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ELECTRIFICATION BEARING STRATEGY The significance of rolling bearings in an evolving EV market

Dec 3, 2021

The increase in penetration of electric and hybrid vehicles has emphasised the significance of advance technologies in rolling bearings. Moreover, the high speed of the electric motors used in EV & HEV powertrains asks for the use of customised bearings. This article by SKF India, which provides industry leading automotive and industrial engineered solutions, talks about the right electrification bearing strategy, EV bearings in the Industry 4.0 era & the effect of COVID-19 on the electric bearings industry. - Dr Maruti Khaire, Head – Electrification and Special Projects, SKF India

We have been seeing an unprecedented transformation in the automotive industry in the last few years, from ICE engine vehicles to electrification of vehicles. While this is basically being driven from the western world, we no longer see that action lagging in India. Having said that, if we take 2021 as the base year and try to look at the outlook for 2030, then we expect about a 40% CAGR base for electrification in India. If we look at current electric vehicle bearings, the bearings required are standard bearings. Purely from the electric vehicle perspective, it is going to be the same 40% CAGR but on top of whatever the ICE vehicle growth is going to be. And that’s how the electric bearing market is going to grow.

Current trends in electric bearings industry

The current technology trends in the Electric Vehicle bearings industry are as follows –

  1. Lower friction bearings

  2. Electric insulations or conduction

  3. High-speed bearings

  4. Low friction greases

  5. Weight reduction

The right electrification bearing strategy

Electrification bearings are, of course, different from ICE engine bearings; in ICE engine bearings, we typically have noise suppression and a lot of noise tolerance that comes from the engine, whereas in electric vehicle bearings, we need to have specifications around noise vibrations, which have to be stringent. Secondly, it should be an electric conduction compatible bearing and it has to be a power-dense bearing. The electric vehicle powertrain is becoming compact and the vehicle weight has to be as lightweight as possible, because we’ll be putting a battery into the vehicle. Therefore, in order to facilitate that, we need to have bearings which have a higher load carrying capacity per unit area. Besides, the bearings need to be maintenance-free, as it is difficult and complex to do the maintenance in addition expectation of EV to have higher up-time.

These are the fundamental requirements for electric vehicle bearings. Hence, companies have to build their strategy around this. When we talk about portfolio building for electric vehicles, the portfolio must be aligned to these basic drivers. It’s not necessary to create everything new in a portfolio; one can enhance the current electric vehicle bearings portfolio as well. Plus, we also need to think if we want to go for steel rollers or non-metallic rollers like ceramic bearings, etc. Hence, the strategy has to be aligned with what is required by the powertrain and not from a volume perspective.

The barriers & driving factors

When we talk about bearings in electric vehicles, we divide them into two parts – near-term and long-term. Taking the near-term part into consideration, if we look at the current electric vehicles getting into the market, the volumes are very small. So, that is one of the barriers for making customised bearings for electric vehicles. What’s more, customers are also more aware and try to adopt the bearings which are coming off-the-shelf for them. They are looking for off-the-shelf bearings selection so that their development time will be smaller and they will be able to address the application bearings within a short time and lower cost.

But there are driving factors too – that is the larger portfolio. People are looking for off-the-shelf selection of bearings; they don’t want to develop or customise bearings. Hence, they expect that a catalogue is wide-ranged so that they can pick it up from there itself and put it to their use.

Electric vehicle bearings in the Industry 4.0 era

Industry 4.0, as it turns out, complements that which is required by the electric vehicle bearings. If we go 10 years back, bearing noise was not a topic of discussion most of the time, unless it was a peculiar noise. But as our powertrains have become more silent, bearings noise is becoming a special consideration. Hence, we cannot achieve the stringent specification of bearings by using conventional manufacturing practices. And thus, Industry 4.0 helps to achieve these stringent specifications.

The effect of COVID-19 on the electric bearings industry

While COVID-19 has had a negative impact on a majority of industries across the world, it has, in fact, had a positive effect on the electric vehicle bearings industry. The electric vehicle sales in the later part of 2019 and in 2020 went down. However, in the second part of 2021, we have seen a good momentum in the sale of electric vehicles from what it was in 2020. Tata Motors alone has sold in excess of a thousand vehicles in a month. So, when the electric vehicles sales gets boosted, so does the electric bearings market.

Image Gallery

  • Encoder bearing unit

  • Dr Maruti Khaire

    Head – Electrification and Special Projects

    SKF India

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