MRO Magazine

SKF’s Focus Turns to Energy Savings

Making it all the way to 100 is a rare occurrence for both individuals and companies, yet SKF has done just that this year. Its longevity is partly because the one-time bearing manufacturer has widely...

April 1, 2007 | By Bill Roebuck

Making it all the way to 100 is a rare occurrence for both individuals and companies, yet SKF has done just that this year. Its longevity is partly because the one-time bearing manufacturer has widely broadened its horizons, greatly expanding its product and service mix. Its latest move is to take a strong focus on saving energy for itself and its customers.

When SKF was established on Feb. 16, 1907, in Gothenburg, Sweden, it was created to offer a revolutionary new bearing. But its business platform was also revolutionary for the time, as its creator also set the foundation to offer technical support and service to help customers get the most value out of the new bearing.

A hundred years ago, when Swedish engineer and the founder of SKF, Sven Wingquist, invented the self-aligning ball bearing, service was far from a matter of course. Most of the suppliers of mechanical components of these days just sold their products. Then it was up to the customer to learn — often through trial and error — how to put them to use.

However, Wingquist anticipated that being in the forefront of technology with a keen knowledge of customers’ needs, as well as of offering technical support and service to customers, would pay off in the long run. It was also a kind of self-preservation; a badly mounted bearing could give his bearings a bad reputation.


To see first-hand the developments of this now-global industry supplier, Machinery & Equipment MRO attended SKF’s jubilee celebrations in Gothenburg on Feb. 16, 2007, and we’ve complied these photos and this report from the event.

“As in 1907, SKF’s service offering today is to help customers get optimal value out of their investments,” said Tom Johnstone, president and CEO of SKF. “So over a hundred years, there is a straight line combining cutting-edge technology with exact knowledge of customers’ service needs into knowledge engineering solutions.”

Today, Johnstone said, the SKF Group is a knowledge engineering solutions provider for companies all around the globe. SKF is also a global supplier of products, solutions and services in the areas of bearings, seals, mechatronics and lubrication systems. The group’s offerings also include technical support, maintenance services, condition monitoring and training. It’s come a long way from a single bearing product a hundred years ago.

A highlight of the jubilee was a gala dinner with the King and Queen of Sweden, attended by SKF staff and customers from around the world. “SKF is among a handful of Swedish companies that stand out as a pioneer … on the European industrial scene of the 20th century, said H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf.

“SKF belongs to a group of industries that have been built around a Swedish invention of worldwide importance and reputation. A significant reason for the success of SKF is no doubt the early international expansion of the company. It went global long before the word even existed in its modern sense. Already after a decade SKF was manufacturing in five countries and had sales organizations in 18. Quite extraordinary at that time.

“But,” he added, “the global actor SKF is also a traditional Swede: hard-working, low-key, tough and successful.”

Energy efficiency was a common theme of the presentations at the company’s 100th anniversary event. During the jubilee celebrations in Gothenburg, SKF introduced new energy-efficient bearings and further steps to help reduce the world’s energy consumption.

This new bearing family reduces energy consumption by at least 30% compared to standard ISO products. The new products will be initially introduced for two types of bearings, deep groove ball bearings and tapered roller bearings, which are the most used bearing types in the world. (For details, see What’s New in Bearings on pg. 51.)

In addition, the company has developed a web-based application that can support a significant reduction in energy consumption and cost savings for process plants and manufacturing industries.

Further steps to reduce energy consumption for customers include the use of other SKF knowledge and technology in a wide range of applications, from welding robots to automatic throttle control units for business jets.

“With these innovations we will be able to support industry in making a significant contribution to energy savings today and in the future,” said Johnstone.

“The United Nations report a couple of weeks ago about the world climate shows that we have a problem. There are many views and discussions on the subject. However each of us has to make their own contribution and this is the start of our contribution.

“We have developed and can offer technical solutions that can significantly reduce energy consumption,” said Johnstone. “In addition we are addressing our own energy consumption to reduce this and to reduce CO2 emissions.”

“Two years ago at the annual general meeting, SKF launched its BeyondZero initiative. In short this means that the energy savings from the products and solutions that SKF supplies to its customers will be greater than the SKF Group’s own energy consumption,” he said. “It means more than being energy neutral — it means being energy positive. These new innovations launched today will contribute to us achieving our BeyondZero target.”

Reducing energy use within SKF manufacturing

At the jubilee event, SKF revealed that it has a number of programs to reduce the energy consumption within its own facilities. These cover everything from changing windows, improving insulation, detecting leaks of compressed air in piping systems, more efficient heating and ventilation — to new technologies for heat treatment and grinding, changing to green energy (in the Gothenburg factory carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 60%), changing to energy-efficient pumps and motors, reducing the use of compressed air, intelligent machine control — and more.

