Over the last decade, bearing design has seen industry scandal and a burgeoning counterfeit market, not to mention the 2008 global economic crisis. Post-market crash ripples surged through all industries, especially automotive - which accounts for about a quarter of international bearing sales according to Global Industry Analysts (GIA).
Only since recovery from the downturn has the focus on bearing technologies returned to new innovations - namely, customization and integration of sensing for IoT capabilities.
Bearings are necessary in nearly all motion applications … so nearly all industries using machinery or related to motor-driven linkages use bearings. So the current economic outlook predicts increasing bearing use. Case in point: At the annual PTDA summit last October, economist Alan Beaulieu predicted significant economic growth through 2020: "Now is the time to spend money on people, processes, and then spend some more." In fact, Grand View Research predicts the global bearing market to reach nearly $85 billion by 2020 thanks to a mix of industry and regional factors.
Bearings in wind turbines are one area of growth. The renewable energy market likely grow over the next four years with wind leading, and a Romanian Bearing Inustry Scenario projects 12% of the nation's end-use demand served by wind by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. Analysts expect this to increase turbine construction and the use of high-capacity bearings with it.
However, heavy machinery and industrial sectors dominate growth in bearing use. MarketReportsStore.com recently released a report predicting that the global construction market would expand from $8.5 trillion now to $10.3 trillion by 2020. Emerging markets such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates could surpass the Asia-Pacific region as a growth leader. China no longer has the same level of infrastructural needs it once did, and a slight economic downturn is cooling growth (though bearing sales there will follow an upward trajectory through 2020). India, Iran, Turkey and Indonesia show increased use of bearings if on a smaller scale.
There's a trend in bearing technology towards industry-specific solutions. For example, aerospace and defense relies heavily on instrumented bearings. These bearings boost energy efficiency and provide feedback to ensure safety in systems with no margin for error. Analysts see global defense spending increases for the next few years, increasing demand for instrumented bearings.
For automotive, vehicle manufacturing growth is also expected to increase the need for instrumented bearings. Anti-lock braking systems and electronic stability control are both regulated with the assistance of the wheel speed and vibration data collected by instrumented bearings. As car production increases, so should instrumented bearing sales.
What industry experts are saying
Looking past economics influenced market trends, we took the time to ask industry experts about their take on the upcoming technological trends for bearings.
We are witnessing an ever-increasing shift from bearings to entire systems. Another potential is the reduction of the number of system components by engineering an optimized design. Finally, there is also simplification of systems maintenance thanks to intelligent solutions or intelligent products. — Thomas Witzler, Sales Director, NKE Austria GmbH
For us, the main aspects concerning bearings today are detail optimization; adjustments to meet customer’s needs; and the integration of bearings in functional units in order to provide Added Value. Project lead times and delivery times in the OEM business have become shorter, and the storage of bearings has shifted to wholesalers and manufacturers.
In short, for motion trends, we are often asked for ROHS and REACH for export. Military is requesting longer life parts and qualifications. And, additionally, the use of metric bearings is increasing. — Scot Schroeder, V.P. Industrial Sales, Aurora Bearing
A common trend is that the bearing is becoming more than just a bearing. For example, in the medical industry customers place a high value on integrated mechatronic solutions. By integrating electro-mechanical features directly into the bearing, there are advantages in both performance and reductions in size and cost. A couple of examples: (1) Integrating a brake into a bearing assembly to provide an on-off locking feature. This product was developed for the boom arms that position equipment in the operating room and for the positioning joints of surgical robots. A second example is the integration of bearing, motor, encoder, and customized housings for use as direct drives in CT scanners. This integration and use of a direct drive motor (versus timing belts) creates faster, quieter CT scanners that as a result produce sharper images and a more positive patient experience (less noise).
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There are many similar examples in the automotive industry. The CAFE standards create a need for innovative solutions that will allow manufacturers to reach fuel economy targets. This often leads to innovative electro-mechanical systems. While the bearing is often the core of these systems, it goes far beyond just supplying a better bearing. — Craig Hooker, Director – BU Production Machinery, NA
Schaeffler Group USA Inc.