Bearings manufacturers focus on developing economies & smart technology

Steady growth for the overall bearings and couplings market is expected based on rapid industrial development and advances in smart technology.

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The development of maintenance-free or predictive technologies will help boost growth in the bearings market. For example, SKF is developing products that will automatically notify users when a bearing or mechanical rotating component is approaching the end of its useful life. Pictured here is an SKF Microlog analyzer, a portable condition monitoring tool. (Photo courtesy SKF)

A new study from Frost & Sullivan forecasts steady growth for the overall bearings and couplings market based on rapid industrial development in high-growth regions. Specifically, Frost predicts development in Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey, Brazil, Russia, India, and China will help boost the bearings & couplings market from $22.06 billion in 2013 to an estimated $26.76 billion in 2018.

Frost says the push from developing economies is important, as the market is technologically mature and seeing restricted growth in developed economies. This is particularly true in Europe and North America where recent financial instability has reduced capital expenditure across end-user industries.

Bill Moore, senior vice president of sales development and channel management for global bearings manufacturer SKF, says "smart" products and the expansion of robust reliability programs are helping to drive new investment, particularly in developed countries where the cost to compete is high. Frost says the magnitude of the existing global installed base will strengthen the need for replacement and upgrades, adding to market demand as well.

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Frost says despite the potential in developing economies, the focus on price as a product differentiator may lead to intense price pressures among manufacturers and bring down the value of the overall market in the short term. The growing trend among consumers to choose low-cost Chinese imports will complicate this challenge.

As price and quality become standardized across the globe, customers will base more of their purchasing decisions on value-added services, according to Frost. This will push manufacturers to create more maintenance-free solutions, such as lubrication-free bearings, that offer end-users savings on service and replacement costs and reduce downtime.

"Offering a complete line of products with comprehensive services will be another feather in the cap of vendors looking to widen their consumer base," notes Frost Industrial Automation and Process Control Research Analyst, Guru Mahesh.

Moore says the trend of outsourcing manufacturing to regions where labor and production costs are favorable is becoming less of a factor.

"The days when cheap labor made a significant difference in where a product is manufactured — particularly high value-added products or high weight and bulk products—are coming to an end as the cost of transportation, storage and inventory balance out the benefits of production costs where labor is a smaller percentage of the cost of manufacturing," Moore says. "Local manufacturing development will indeed come to developing countries as their ability to create markets that generate economies of scale that support local production is a clear trend and one that all manufacturers will pay attention to."

Moore says that development of maintenance-free or predictive technologies and products will be a significant advantage to everyone in the production chain.

"In a world where plant floor and maintenance expertise will be challenged, we are developing easy-to-install products that will not only help developing countries, but also help speed replacement cycles in highly developed countries, with the result being improved productivity and thus improved customer profitability," Moore says.

"At SKF we are developing products that will automatically notify users when a bearing or mechanical rotating component is approaching the end of its useful life," Moore says. "In addition, we are developing products and services that will help factory operators predict failure and then identify the root cause of the failure so that repair can be done in a way that will significantly increase the life of the asset that the bearing, gear or seal is supporting.

Mahesh notes that fluctuating currency exchange rates will also encourage manufacturers to expand geographically, further extending their reach to high-growth regions.

While described as mature in terms of technology, suppliers believe there is still space for technological advances in the market to help with the growth trend. Moore says the combination of intelligent electronic technology with traditional mechanical technology is one of the areas that will develop quickly over the next decade.

"High investment and operations cost sectors are much more willing to look at new technological innovations both in products and services that will improve productivity and reduce the cost of downtime," Moore says.

Amy W. Richardson is the managing editor of Flow Control magazine. She can be reached at

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