Insight into the Heart of a Bearing

A bearing condition monitoring system enables preventative measures to be taken to mitigate, or prepare for, bearing damage

By Sara Jensen, managing editor OEM Off-Highway

In April 2013, SKF, Lansdale, Penn., announced the worldwide release of SKF Insight, a self-powered sensor package which wirelessly communicates the condition of a bearing at any time.

Donald Howieson, Business Manager, SKF Solution Production and Product Development, says the company began development of SKF Insight three years ago with the goal of creating a smart bearing capable of sending a message when something happens to it. “Making the bearing the brain, as well as the heart of rotating machinery, has long been a dream of the engineering community,” says Howieson. And with the introduction of SKF Insight, that dream has now become a reality.

How it works

SKF Insight integrates sensors and electronics into the bearing that are designed to monitor the load and lubrication conditions the bearing experiences. Vibration, temperature and speed of the bearing are also monitored to provide a full condition report. “By sensing directly on the bearing, SKF Insight is able to monitor the damage from the first microscopic effect as it is happening,” says Howieson.

From the information SKF Insight provides, customers are able to take action immediately in order to solve the problem, whether that be adding lubricant, mitigating transient overloads, etc.

Howieson adds that directly monitoring the load on the bearing makes it possible to measure the load the bearing actually experiences rather than the one for which it was designed. “This valuable information can be routed back into the design phase to improve both the system and bearing design,” he says.

Once information is collected from the bearing, industrial wireless chips within the sensors communicate the bearing’s conditions to a wireless gateway which then transmits the conditions to a local computer, network or to the Cloud. Howieson says the gateway typically receives data from multiple bearings, and adds that depending on the vehicle network that has been established, as well as the use of appropriate software, it is possible to display the information directly to the operator in the cab and an SKF Remote Diagnostic Center for additional analysis.

Benefits for the entire value chain

The data SKF Insight collects provides benefits for everyone from the equipment operator, to the vehicle owner and maintenance personnel, to the bearing manufacturer and even OEMs. It is able to interpret a wide range of complex data — including identifying overloads, duty excursions, lubricant contamination and lubrication problems — that can indicate a need to modify operating conditions to avoid damage before it occurs. “This gives the operator an insight into the operating conditions and how those are likely to affect the reliability of the vehicle,” says Howieson.

“With SKF Insight technology integrated into bearings, it is simpler and more convenient for customers to enter into condition monitoring activities,” he adds. “Better operational knowledge, better maintenance planning, optimized manpower and spare part management will lead to lower cost of operations.”

For example, as it detects condition deterioration, SKF Insight can alert maintenance personnel to the problem, enabling them to plan ahead and have spare parts ready on site for when failure does occur.

In addition, the data can be used to demonstrate how far actual operating conditions are departing from the bearing’s original design condition, which is especially useful for the bearing manufacturer and OEMs so they can determine if there is a need to re-evaluate the design or its implementation within a system.

“The ultimate benefit [is] reduced total cost of ownership and extended lifetime through the elimination of damaging operating conditions,” says Howieson.

Since introducing SKF Insight, the company has begun running pilot projects in various industries to further evaluate the technology. Howieson says there has also been interest from the off-highway equipment industry and that the company is looking forward to hearing more from operators and OEMs as to how the benefits offered by SKF Insight can help their businesses.

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