Depending on your point of view, we either just entered the new millennium or have experienced its first year. In either case, we have entered an age where concern for the environment is a critical issue. We all demand clean air and water. Recycling is on the increase, for economic as well as environmental reasons. In the USA, some states are more progressive than others—Oregon, Vermont, Maine, and California come to mind. Detroit is busy working on the hybrid automobile. However, recycling and "green" product design is more a way of life in Western Europe. Travel there, and you immediately notice the recycling and conservation mentality, from the small fuel-efficient cars, to the absence of paper napkins in restaurants. And on whom does the responsibility fall for designing environmentally friendly products? The design engineer! How does the engineering community gain the knowledge and skills required to design "green" machines and products? It starts in the engineering schools. This is one reason why Schneeberger is proud to sponsor the Design News Engineering Quality Award again.
Engineers by their basic nature love to solve problems. A significant problem in the new millennium is how to produce more efficient machines, using cost effective composite and/or synthetic materials, without damaging the environment. Schneeberger is renowned for our precision linear bearings and positioning stages. Our products are used in many varied applications, especially in machine tools and the semiconductor industry. Semiconductor equipment users demand machines capable of operating for years on a 24/7 basis without significant maintenance. Machines must use only a minimum amount of lubricant if at all. For years, our crossed roller linear bearings have provided highly precise straight-line motion. These bearings operate reliably and continuously for extremely long periods of time with just a drop or two of oil. Schneeberger has pioneered many technological advances and recently introduced the world's first recirculating linear bearing that can be operated completely dry—our type SKC. The key to the SKC is the use of rolling elements made from ceramic.
For the machine tool market, Schneeberger produces recirculating linear guide- way systems. Our recent development efforts have focused on sealing and lubrication. Why? Because "green" machines by definition use less lubrication. Given a choice, the mechanical design engineer prefers using bearings that either use no lubrication or require no maintenance, i.e. they are "lubricated for life." This "lubed for life" condition is now common in rotary bearings, because they can be very tightly sealed and do not move, other than rotating in place. But when it comes to recirculating linear bearings, no matter how effective the seals are on the carriage, some lubricant will always leak as the unit moves. The design challenge is to provide reliable seals that retain lubricant inside the carriage and keep contaminants out. To replenish whatever lubricant is lost during operation, some suppliers, including Schneeberger, now offer lubrication cartridges as a low maintenance alternative to automatic lubrication systems.
Environmentally safe machines will become the norm in the future. Engineering students and young engineers will find that they will be required to design their next series of machines as "green." By supporting the Design News engineering awards program, Schneeberger is doing its part to promote the profession and help train tomorrow's engineers to think "green!"