Bearing technology helps with motor energy savings

21 June 2011

Phil Burge, communication manager for SKF, explores the options of motor replacement and repair looking in detail at the latest bearing technology that is enabling considerable energy savings to be realised.

Although industry is beginning to emerge from the global recession, the effects are still being felt by many companies. As a result, the pressure remains on maintaining operating margins, with little scope to increase prices, forcing managers to explore other avenues for opportunities.

The focus of attention is often drawn to taking cost out of a business. However, there is often little room for manoeuvre, as most manufacturers are already running extremely lean operations, with alternatives being further restricted by the continuing rise in raw material and energy prices.

Energy efficiency continues to sit at the top of the political agenda, with the introduction of ever tougher environmental and climate change legislation, forcing all companies, especially those in the manufacturing sector, to cut their annual consumption of primary energy by 20% by 2020.

Clearly something has to be done and manufacturers need to take action, to control costs and comply with legislation. An obvious solution is to reduce consumption, saving cost and boosting the bottom line. In particular, the efficiency of electric motors is attracting more attention as this technology is responsible for consuming more than two thirds of all electricity in general industry, thus representing a large cost saving potential.

At first glimpse, the simplest course of action is to replace older motors with modern high efficiency equivalents. However, the latest motors usually come with a significant price premium so this is not always a viable option, even in cases where the total cost of ownership suggests a replacement, as cash flow and capex budgets are still incredibly tight.

One solution is to replace the bearing units in existing motors with modern energy efficient equivalents. This can be done both during initial manufacture and subsequent overhaul; in each case, energy consumption can be cut by up to 50%. This technology makes it possible to reduce frictional losses by at least 30%, even when compared with the most efficient traditional bearings, and by as much as 50% or more, when the comparison is with older product designs.

One leading consumer healthcare company, for example, was able to reduce frictional losses by 46% when using the SKF energy efficiency deep groove ball bearings in cold water pump motors (22 kW), running at speeds of 2,990 rpm. Ultimately, this translated to energy savings of 4,583 kWh per year per motor.

Energy efficient bearings also run more smoothly and at lower temperatures than standard bearings at equivalent loads and speeds, generating less heat, and extending grease life and relubrication intervals to allow maintenance costs to be reduced further still. Also, bearing service life is extended significantly, with it being more than doubled in some cases, which in turn, can have a considerable positive impact on the operating life of the average motor.

Having been specifically engineered and manufactured to reduce frictional moment, energy efficient bearings combine a series of design enhancements in a number of crucial areas. For instance, they feature an optimised internal geometry and tough yet lightweight polyamide ball cages, which are less susceptible to deformation, as well as featuring specially developed low friction lubricating greases, with each bearing being sealed for life to minimise the need for maintenance.

Just as importantly, these bearings can be exchanged during routine maintenance and are dimensionally interchangeable with equivalent ISO standard components, so there are no additional downtime costs.

Besides motors, energy efficient bearings can also deliver significant savings when used in other pieces of industrial equipment, including conveyors, fans, pumps and gearboxes, while advanced tapered roller bearings have also been developed to increase efficiency in automotive applications.

Reducing energy consumption is now a top priority for many companies to counter the effects of growing energy bills and increasing environmental responsibility. Thanks to developments in bearing technology and the introduction of energy efficient solutions, plant managers are now able to realise dramatic energy savings and increased productivity and reliability, leading to enhanced business performance at a time when it matters most.

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