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SKF’s new sensing technology integrates a fiber optic cable into the bearing ring. The cable serves as both the sensor and the transmitter. (SKF)

SKF employs digital tools to enhance bearing design, performance

It began with spherical roller bearings more than 100 years ago and now SKF finds itself amid a digital transformation. Over the years the bearing company has expanded beyond life modeling and bearings into condition modeling, John Schmidt, president, SKF USA Inc. and president industrial sales Americas, told media attending a recent Technical Press Day in Philadelphia, near the company’s U.S. headquarters. Now data analytics and connected devices are helping to drive SKF’s digitalization efforts.

According to Michael D’Argenio, VP digital transformation & customer experience for SKF Americas, successful transformation is about more than upgrading technology. “It’s about upgrading strategic thinking,” he said. A centralized digital platform, a unified data strategy, an ecosystem of connected products and apps, and a results-focused business model are all part of the company’s strategic approach.

SKF highlighted its activities and demonstrated several new technologies and products, showing how the global supplier of bearings, seals, mechatronics, lubrication systems, and services is prepping for the future.

Load sensing by light
SKF’s new sensing technology provides engineers with insights into machine performance. SKF Fiber Optic Sensing uses optical fibers to measure forces, in real time, in difficult environments and without electronics.

Adaptable to a wide range of bearings, the fiber optic sensing provides an instant overview of equipment performance, measuring parameters including load, speed, temperature and more. This provides new opportunities for closed-loop control of processes. It also allows engineers to proactively prevent problems early, such as unfavorable running conditions, misalignment or wear, before they lead to costly shutdowns. 

The technology uses light rather than electricity, which enables safe measurements in hazardous environments. The absence of electronics means the sensors are safe in electromagnetic fields. The fibers transmit light without disturbances at long distance, which enables remote monitoring where wireless technology cannot be used. 

SKF’s new Fiber Optic Sensing is the result of a nearly 10-year joint development with telecom and sensing company Hexatronic. SKF initiated development from what began as an idea in 2008, and in 2015 began three years of long-term testing of the proof of concept with customers in a subsea screw pump and a marine thruster. Lars Kahlman, senior application expert and technical lead, told media that the final product was slated for availability in September 2019. 

A lot of condition monitoring is route based, sometimes operated going to a piece of equipment to measure the vibration temperature or speed. It can be done with an app or sent to a computer and reviewed, Gakuo Ndonga, applications engineer for SKF Group, detailed during demonstration of the new SKF Fiber Optic Sensing. “But the key piece of information is that this is real time and you don’t have to necessarily be at the asset. You don’t have to be holding an expensive piece of equipment or wire to a device.” 

The app makes it easier for users when at the equipment. “This app is just for visualization. The data is going out multiple ways, whether it’s through the app or through software. This provides an added feature,” Ndonga said. 

“One thing I want to re-emphasize is the load sensing is a pretty big deal for the industry,” he added. “We have ways to collect temperature, vibration, speed but load near the bearing has evaded a lot of the industry. If there is a piece of equipment running, understanding the load has just been a very good guessing game. This is one way to actually look at it and understand: Is that load excessive, is it where it’s supposed to be based on design?” 

Simulation tools aid custom designs 
“Over the years we’ve seen developments of calculation of life adding different factors, different methods becoming more and more complex,” said Travis Shive, application engineer/analytical tools expert, during SKF’s Technical Press event. Simulation programs and calculation tools are a couple of examples. “We’re starting to look not just at life in this aspect but at some items outside of fatigue life and service life so we could use these software packages to help our customers understand the complete application, not just a bearing life.”

One of the SKF engineering tools, SKF SimPro Quick, is a single-shaft bearing simulation software developed for users to quickly evaluate the design of bearing arrangements and their field performance, based on relevant application requirements and conditions. Complementing the more advanced SKF SimPro Expert, the goal of SKF SimPro Quick is to provide designers with the engineering knowledge and autonomy to accelerate their design process and optimize the selection of appropriate bearings. 

The software allows customers to select bearings directly from SKF’s new Rolling Bearings Catalogue 17000, ensuring that the latest updates are considered and enabling numerous options for designing everything from two bearings on a shaft to as many bearings as required. Building a complete model requires only a few steps. SKF SimPro Quick can help designers optimize the design and reduce testing time for a range of various operating conditions. 

Simulation capability innovations provide deeper insight into bearing and system performance. Simulation tools are helping with specialized customer challenges, according to Shive, and are available to all users.

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