Customers are looking for more reliable and compact solutions which can survive difficult operating environments. Harsha Kadam, CEO, Schaeffler India and President (Industrial Business), shares more on the application trends in bearings and the market scenario.
How is the industrial bearings market doing currently in India? What is the demand trend of bearings from infrastructure equipment applications?
The basic trend which is common across the board but is more relevant in the machinery used in infrastructure development is that now customers are looking for more compact machines. Bearings are required for longer life of equipment in spite of being subjected to higher loads and more adverse and difficult operating environments such as high vibration, shocks and contamination. Customers are looking for more reliable and compact solutions which can survive difficult operating environments, which is true for plain bearings and rolling/roller bearings as well. In addition, customers need bearings with different materials and constructions. That’s where we are able to provide more specific customised solutions for different applications.
What are the technology trends in industrial bearings and accessories?
Customers would need more reliable systems as they are not only looking at bearings, but also sub-assembly systems. Systems such as housings, lubricants, and additional components like seals are also part of the supply/purchase contract. A large number of bearings are customised for different characteristics like current insulation, special coating for prevention against rust, special coating for protecting the bearings against damage due to slippage. Very often, coating solutions are also being deployed within this industry. In terms of Schaeffler’s advancement in technology trends for the industrial bearings market, we are offering monitoring solutions, which are definitely the need of the hour.
What are your latest products in construction equipment applications?
Referring to the latest products for the construction equipment applications, we have modified the existing product range which has been a kind of the serial product portfolio, where we have introduced various modifications like X-life construction. For example, in the case of cylindrical roller bearings, we have the TB (Toroidal crowned end faces) roller design. We are improving the products for higher load carrying capacity, radial and axial. Also, bearings which can run at higher speed and more reliable because of the steel that is being used, is being produced in a more refined manner for better survival rate.
Talking more on the X-life products, we are improving the surface characteristics and the overall material quality, by improving the purity of the material. So, not just the surface, but also the inherent quality of the material is improved. Because of the better surface characteristics and improved material quality, we are able to provide bearings with the higher load carrying capacity in the same envelope dimensions.
What are the innovations in materials and design?
In terms of material, we are customising bearings for specific applications and definitely different applications will require different materials. So, we have already proven materials which are more or less standardised. In terms of design, we now use a lot of simulation techniques. Like our BEARINX calculation platform, where we are estimating how a particular bearing is likely to survive and according to the assessment, we are able to modify the components to achieve the desired performance.
Here, we are using software to pre-assess the behaviour of bearings in a particular application and also assess operating life even before the machine is actually produced. So, in a nutshell, for every new concept, we first do this on our simulation tools. Hence, we are able to reduce the cycle time and the final product when it is in the market or industry. It is more reliable and the success rate is very good. Thus, bearing construction is not only related to the material but also the finer aspects like profile dimensions, clearances, and cage construction in a customised manner.
How do you look at the government’s plan to strengthen the Make-in-India initiative and support the MSME segment? Will this have a positive impact on the bearings industry in India?
We agree with the initiative and it is important for us to be able to establish the supplier base for raw materials as well as the intermediate components. The recent situation that we are dealing with has given us an insight into being less dependent on other countries and have local productions which will not only beneficial to the business but also the overall economy. For example, today we are buying plenty of materials from China, Germany and other countries. In the current situation, it is very difficult to meet the requirements. So, having a local supplier base will give us more flexibility in terms of cost as well as manufacturing and we can be more competitive not only in India but also in global market. We will be able to effectively cater to the local demand and can grow the export market as well.
A major issue we face in India, specific to bearings and steel manufacturing companies is that we don’t have many well-established suppliers who can deliver raw materials for large bearings. For small bearings, the supplier base has been established and is progressing well. But for larger bearings, we still have a gap that needs to be eliminated to meet the requirements of the business locally. If we are able to build the supplier base for larger bearings, we will have better flexibility in terms of price as well as overall competitiveness in the market. So, if we have a better-established supplier base in India, it will have a positive impact on the market and the business.
What is your outlook on the demand trend of bearings for CE applications?
Largely, construction equipment market is driven by infrastructure projects and infrastructure projects will be mostly driven by government funding. On the other hand, housing and real estate is where a lot of private players will be playing a role. But definitely a major part of the consumption will come from infrastructure projects. In infrastructure projects, it will all depend on the funding from the government. So, we do not see any kind of a serious decline in terms of the overall demand. At the same time, in the current scenario, the demand is down because activities are halted. But as soon as things improve, there will be a lot of demand in the market again, because this is a segment where demand is driven by internal consumption. Once the situation improves, we will see construction activities back as this is one sector where government has its focus. We still need more rail and road networks to be established. So, on a long term, this is one area where we will see demand coming back.