A cylindrical roller bearing (CRB) is unremarkable to look at. However, despite being no larger than a dinner plate, it must sustain among the highest loads of any of a thruster’s components. Such force is concentrated on this small area that only high-performance material, in combination with the right form, can withstand it.
For many years, turbine operators have had to choose between bearings with a high load capacity (full complement CRBs) and those for high speed (CRBs with cage) – but they are no longer willing to compromise.
As comfortable at sea as on land
Then SKF engineers developed a bearing which combined both features. The integrated cage allows a high number of revolutions. At the same time, its design keeps the gap between the rollers as small as possible, which increases load-carrying capacity. The result was greater output with identical bearing dimensions.
Having only recently entered the market, these high-capacity CRBs have taken the wind energy sector by storm. And the same could soon happen in the shipping industry. Requirements for operational safety and durability of components are tightening for ship operators as well – because as competition increases, so too do costs.
Turning a mere necessity into a USP
For scenarios in which thrusters are engaged in continuous operation, this kind of bearing has become a necessity. Indeed, the reliability of the component is pivotal to the process as a whole; if it breaks down then so does the entire system. Tougher bearings therefore reduce maintenance costs and the frequency of machine failures. The updated version of the high-capacity CRB also has easily detachable parts that were absent in the original model. The inner-ring and outer-ring can be separated, which simplifies assembly and repair.
The transition from wind turbines to ship operations is in fact not unusual. Innovations tend to occur when a pressing issue needs to be resolved. It then often becomes apparent that the basic concept could open up new potential in another sector. A further advantage standard components have over proprietary ones is that they are easier to obtain. This can be critical to a shipping company in the case of a breakdown.
Software makes the jump from wind to sea
It is not just technical components that are finding their way from the wind sector into the maritime industry. Wind turbines are increasingly monitored from remote diagnostic centers, using predictive analytics to detect errors even before they occur. This technology is now entering ships, too.