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The Hidden Risks of Neglecting Bearings

When it comes to industrial machinery, bearings often go unnoticed, tucked away from sight and out of mind. Surprisingly, even in the meticulous world of risk management, bearings tend to be overlooked. They rarely find their place on the risk portfolio chart. However, like the eggs shortage in South Afria, in a delicate game of supply and demand, the importance of bearings can suddenly become apparent when things go awry.

Just a few weeks ago, South Africa faced a surprising challenge: a shortage of chickens, and subsequently, eggs. This shift in the risk portfolio was unforeseen, catching many industries off guard. Restaurants like Spur Steak Ranches had to introduce eggless breakfast options, and it was only a matter of time before other sectors followed suit. South Africa, with its unique history, had not encountered such a scenario before. The joke circulating was that you could trade six trays of eggs for an SUV. A reminder that even the most unexpected events can disrupt established norms.

Now, you might wonder, what does this have to do with bearings? Well, three words come to mind: energy, logistics, and war. Let’s delve into these aspects one by one.

Energy: A Persistent Challenge

As South Africans, we’ve grappled with energy challenges for decades. These issues have cost our nation billions annually, as noted by Lesetja Kganyago. Moreover, they have taken away millions of jobs and had a cascading effect on the cost of living. Over the past few years, the prices of goods have surged, straining the budgets of countless households. A glance at pictures from five years ago reveals a stark shift in our preferences for vehicles. Larger SUVs and big cars have been replaced by smaller, more fuel-efficient options.

Today, our roads are dominated by three distinct classes of vehicles: trucks, bakkies (pickup trucks), and compact cars. I do not include Taxis, once known for their disregard of traffic rules, have taken this to a new level. They no longer adhere to red traffic lights or stop signs, and even traffic police officers seem to look the other way. Their reasoning? Stopping and starting consumes more fuel, and in this, the taxi drivers and officers find common ground.

While we’ve been grappling with this energy crisis for almost three decades, the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom are now experiencing a taste of what we’ve endured. Energy prices skyrocketed in 2021 and 2022, and though they’ve slightly receded, the underlying problem remains unresolved, lurking beneath the surface. A recent Bloomberg Report highlights that electricity costs in the EU are now the highest in the world.

This means that the cost of producing a bearing will increase, that cannot be stopped.

Logistics: A Pivotal Challenge

One of the baffling aspects of the bearing industry is the protracted logistics involved in acquiring bearings from the European Union (EU) and bringing them into South Africa. This process often spans a daunting 6 to 12 months, which can quickly escalate into a logistical nightmare for industries operating within the South African landscape. When you couple this logistical labyrinth with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, we find ourselves facing an even more significant challenge.

It’s worth noting that, due to the Ukraine war, a war levy has been imposed on practically every invoice. Why, you may wonder? Well, the repercussions are twofold. First, we are forced to endure a year-long waiting period to acquire a bearing. Then, on top of that, we must shoulder the burden of a war levy and the unwelcome reality of bearing prices surging by as much as 60% compared to the previous year. This is the stark reality that many industries now grapple with.

The risk, though seemingly straightforward, is multifaceted. We not only pay more but also endure extended periods of downtime. For any business, downtime translates to lost revenue. In the context of today’s industrial landscape, where bearings are the linchpin of many operations, neglecting them can have dire consequences.

As a case in point, consider the situation currently unfolding on the BiSA factory floor. There lies a substantial bearing meant for a critical ball mill. The operators, risk managers, and top-level management remained surprisingly indifferent to the health of this bearing. Regrettably, they failed to provide it with the necessary grease and upkeep. The unfortunate outcome was a mill that ground to a halt, rendering it idle for the past six months, with another six months of non-productivity looming on the horizon.

The question that inevitably arises is, how will this company overcome the substantial financial burden it now faces? The answer, unfortunately, is all too familiar: the blame game. Incompetent management often resorts to pointing fingers at external factors to mask their own shortcomings.

So how to mitigate this unfolding disaster? BiSA has a solution for this.

Proper Lubrication: Install BiSA auto Easy Lube system.

  • Implement automatic lubrication systems to maintain consistent lubrication levels.
  • Use a grease that can handle the workload.

Contamination Control:

  • Protect bearings from contaminants like dust, dirt, moisture, and chemicals.
  • Use seals and shields to prevent ingress of foreign particles.
  • Maintain clean working environments and conduct regular inspections for signs of contamination.

Mounting and Installation: Here BiSA has a dedicated team that can help.

  • Ensure proper mounting and installation of bearings to prevent misalignment, uneven loads, or excessive preload.
  • Use the correct tools and techniques, such as the use of a torque wrench, to avoid over-tightening.

Monitoring and Maintenance: BiSA has a dedicated team that can help.

  • Implement a proactive maintenance program that includes regular inspections and condition monitoring.
  • Monitor temperature, vibration, and noise to detect early signs of bearing wear or damage.
  • Replace or repair bearings at the first indication of problems rather than waiting for catastrophic failure.

Alignment and Balancing: BiSA has a dedicated team that can help.

  • Properly align equipment to prevent angular and axial misalignment, which can cause premature bearing failure.
  • Balance rotating machinery to reduce vibration and minimize uneven loading on bearings.

Load Management:

  • Avoid overloading bearings beyond their rated capacity by calculating and managing the loads they support.
  • Distribute loads evenly across multiple bearings when applicable.

Temperature Control:

  • Monitor and control operating temperatures within the recommended range to prevent overheating.
  • Consider using heat-resistant materials or insulation where appropriate.

Training and Education:

  • Train maintenance personnel on best practices for bearing handling, installation, and maintenance.
  • Keep staff updated on the latest industry standards and technologies.

Environmental Conditions:

  • Consider environmental factors such as humidity and temperature variations that may affect bearing performance.
  • Provide adequate ventilation and climate control if necessary.

Regular Inspections: BiSA has a dedicated team that can help.

  • Schedule routine inspections and follow maintenance schedules to identify and address issues promptly.
  • Inspect not only the bearings but also related components like housings and shafts.

Proactive Replacement:

  • Establish a proactive bearing replacement schedule based on expected service life and wear patterns.
  • Replace bearings before they reach the end of their useful life to prevent unexpected failures.

Vendor and Material Selection:

  • Choose reputable bearing suppliers known for quality and reliability.
  • Select bearings made from high-quality materials suitable for the application’s demands.

By implementing these practices, businesses can significantly prolong the life of their industrial bearings, reduce maintenance costs, enhance equipment reliability, and improve overall operational efficiency. Regularly reviewing and optimizing maintenance processes is essential for achieving long-lasting and trouble-free bearing performance.

Written by: Managing Director Andreas B Burger (MBA)(DBA)

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