Unlocking opportunities
Though the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put a brake on the growth of the bearings industry, the market is expected to bounce back and continue to grow from next year onwards.

Bearings enhance equipment performance and reduce energy and lubricant consumption. 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. The factors contributing to the market growth of industrial bearings include increasing application of bearings in various industrial sectors and increase in the manufacturing of heavy machinery, among others. 

Application and technology trends
Changing design and application trends has put pressure on the bearings manufacturers to use competitive materials and designs for their new products to meet the emerging requirements, mainly compact size and improved performance against shocks. According to Harsha Kadam, CEO, Schaeffler India and President (Industrial Business), 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. 

Over the years, technology has evolved with respect to the demand, customised requirements and design changes in equipment and machinery. According to Sanjay Koul, Managing Director, Timken India, major technology trends evolving are in the field of material sciences, grinding profiles, application engineering using the latest software and then the manufacturing with robotics. “Also now condition monitoring and sensor pack bearings have become more popular as uptime and predictability is very important as everything is now connected to customer delight,” he adds.

At a time when the infrastructure equipment players are coming out with products of higher efficiency and better productivity, the bearing manufacturers are keen on introducing new features and improved performance into their products. They are actively involved in research and development in the area of materials and condition monitoring solutions. “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,” says Kadam.

Timken is also coming up with innovative solutions. “Timken has always excelled in the area where the application requirement needs real engineering and the environment is harsh, say, the bearing in a submarine gearbox or a bearing on a wind mill. The challenges that are overcome by engineering is where Timken adds value,” says Koul.

Tough market conditions
The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted the market where every industry slowed down. The demand for bearings in construction equipment segment is down because equipment sales and utilisation is low. In April and May, construction activities were the lowest and due to which the sales and utilisation of various equipment almost came to a standstill. According to Koul, the equipment builders in most of the sectors are going slow and one of the reasons is that end-users are delaying their projects and the Capex. 
The current market is distressed with the COVID-19 pandemic impact, but the growth scenario in infrastructure. The government’s ambitious plan of National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) is expected to bring back the momentum in construction activities. The recent reforms in mining segment have created a movement in coal mining and other mineral mining activities. All these are expected to drive the demand for more high-capacity bearings for CE applications in India.