How technological advancement , raw material optimisation and better durability evolve as a trend in the bearing industry?
Moving along with the drive to reduce the weight of vehicles for greater fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions, bearings maker are working in that direction using the latest technologies, in a bid to remain competitive and to comply with the changing norms.
With technological advancements in several industries such as automotive and construction, among others, the applications and functionalities of bearings are evolving continuously. Automotive is the single highest revenue generating application segment in this market.
Bearings, which add a significant weight in any vehicle, has a major role to play in the reduction of weight in vehicles and light weight bearings will contribute majorly on the OEMs’ continuous approach to build lighter units.
Bearings are mechanical devices employed to reduce friction between rotating equipment. In a traditional hatchback, an average of about 60 bearings are fitted and the number goes up in the case of sedans and SUVs.
Indian bearings market constitutes less than 5 per cent of global bearings demand. In terms of consumption, about 60 per cent requirement is catered through domestic production while remaining is met through imports. Indian bearing size is estimated at Rs 95 billion.
He further said the wheel modules provide a perfect solution to the challenges faced by passenger car designers for improved performance, improved maneuverability, light weight, better fuel efﬁciency, intelligent vehicle control and low noise.
“Similarly, we have range of surface coatings that help us offer optimized materials that can help customers reduce the end products’ overall weight,” he added.
Raw material accounts for around 60-62% of bearings manufacturer’s revenue. Bearings are mainly manufactured using high grade steel or alloy steel, which exposes them to global steel price movement. The main components for bearings include five basic parts, inner ring, outer ring, rolling element, cage and seals.
Focus areas, where the companies are looking to work on to reduce the weight is by optimising the raw material in sync with the market requirement.
“Modern cars and SUVs have strong demand on them for better durability, stiffness and at the same time being light weight. These demands can only be met by products that are using light weight materials,” Dharmesh Arora, CEO, Schaeffler India told ETAuto.
To reduce the overall weight of the bearings, it is learnt that the companies are exploring options to use lighter raw materials.
Bearings industry is technologically as well as capital intensive industry, as end products finds application in critical applications like aviation, automobile engines, railways and others.
Companies in the segment are adopting new technologies such as construction with light weight alloys, better forging techniques and low tolerances, among others.
Furthermore, with the gradual transition from internal combustion engine to electric vehicles, there would be a lesser requirement of the Bearings as the engine will get replace with the electric motor. Also, the number of bearings will also go down in an electric vehicle.
Speaking to ETAuto on the latest technology trends in the bearings manufacturing, Ganga N Mishra, VP AM OE Sales of SKF India said, light weighting is an industry wide need. Bearings design at SKF has light weight construction with alloys which helps with fuel efficiencies and stricter emission norms.
The company has already started making bearings that are 10-12 per cent lighter than the earlier ones, depending upon the application.
SKF is making compact and light weight bearings which have been designed to run at extremely high speeds, with excellent stiffness, load carrying capability and operating life.
Mishra said to make bearings of lighter weight, manufacturing has to be very precise. Technology is in place to ensure the tolerances are low, the production process is very sophisticated, light weight high strength alloys are used which help reduce weight and yet do not compromise on performance and product life.
“There is a distinct integration happening there. This has led to evolution of unitized bearings. This Integration can be achieved by better forging techniques, which helps OEMs achieve lightweight without compromising on the performance,” he said.
He further said weight reduction has already started and in India the company has the capabilities to produce the parts in our factories.
“Some applications are currently using it and some are getting into using it due to the BS IV,” he added.
Echoing similar sentiments on latest trends in Bearings making, Arora said, “Light weight steel alloys of different grade, alternate materials like ceramic etc are some of the key trends we are seeing. We also have bearings that are sealed and lubricated for life.”
When asked about the change in key raw material used in the manufacturing of bearings, he said the biggest change that are the steel grades that are being introduced and customers are demanding more efficiency, reliability and safety.
“Friction reduction by targeting stringent performance and emission norms are being offered as well as weight reduction and improvement in NVH,” he added.
With regard to electric vehicles, Mishra said the number of Bearings will come down significantly from 55-58 to about 32-40 depending on the design of the EV configuration.
SKF is market leader, with over 40 per cent share in ball bearings and 27 per cent market share in overall market, according to rating agency ICRA.
Arora claimed that the company’s market share is 22 per cent of the organized Indian Bearings industry which can be roughly estimated at Rs 90 billion.
The company has been investing around Rs 160 crores each year, for the last 3-4 years and it plans to double the investment in the coming years.