In 2005 SKF launched a target to reduce CO2 emissions by 5% per annum. In 2005 the reduction was 7% and in 2006 the reduction was over 5%.

Also, SKF has been working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a number of years to define new models to evaluate and measure the energy use of systems in order to improve the energy efficiency and develop new solutions. “One example is the design of bearings where we evaluate the energy impact of any change in design along the life cycle; during manufacturing, in use and in the recycle stages,” said Johnstone.

SKF is also working closely with the School of Business, Economics and Law at Gothenburg University and Chalmers University of Technology, to support three PhDs working on sustainability, two of whom are focusing on BeyondZero and one of whom is focusing on corporate social responsibility. “These projects form part of SKF’s initiative to take a leading role and to seek broad engagement in finding solutions to the long term challenges of sustainability,” said Johnstone.

He noted that SKF energy efficiency solutions lower total operational costs in many applications by reducing friction, reducing power consumption, and applying new technology, some of which can also eliminate costly ancillary equipment in pneumatic, hydraulic and oil-related systems.

Energy efficiency solutions

Various other speakers from SKF divisions discussed specific energy initiatives. The solutions vary from very low friction bearings to actuator and control units for solar panel sun tracking systems, to advanced throttle control systems for the very rigorous demands of aerospace.

Examples of solutions, using knowledge from one or more of SKF’s five technology platforms — bearing, seals, mechatronics, lubrication systems and services — include the following.

* More than 90% reduction in energy consumption in welding robots with SKF electromechanical actuators. Compact SKF electromechanical actuators have replaced pneumatic actuators as the enabling technology for welding tongs in aut
omotive plants in Germany.

Energy saving is more than 90% calculated on the energy required per complete welding point. With over 300 robots in a typical production line, making four million welding points per year, the total savings are estimated at 13.5 million kWh per year.

As well as saving energy, the electromechanical actuators also allow faster welding cycle speeds, better quality control of the process, reduced maintenance costs and more flexibility in adapting to production line changes.

* Three different technical solutions delivered the following large energy savings in industrial compressors.

1. Savings of 700,000 kWh per year were made when SKF magnetic bearings replaced hydrodynamic bearings in a 12 MW natural gas pipeline compressor. In addition, there are cost and environmental benefits gained by eliminating oil-related systems — pumps, coolers, filters and the need to dispose of used oil.

Magnetic bearings deliver torque by a shaft suspended in a magnetic field that can be controlled to vary the speed of rotation. The shaft has no contact with any other machine parts, making the system almost friction-free.

2. More than one million kWh were saved over a four-year period in field trials on three air conditioning compressors fitted with SKF hybrid bearings. Hybrid bearings can be lubricated by the refrigerant, making the application oil-free. Traditional systems use an oil/refrigerant mix to lubricate the bearings. Additional cost and environmental benefits are made due to eliminating oil-related systems. Hybrid bearings have silicon nitride rolling elements in place of traditional steel rolling elements.

3. Energy consumption reductions averaging 5% per machine were made by optimizing screw compressors for commercial air conditioning systems, using SKF rotor positioning technology. With an estimated base of one million systems and 100,000 added every year, the potential savings are 2,500 million kWh, based on an average consumption of 200,000 kWh per year.

Rotor positioning minimizes internal clearances in screw compressors, thereby reducing leakage and improving overall efficiency.

* As well, one million litres of fuel can be saved per business jet lifetime with SKF Automatic Throttle Control units, which save an estimated 100 litres of fuel per flight hour. That is equivalent to one million litres over the lifetime of the jet.

* SKF electromechanical actuators and control units allow self-regulating sunblind systems to reduce energy consumption by 30-35% in the winter and 50% in the summer at the European Commission Parliament building in Brussels.

The energy reduction is part of the consumption by the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system and can reduce HVAC costs by an average of 40% per year. Typical savings for a 100,000 sq m building have been estimated at 2.7 million kWh per year.

The sunblind system is a secondary glass faade that captures heat from the sun in the winter and deflects it in the summer. The SKF actuator and control units are linked to the building’s HVAC system management software and vary the angle of the blinds according to the sun’s position and other factors such as clouds and nearby buildings.

These are just some of the programs discussed by SKF at its 100th anniversary celebrations. In future issues, we’ll report more on these technologies as they apply to industrial applications in Canada. Moreover, it’s expected there’ll be more innovations to come as SKF enters its second century of progress.

Bill Roebuck is the editor and associate publisher of Machinery & Equipment MRO.


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