The development of smart rolling bearings with built-in fibre optics has raced forward. A new complementary technology that measures imbalance in bearings is being developed, in parallel with the aim of reaching the market. The development project was initiated by SKF and coordinated by RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden), who contacted Optronic as an industrialisation and production partner. “Optronic’s expertise in this area means that we get a perfect matching and make the product as attractive as possible”, says Carolina Fransiscangelis, project manager at RISE.
“Of course, it’s an honour and good fun to be involved in cutting-edge projects of this type. We have a strong market position as a production partner where our experience, specialist expertise and technical curiosity are skills that are just on time. When it comes to developing and producing technical measuring sensors, we have know-how that goes back several decades. So we fit well into this development project in several ways”, says Ulrik Stenbacka, CEO of Optronic.
Smart rolling bearings are a collective name for ball bearings and roller bearings, and are found all around us in various forms. The need that has emerged is to be able to monitor ball bearings and roller bearings, and thereby identify the risks involved – overheating and wear, for example, can become a problem around all rotating shafts.
During recent years, built-in fibre optics have been used to measure loads and temperature in a couple of successful pilot tests. The technology is based on the precise measurement of temperature, flexing and load on a number of selected sensor points. SKF is developing a new, complementary technology, together with technology partner Proximion and RISE, that can measure imbalance with micrometre precision. In 2019, Optronic was contacted with the aim of finding a partner that can develop a prototype of a finished product for the market.
“Optronic are experts in optical sensors and have exactly the knowledge of market analysis and commercialisation that we need. They complement the rest of us and allow us to develop a product and make it attractive in the market. This is a fundamental part of the whole project”, says Carolina.
Optronic works cross-functionally in close cooperation with the project‘s partners to ensure that there is a common thread of quality throughout the industrialisation process. Optronic‘s experience comes in handy when reviewing material lists, looking at any risks with critical components and suppliers, evaluating quotes, and establishing a product lifecycle analysis.
“This type of development project suits us perfectly. RISE chose to bring us in at an early stage, which is always an advantage because we can then submit design proposals that affect the whole, both in terms of price and quality. We have a broad supplier network that allows us to safeguard a secure supply chain to avoid worrying about sudden price increases or running out of components. In this way, the client can concentrate on marketing and selling the product, and we take care of the rest”, says Ulrik Stenbacka, CEO of Optronic.
The fact that the project was ongoing during a pandemic has been challenging but it is on schedule despite this and has a prototype that will now be tested in an operational environment at SKF. The test results will then be distributed in research circles where potential users will be able to see how the product has performed in the industrial tests. If a continued interest is then evident, serial production may be possible.
“There will always be a gap between research and commercialisation. The pandemic has illuminated how important it is to have a partner who can guide and identify key components, secure a source of them, and find alternative solutions. Optronic‘s views are beneficial to our future tasks and I feel that we have an attractive entirety now that the project ends this spring,” says Carolina.