Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Inevitable, And With Luck, The Only Bearing Article...

Reader "R" asked me a few questions about bearings via email.  I wrote a longer reply to him than I expected, so since it is an almost acceptable overview of the world bearing business, I post this reply to him:

Hi R,

My best take on the bearing business at the macro level would be that it tracks the economy, a coinciding (current?) indicator.  More global activity, more bearings being used (and burned out).

I would speculate that bearings, again as a whole, would be an industry that is growing SLIGHTLY less than the world economy.  Technology, a big part of global economic activity, uses few bearings.

Bearings and machines are also becoming slightly better each year.  When was the last time you changed your wheel bearings?  Here in the USA, hardly anyone does that before 100,000 miles on a car.  But, in Lima, the cars come in (mostly) used.  The streets are bad.  Taxis (a LARGE part of the fleet there) are often run 24 hours / day as are buses and vans.  Mechanics there often do not mount them right or they might be working in dirty garages, etc.  So, Peru is a place where they DO replace wheel bearings, more so than here.

15 or so years ago I read something from SKF (the world's biggest bearing company, out of Sweden, but they have plants everywhere) that said that about 50% of rolling bearings are used in vehicles and 50% are used in industry (mines, manufacturing washing machines, construction equipment, etc.).

Most of the bearing manufacturers are fairly large companies, but not huge, only Timken is in the "Fortune 500" for example.  The bearing manufacturing business requires big capital expenditures (precision machinery) and yet is very competitive.  So, it is not a particularly attractive business to be in.  The industry is slowly consolidating (our KBC brand (Korea) was bought out by the Germans (FAG) and then FAG was bought out by the other German bearing company (INA).  As I have not done any real research in the past several years about the industry as a whole, the list below (from largest on down) is only approximately right:

SKF (Sweden)
INA (Germany)
Timken (USA)
NSK (Japan)
NTN (Japan, NTN years ago bought Bower/BCA (part of Federal-Mogul) of the US)
Koyo (Japan, Toyota's bearing company, we call them "Koyota" in Peru)
Nachi (Japan)
SNR (France, but they may just been bought by NTN of Japan)
ZWZ (China, their most respected brand, ZWZ makes railroad car bearings)
Premier (China)
QC (China)
Kaydon (USA, special bearings like slewing rings -- think rotating turrets on tanks...)
Iljin (Korea, wheel bearings and some special bearings)
Lots of Chinese companies!
MBS (Japan, specialized bearings for cars, owned by the Maekawa family)

The biggest change I see in the bearing industry is that everyone is moving their plants to China (what else is new).

There are only two, maybe three, areas where certain bearings are growing in sales:

1)  micro bearings (hard discs, tiny motors, dental drills, etc.)
2)  windmill turbine bearings (slewing rings and spherical roller bearings)
3)  MAYBE bearings for Caterpillar equipment, etc.

So, there you go!  Everything you wanted to know about bearings, but were afraid to ask!

Maybe I will make this a blog entry, but not email everyone...  I think I will!  Thanks for the idea!

Finish your weekend well, and the best to you,

R A Mix

(end reply to "R")

Please note that I did NOT send out this article notification to my email list!  Junior Blogger Robert is trying hard to make his readers happy and not drive them away!


  1. Bearings make the world go round.

    ...Quite literally!

  2. per Caterpillar,
    sales , well its a two year wait to get dump trucks for a mine.......cant make them fast enough.

  3. It's kind of interesting ... how are the parameters of bearing performance specified? I mean, along-the-axis thrust, not-along-the-axis torque, etc.?
    Might be useful/interesting to know your bearings for building things like potters' wheels or wind generators...

  4. Thanks guys for commenting.

    canis, for YEARS I tried buying Timken bearings for Cat equipment (as the Cat dealers ROB their customers, at least for replacement bearings), but Timken (at least their export people) are full of assholes. Why do we buy from Korea and Japan? Because Timken does not want to sell to us!

    I have even heard that the two year wait is the same for the TIRES as well. Once in Peru I saw a big truck hauling three of them along the coastal highway... They had special lights and flags as the tires were wider than the lane...


    DIYer, there are LOTS of different rolling bearing types. The most common and well know are "radial ball bearings" (like my DCRB logo one at upper left), these (when used in a car wheel for example) have a horizontal shaft run through the middle, so the weight is down on the balls and rings.

    "Tapered roller bearings" ("Timken" style bearings) use conical shaped rollers and races to give them some pretty decent axial loads.

    "Axial ball bearings" have the shaft going through them vertically, but the pressure is put on that type (imagine a sandwich with steel balls between the two pieces of bread), we do not use many of these except for steering bearings and clutch bearings are typicall axial bearings.

    "Spherical roller bearings" are usually BIG bearings that are used where the shaft may get banged around a degree or two. They are used in industry (mines etc.). Also windmill turbines...

    "Slewing rings" are a special kind of axial bearings typically of large diameter (think turrets of tanks or the bearing under the part of the Cat Excavator that swivels around).

    Plenty more types as well.

    Usually, a manufacturer will use their engineers to figure out how much weight, how fast the rotation, etc. they need. Then they source the bearings (in almost all cases they are "off the shelf" bearings).

    Cat, sometimes, is an exception. I heard that THEY own the dies and tooling that Timken uses to make a small percentage of their bearings.

    I am going to guess that you could get a useful overview at I will go take a look myself and report back.

  5. Here you go guys!

  6. What about American Roller Bearings? How big are they?

  7. Thanks for the SKF link. I have bookmarked it.

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