SKF has embraced this disruption. In the past,
the company sold bearings, lubricating systems,
and related products. It also provided services that
range from rebuilding worn and damaged bearings
to monitoring the condition of “several million”
bearings around the world.
Today, SKF is using that crucial data—and its
research into bearing failure—to sell “reliable rotation” as a service.
“The most expensive event in a factory is when
a bearing fails in a critical machine and shuts everything down,” van Camp explained.
By turning unexpected failures into planned
maintenance, van Camp promises to lower costs
and boost factory output. But she wants a share of
those additional profits.
“If we sell bearings as pieces of steel, it’s hard to
get a fair share of their value,” she said. “Instead,
we want to pick the right bearing and lubrication
system for each application, monitor them, and
take the right remedy action when there is a problem. We want to negotiate key performance indicators with our customers and get paid for meeting
them. This is the business model that our company
is betting on,” van Camp said.
SKF is not the only company seeking to sell
mechanical products as services. Rolls Royce and
its aircraft engine competitor, General Electric, get
paid on operating time. So, do companies in other
industries, such as Boeing, Valmet, and Caterpillar.
Yet digital disruption slices both ways. It enables
SKF to bind itself more tightly to customers but
exposes it to more—and sometimes very different—
partners and competitors.
How did bearings become the spear tip of the
Io T revolution?
They are, after all, among the oldest mechanical devices. Bearings were used in hand drills in
ancient Egypt and revolving tables in the Roman Empire. Today, they go into everything from
pumps, fans, engines, and milling machines to wind
turbines, ore crushers, and paper manufacturing
They get their name from “bearing” the load of
a rotating shaft. In a simple bearing, the inner ring
spins with the shaft and transmits its load through
rotating balls or cylinders to an anchored outer ring
that takes the shaft’s weight and torque.
Bearing makers have developed simplified
screens to warn of bearing issues (above).
A screen monitors wear on igus bearings