Other large producers of industrial bearings are
following the same path. Surprisingly, so is Germany’s igus, a producer of self-lubricating plastic
bearings used in applications with lower loads.
“You don’t need to have a complicated system of
electronics to monitor our bearings,” said Richard
Habering, who heads the company’s new smart
One way is to measure the thickness of a bearing
wall. Another is to embed a wire in a bearing; when
enough of the bearing wears away, the wire closes a
circuit that sends a warning.
“In most of our bearings, the gliding part is
changeable,” Habering said. “If you wait too long,
you can destroy the shaft and the bearing. But do it
too early and you lose money by replacing a bearing
that could run longer.”
In addition to tra-
SKF’s digital journey
has put in competition
with traditional control
system companies, such
as Emerson Electric.
Like SKF, Emerson
also bought a condition
Computer Systems Inc.,
in 1995. The two com-
petitors, however, have
very different value
“Instead of the bear-
ing level, we’re looking
at the facility level,” said Jacob Swafford, Emerson’s
senior manager of sales development. “Our focus is
SKF has strong analytics, he explained. But it can
also pull a bearing out of a machine, determine the
root cause of failure, recommend improvements,
and repair or replace the bearing.
“I could argue that our technology is just as deep
or deeper, but we chose to go the other way,” he
said. “We look at things more holistically.”
Emerson’s goal is to aggregate data from bear-
ings—and other machines and components—run
high-level analytics on it, and help customers use
that information to make “step changes” in plant
operations and productivity.
Honeywell has both large and small customers.
While many large facilities take condition monitoring seriously, many smaller facilities often seek help
only after a machine failure hurts their business.
Digital technology, and especially the mad
scramble to plug into the Io T, also brings out some
unexpected partners and competitors. One is NTT
Data Services, a $22 billion subsidiary of the Japanese telecommunications giant Nippon Telegraph
& Telephone (NTT).
So, how much does NTT know about running a
“Data centers are an amazing example of monitoring and controlling physical assets,” said Sid-dharth Sharma, vice president of industry solutions
for NTT’s manufacturing team.
In addition to stand-alone data centers, the
company operates factory IT systems around the
world, and is on 70 percent of the shop floors in
Japan. Branching into the industrial Io T is a logical
extension of that business.
Sharma makes a
strong case. His team
consists of experienced
factory IT engineers
who understand how
to collaborate with
customers on instrumenting bearings and
machinery. NTT develops its own machine
learning algorithms and
builds several types of
Like Emerson, it
understands how to ag-
gregate data to provide
its own monitoring and
predictive maintenance. In fact, Sharma said the
company is considering building command centers
just for John Deere. And it has vast experience
integrating factory data into control systems and
corporate enterprise software, such as SAP.
Yet, even as digital technologies are turning the
factory floor into a free-for-all of competing technologies, bearing manufacturers—and companies
like them—have a key advantage. They have built
them, pulled them apart, and analyzed how and
why they fail. Software that embeds that knowledge and makes it easy for companies to access
gives them an edge.
As van Camp noted, “Data analysis and visualization and the ability to draw conclusions and to take
the right remedy action is where SKF is unique and
provide real value to customers.” ME
ALAN S. BROWN is a senior editor at Mechanical Engineering magazine.
In smaller factories, technicans typically monitor
bearings by using portable viibration monitors.