A wire-drawing company has saved £800,000 per year by taking advice from NSK and changing the bearing lubrication it was using for a particular application.
NSK's asset improvement programme (AIP) is delivering real benefits to the operating costs, efficiency and profitability of UK manufacturers. AIP is the recognition that today's end-user bearing customers are looking for more than just the supply of a product. Rather, they are looking for a value-added service that actually helps them to reduce operating costs and improve efficiency and profitability. These objectives are achieved by improving tangible assets, such as equipment and machinery, and also intangible assets such as knowledge and training.
Richard Pickles, European aftermarket director for NSK, explains: "Manufacturers are becoming more aware of the benefits of value-added services, as they start to realise the limits of shopping around for cheaper, lower-quality, unsupported parts. We are changing the perceptions of how and where operating costs are driven and how they can be reduced; we are finding that end users are shocked by our results a lot of the time."
Brian Picker, NSK UK's aftermarket manager, describes how AIP works: "We break it down into stages in order for people to understand the programme. This makes it logical for end users to buy into and understand the process; and it shows them how we can add value to their businesses. We often start off with a site survey, which is very detailed. We go into a customer's premises; talk to them; get to understand what their difficulty is; and work out what we can do to support them.
"We look at all aspects of their operations, including systems, stock, specific problem applications, lubrication, and even training issues. A lot of the time is spent questioning, understanding and listening - if you do not get that right, then anything that follows will not work.
"We then look at the data we have acquired; this leads us to make recommendations for improvements. In practise, our recommendations could relate to training - about how to examine or look after bearings, how to spot failure modes, and how to handle bearings correctly - as that is one of the biggest causes of premature failure. We might need to look at the lubrication of bearings, or we might be able to recommend a different part that would work more effectively. Our aim is to get to a stage where we can document the value that we have delivered by proving how much money they have saved as a result of adopting the solution proposed by NSK. This allows us to go back to management with firm figures that give them reassurance they have saved money and improved profitability by working with us."
Evidencing the success of the AIP programme is the example of a wire drawing facility that was consistently wearing out bearings; the problems were believed to be intrinsic to the drawing process. NSK visited the company and investigated to find the root cause of the problem. This turned out to be lubrication that was unsuitable for the application. A proposal to use a different type of grease was made; however, this was not initially acted upon, because the wire drawing company did not believe that changing the lubrication would solve the problem. NSK persisted, and provided examples of other similar problems that they had solved in the industry. As a result, the manufacturer agreed to give NSK a four-week trial period. Subsequently the grease was changed, NSK's recommendations in terms of the maintenance regime were implemented, and within a month there was a 40 per cent improvement in bearing life. Financially, this has resulted in an annualised saving of £800,000, and – importantly - the bearings did not have to be changed.
Brian Picker says: "This is a prime example of NSK knowledge applied to the customer environment. No 'one size fits all' solution would have suited; it was only because we have people prepared to understand the end user, his environment, and what is happening to his product and his application, that we were able to acquire customer-specific knowledge and provide a tailored solution."