Bearing sector is experiencing an upsurge in demand

  • Interviews
  • May 27,23
In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Sanjeev Taparia, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, National Engineering Industries Ltd, elaborates on strategies to be adopted by NEI as the company aims to more than double its sales by 2025.
Bearing sector is experiencing an upsurge in demand

A surge in investment across various manufacturing sectors is driving the demand for bearings. Being one of the leading players in the industry, National Engineering Industries Ltd (NEI), which markets bearings under NBC Bearings brand, has witnessed strong growth not just in India but also overseas. In this interview with Rakesh Rao, Sanjeev Taparia, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, National Engineering Industries Ltd, elaborates on the growth drivers for bearings and strategies to be adopted by NEI as the company aims to more than double its sales by 2025.

How has National Engineering Industries’ bearing business evolved over the years?
We are a company with a history of 77 years, established by Mr B M Birla in 1946. We have consistently supported India's self-reliance goals. As pioneers in the Indian market, we were the first company to manufacture bearings for various industries within the country. Our reach has expanded over time, and we now supply not only to the Indian automobile, railway, aerospace, and industrial sectors, but also export to more than 30 countries worldwide.

Our production capacity is over 20 million bearings annually in a wide range of more than 2300 variants. We proudly export to countries such as Germany, Japan, and the USA. Our product line includes ball bearings, taper roller bearings, cylindrical roller bearings, spherical roller bearings, axle boxes, and needle bearings. Additionally, we are actively involved in the development of electric vehicle (EV) bearings and are expanding our presence in the aerospace and defense sectors.

Our subsidiary company, Kinex Bearings in Europe, helps us be closer to our international customers. Our newly established Global Technology Centre in Germany focuses on application engineering, product development, and manufacturing technology for the automotive and industrial sectors. We have also entered into a joint venture with Amsted Seals for the production of railway seals, catering to customers in both domestic and international markets.

We are immensely proud to have received the prestigious Deming Grand Prize, which places us among the elite companies worldwide. This esteemed award recognises our manufacturing expertise and commitment to quality processes. We attribute our success to the support of our stakeholders and customers, as well as the dedicated efforts of our staff. This honour serves as a tremendous encouragement for us to continue our winning spirit and strive for even greater achievements in the future.

How is the demand for bearings from industrial and automotive customers? How do you intend to tap the emerging opportunities in industrial, aerospace and railways segments?
In an ever-evolving automobile sector, we are committed to staying at the forefront of advancements, ensuring a path of steady growth. The vast potential of the industrial segment presents an optimistic outlook, and we are determined to seize the opportunities for expansion it offers.

For over seven decades, we have cultivated a close partnership with Indian Railways, catering to their specific needs by providing locally designed bearings. With an unwavering focus on self-sufficiency, we aim to leverage technology through collaborations with domestic manufacturers.

Our goals align seamlessly with the ideology of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' (self-reliant India), exemplifying our dedication to our nation's progress. The credit for maintaining our quality standards and realizing our vision goes wholeheartedly to our exceptional R&D team.

We are working with the electric vehicle manufacturers with their requirements of low noise bearings with high RPM capabilities. Moreover, the bearing sector is experiencing an upsurge in demand from additional streams, such as the precision bearings sought after in the aerospace industry.

A surge in investments across various manufacturing sectors will bolster the need for industrial bearings, which are extensively used in multiple applications. Traditionally, our business has been divided with approximately 60 per cent from the automotive sector, 20 per cent from railways, and the remaining from the industrial sector. However, as we expand into international markets, strong demand from these regions is further propelling our growth. We are optimistic about the industrial segment, which has a lot of room for expansion due to the market's size and import substitution. In the near future, we will make special efforts to expand our business in this segment.

With the auto industry making a shift towards electric vehicles and experimenting with other new fuels (like hydrogen), how is NEI helping the industry in this shift with its bearing solutions?
We have already begun the process of designing, developing, testing infrastructure, and validating our bearings for electric vehicles (EVs) with indigenously designed sensor integrated bearings (SIB). When compared to standard bearings, these have higher rpm capability, lower noise and friction, are more power-dense, and have a longer life. We are already selling them to some EV OEMs in the 2W, 3W, and passenger car segments, and we are working with major OEMs in the commercial vehicle segment. We are also doing research on bearings for new fuel vehicles. Our R&D team is working with OEMs to develop these as per their requirement. We are working closely with domestic as well as international OEMs to supply them with optimised bearing solutions for their forthcoming vehicles in order to be future-ready.

With Industry 4.0 and digitization, we have also connected our factory digitally to drive operational efficiency. This in-turn translates to quick turn-around and reduction of waste, helping us to be more sustainable.