“Over the next 3 to 5 years we will continue to invest in expanding our plant capacities, our product portfolio and engineering capabilities in the country,” Arora said.
Other bearings maker National Engineering Industries Ltd (NEI) is stepping up investments and expanding its R&D activities seeing the upcoming developments of CAFE norms and electric vehicles
Rohit Saboo, President & CEO NEI said, “The engineers at NEI are working on reducing the size of bearings while delivering more load Bearings capacities.”
“The high-speed electric motors (in EVs), need minimal friction with high quality bearings in terms of capabilities around tolerance and heat management,” he added.
The automotive bearings especially is going to see a increase in demand with continuous robust automobile sales, which is likely to create more need to efficient light weight bearings.
“Automobile production in India is anticipated to grow at a robust pace in the coming years, and expanding fleet size and growing replacement market will further fuel the demand of automotive Bearings market in India,” Saboo added.
NEI, which earlier had technical JV, is now spending on its own on R&D to sustain their market position in Indian market.
Another bearing maker, NRB Bearings is providing custom engineered bearings that are high in quality and are performance driven for the specific mobility application.
“This includes weight reduction and we are leaders in the design of such bearings and hold patents that combine lightweighting manufacturing technology with innovations in design and performance, such as the products we supply to Magna Getrag for their global dual clutch transmissions,” said Harshbeena Zaveri, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, NRB Bearings Ltd.
“We have an R&D Center for product design and another government recognised Research Center specifically for the development of Lightweight Technology,” she said.
The company sees the next 2-3 years having a strong demand for the ICE engines and conventional vehicles.
With regard to electric vehicle bearings, the company has formed separate cells within the engineering departments to understand the changes likely in the electric and autonomous vehicles vis-à-vis existing ones.
Global bearings market is dominated by multinational companies like AB SKF, Schaeffler AG, The Timken Company and Japanese companies like NSK Limited, NTN Corporation and JTEKTCorporation.
Indian market is dominated by international majors as well as indigenous players like NEI, NRB, ABC and other. In terms of demand dynamics, OEMs constitute 60% of demand whereas rest is driven by aftermarket and exports.
Industrial segment constitute ~52% of domestic bearing demand which is largely driven by general machines/motors, electrical equipments (fans/appliances) as well as heavy industries.
Top 5 players constitute 75% of market share. Domestic Bearings industry is also facing heat from counterfeit market, primarily imports from China, which roughly accounts for 10% of domestic market in terms of revenue.
As per an ICRA report, Indian Bearings manufacturers derives sizeable share of their revenue from exports as well as aftermarket business which lends stability to the business as well as mitigates impact of cyclicality in any particular segment.
Bearings can be broadly classified under two categories — Ball bearings and Roller bearings. Ball bearings are primarily used under lighter loads, while roller bearings find application under heavier load sand are more satisfactory under shock or impact loading than ball Bearings.
Roller bearings are further classified into needle, cylindrical, spherical, and tapered roller bearings.
All major players have technology tie-up with global majors and they also invest in R&D to sustain their market position.
In line with global market, domestic market can be broadly classified under industrial and automotive segments. However, share of automotive segment at 48% is relatively higher than that at global level (~37%).
Internationally, China has developed as largest automotive market globally which has lead to emergence of Chinese bearings companies on the global platform. Today, China constitute 30% of global bearings demand followed by Japan at 10%.
As per ICRA estimates, domestic bearing components supplier has market potential of Rs 33-35 billion, as rest of the demand is catered by finished goods imports. Out of the bearing component requirement, bearing ring market is estimated at ~Rs 17 billion which is largely fragmented leading to high competitive intensity.
During FY2009-FY2012, domestic bearings manufacturers witnessed revenue growth of 17.4% in the backdrop of strong uptick in investment activity as well as robust growth in automotive sector. Subsequent slowdown in economic activity and moderation in automotive growth resulted in CAGR growth of just 4.3% during FY2012-FY2017 period.
As per ICRA estimates, with expected improvement in industrial activity as well as healthy growth prospects for automotive segment, especially
2W, PV and tractor industry, domestic bearings manufactures is set to witness revenue growth of 9%-10% during FY2017-FY2020 period. Uptick in exports could provide further upside to our growth estimate.
With improved off-take, bearings will get increasingly localized which will help Bearings component suppliers in the medium to long term. Hence, the demand for domestic Bearings components (rollers, rings) is expected to grow at faster rate than that of underlying Bearings industry