production and process systems to meet the needs of greater productivity, reliability and performance has been matched by developments in bearing technology.

In particular, given the current focus across industry on saving energy, a new generation of deep-groove ball bearings and tapered roller bearings can reduce energy consumption by up to 30 per cent.

To put this into perspective, if all motor-driven systems in the US and Europe used the new bearings, more than 2,460 million kilowatt-hours per year could be saved.

Among this new generation of energy efficient bearings is a range of single-row deep-groove ball bearings from SKF that has been designed to meet the needs of light and medium load industrial applications.

The internal geometry of the bearings has been optimised, a robust polymer cage has been developed, and low-friction grease has been introduced.

As well as cutting frictional losses by a minimum of 30 per cent, the combination of these improvements also allows a longer service life to be achieved, according to SKF.

The bearings allow both manufacturers and end users of industrial equipment to realise considerable benefits, the company added.

For example, manufacturers are able to design more efficient machines, enabling them to comply with increasingly tough energy usage regulations, while end users can now be offered products that require less energy and are more cost-effective to operate.

Furthermore, the cost of ownership is reduced as the longer service life of the bearings enables the life of equipment to be extended significantly.

A series of larger energy-efficient ball bearings is also being introduced to increase the efficiency of industrial motors.

Bearing in mind that motor-driven equipment, such as pumps, compressors and fans, can be responsible for around 16 per cent of the energy consumed in industrial applications, and with energy costs continuing to rise, the implementation of these bearings is set to have a big impact on costs.

Along with the high-efficiency ball bearings, there has been increasing focus on developing energy-efficient tapered roller bearings for use in the automotive sector and in industrial applications.

The latest components are able to deliver energy savings in high-power industrial applications, such as wind turbines, heavy duty industrial gearboxes, railway applications, as well as the gear units used for materials handling equipment, extruders, and onboard ships.

As these applications generally require heavy load-bearing capabilities, the bearings are usually between 200 and 600mm in outside diameter, and can deliver energy savings of up to 50 per cent.

The latest energy-efficient tapered roller bearings feature a modified flange geometry, a reduced recess and an extended inner ring raceway, while special raceway profiles and roller topographies have also been created, and the surface roughness of the raceways and flange of the rings reduced.

The energy savings of the bearings have been enhanced further by reducing the number of tapered rollers.

This, combined with the use of a polyetheretherketone (PEEK) cage, allows the rotating mass to be decreased by approximately 10 per cent, resulting in lighter bearings with rolling elements that require less energy to move.

The energy saving features of the new bearings provides designers and end users with the option of either selecting motors and gearboxes with lower energy requirements or working at higher speeds with the same drive performance and increasing the efficiency of machinery as a result.

As lower friction results in reduced temperatures, lubricant life can also be extended, reducing operating costs further still.

With energy still being a major and steadily rising cost to industry, these latest developments represent a significant step forward in reducing consumption.

Indeed, for each percentage improvement in efficiency, an identical fall in energy usage can be achieved, translating to a significant impact on the operating costs of machinery and equipment.

Combined with the improved performance that these latest components offer, these new technologies can enable more productive and, ultimately, more profitable operations.

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