As a leader player in bearing systems, what kinds of trends are you seeing in the industry?
Because of the presence of a large number of players, the India bearings market is extremely fragmented. The expansion of the bearing market is strongly tied to the expansion of the automotive and industrial sectors. Furthermore, the growing demand for high-performance, lightweight smart bearings in automobiles, as well as anti-friction bearings in pumps, gearboxes, heavy earth moving equipment, and industries, is likely to lead to an increase in bearing demand in India.

Some of the trends that can be foreseen are:

  • Customisation: There is a growing trend in industry (especially in automotive and aerospace) for "Integrated Bearings," in which the bearing's surrounding components become an integral part of the bearing itself. These bearings are designed to reduce the number of bearing components in the finished product. As a result, using "Integrated Bearings" lowers equipment costs, increases reliability, simplifies installation, and extends service life.
  • Condition monitoring: Bearing designers are increasingly relying on advanced simulation software tools to better match bearing designs to actual operating circumstances. Bearing design and analysis computer and analytic algorithms can now forecast bearing performance, life, and reliability with reasonable technical certainty beyond what was achieved a decade ago, without the need for expensive and time-consuming laboratory or field experiments. Bearing design and analysis computer and analytic algorithms can now anticipate bearing performance, life, and dependability with greater technical confidence than was previously possible, without the need for costly and time-consuming laboratory or field experiments.
  • Materials and coatings: Material advancements have increased the operational life of bearings, even under harsh operating circumstances. Hard coatings, ceramics, and new specialty steels are increasingly used in the bearing sector. These materials, which were not widely available a few years ago, improve performance and efficiency. In some circumstances, specialised bearing materials allow heavy machinery to continue operating in environments when no lubrication can properly operate. These materials, when combined with particular heat treatments and geometry, can withstand temperature extremes and circumstances such as particle contamination and extreme stresses.
  • Also, with energy prices likely to remain high for the foreseeable future, the demand for CNG-powered cars and hybrid cars – which are midway between ICE-powered cars and EVs – is expected to grow. We are keeping up with advances in the automobile sector and anticipate steady growth. We are optimistic about the industrial segment, which has a lot of room for expansion due to the market's size.

    How important are bearings in making factories smart & intelligent?
    Bearings play a crucial role in the smart factory environment by enhancing efficiency, reliability, and safety. In smart factories, bearings equipped with sensors enable real-time monitoring of their condition, contributing to predictive maintenance of the machine. This also helps getting information about bearings which are otherwise difficult to reach.

    Smart bearings with sensors communicate wirelessly to other devices to provide data that is critical to the machinery. This gives advance information to the operators if there are any signs of wear or problems which can then be proactively identified and corrected. By collecting data on parameters such as temperature, vibration, and load, manufacturers can analyse bearing performance alongside other operational data. This integration facilitates advanced analytics, allowing insights into equipment performance and process optimisation. Predictive maintenance schedules can be established based on the analysis, minimising unplanned downtime and reducing maintenance costs. Furthermore, the continuous monitoring of bearings helps identify potential safety hazards, ensuring the secure operation of machinery and reducing the risk of accidents.

    What kinds of new opportunities are you looking to tap at present?
    We have recently started work on manufacturing bearings for the aerospace and space sector where we see a lot of opportunities in the near future. It was about six years ago that we started working on bearings for the aerospace and space verticals with ISRO. Currently, we are regrouping our R&D and working on creating a separate aerospace & space team. Moreover, we are also constantly working with automotive OEMs and railways to develop bearings to keep up with newer developments in the sector. We are quite excited about the industrial space and foresee a lot of opportunities for us there.

    What are your growth plans for the company?
    In the past few years, NBC Bearings went through several economic, social, and policy changes with a view to improving the quality of its products and services, thereby meeting the needs of stakeholders while also keeping up with the times. We foresee growth with continuous expansion and expect to more than double our sales by 2025.

    NBC Bearing is collaborating with several leading research institutes and centers in India and abroad to develop advanced design, testing, and validation capabilities, and is preparing to offer aerospace bearing solutions by establishing a world-class manufacturing facility with AS9100 and NADCAP certifications.

    In 2020, we acquired Kinex Bearings in Europe to strengthen and broaden our offering to present and prospective customers, as well as to be closer to foreign customers. We are also open to other M&A options to expand our reach and supply sustainable solutions to our clients, to continuously help reduce carbon footprint. Kinex also has extensive experience in the design and manufacture of aeronautical bearings.

    Our focus at present is on bearings such as oil impregnated bearing, NBC ‘EMB’ Series bearings, compact solutions special HT, ‘Insuohum’ bearing, and sensor bearing.

    We are also extending our production footprint in Bagru, near Jaipur, to build new bearing lines over the next four years. We are constantly changing to identify more agile and smarter ways to scale up production and provide value to our clients.

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