Machine Design

Custom bearings to the rescue

Mention of the words "custom" and "made to order" may bring to mind high prices, long lead times, and lagging deliveries.

Rick D. Farris
Director — Brands and Products SKF Service Div. SKF USA Inc. Kulpsville, Pa.

But in our experience, custom, reworked, and modified bearing products have begun to gain traction with customers for several reasons, one being simple economics.

Companies these days expect machinery and components to last longer than ever before. Few companies can afford to routinely scrap existing equipment or parts at the first signs of trouble. Often, custom and reworked components are the most practical and, in some cases, the only way to extend machine life.

Our Made-To-Order Products Group from MRC Bearing Services, for example, has seen a significant uptick in requests for custom bearings and rework/modification services. Replacement of obsolete bearings, difficult applications for which standard bearings fall short, the need for additional features (snap-ring grooves, key ways), and prototype quantities, are some of the factors driving the business.

Of course, custom bearings made from scratch may involve additional engineering, design work, and longer lead times. The good news is modified off-the-shelf products can handle a large percentage of these special requests.

Increasingly sophisticated technology makes possible virtually limitless combinations of customized, standard bearings. For example, we can resize or reengineer ball-bearing bores, ODs, faces, and widths; add or remove seals/shields; replace cage materials; apply high-performance coatings; incorporate heat treatment; or replenish ball bearings with special lubricants. Such capabilities can shrink turnaround times for custom bearings from months to weeks, even for one-off jobs.

While all this bodes well for bearing suppliers, customers should consider the potential pitfalls of sourcing made-toorder bearings. We urge customers to ask questions of candidate custom-service providers before proceeding with any job.

First, does the supplier have demonstrated experience with the type of modification you have in mind? Will the vendor follow internationally recognized manufacturing and quality standards and practices? Will supplier engineers review the design and specifications to ensure suitability for the application? Will the manufacturer's full warranty be maintained for reworked/modified products? Consider the potential costs and liabilities down the road of such a slight.

While custom products used to be perceived (somewhat legitimately) as tall orders, now made-to-order connotes quick delivery and lower overall cost.

SKF USA Inc. ( is a maker of bearings and related components.

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