Want to help save the environment? Sure you do. And one way you can help, as an engineer, is to take a hard look at the energy-efficiency implications of the motion components you specify.
That’s the message that came out during an SKF media event held yesterday in Philadelphia. The company later this year will start production on two new families of energy-efficient bearings that promise to reduce friction losses by up to 30 percent compared to conventional bearings of the same size, type and service life. The new bearings will initially be available in deep groove ball bearing and tapered roller bearing styles.
The reduced friction losses can add up to big gains in overall energy efficiency in many applications. Tom Johnstone, SKF Group’s president and CEO, noted that a typical windmill would save about 2,600 kilowatt-hours yearly through the replacement of a single tapered roller bearing with one of the new energy-efficient models. Replacing all the windmill’s bearings with energy efficient models would save about 20,000 kilowatt-hours per year, he estimates.
Better ball bearings could have a similarly large impact. Replacing all the ball bearings used in Europe’s and North America’s electric motors with energy efficient bearings would roughly offset the energy used by 3 million Swedish households in a month, Johnstone says.
SKF achieved the efficiency gains by optimizing aspects of its existing ball and tapered roller bearing designs. “We worked hard on the internal geometry,” Johnstone says. The company also adopted new polymer cages and low friction greases for the new bearings.
The energy-efficient models will at first be available in medium and large sizes for energy-intensive transmissions, electric motors, pumps, compressors, fans and conveyors. Eventually, SKF plans to extend its energy efficient technology to additional sizes and bearing families.
So can better bearings really save the planet? Obviously not by themselves. But the new products do exemplify SKF’s broad approach to sustainability, which has earned the company spots on the Dow Jones Sustainability and FTSE4Good indexes for the past six years. The company already has programs that focus on the usual sustainability suspects–such as the CO2 emissions, materials, chemicals and energy consumption associated with its own production processes.
But SKF’s Beyond Zero sustainability program also accounts for the environmental impact of its products after they’ve been installed in customer applications. “We use energy at SKF. We emit CO2. So we develop products whose cumulative effect for customers is greater than what SKF itself uses,” Johnstone explains.