In addition to its product development work, the SKF North American Technical Center supports car makers in application-specific engineering.

January 12, 2022

LANSDALE, Pa.—Around the world, the electrification of passenger transport is picking up momentum. A growing number of countries is set to phase out production of new combustion-engine vehicles over the next two decades as part of their commitments to the Paris agreement on climate change. Public opinion also enables major cities to begin imposing bans or extra charges on fossil-fuel vehicles to improve local air quality.

Amid growing demand for battery electric vehicles (BEVs), one company that appears to be well-positioned to support the industry’s growth is SKF USA Inc., a manufacturer of rolling bearings and related technologies, including seals and lubrication systems. SKF USA, a subsidiary of SKF Group, is investing in EV technology as part of its pledge to increase sustainability. It is also drawing on its decades of experience in the EV sector as it works to innovate products that improve EV performance and affordability, the company said in a release.

“Our capabilities allow us to support the industry in overcoming challenges, while taking advantage of the many opportunities that EVs represent,” said Greg Zimmermann, president, Automotive North America for SKF USA, Inc., in the release. “As technical advances like range extension, battery longevity, charging technology, and available charging infrastructure continue to improve, the market will experience more competitive pricing, attracting new buyers. And while cost reduction and more sustainable infrastructure will be important developments, the power density of BEVs will also continue to improve, addressing range anxiety.”

According to SKF, it has supported and helped catalyze innovation in the industry since the beginning of the EV revolution. Automakers in North America continue to choose SKF bearings as critical components in their electric drivetrains: More than 70 percent of battery electric vehicles produced in the United States are reported to feature SKF powertrain bearings. SKF also develops tailored solutions to mitigate issues unique to EVs, including drivetrain damage resulting from electric current. Its solutions include hybrid bearings to improve performance, and other pain points of the EV customer, the company said.

“Electric vehicle power transmission may be mechanically simpler than their combustion-transmission counterparts, but building an efficient, reliable, and enjoyable electric drivetrain is extremely challenging,” said Greg Zimmermann, president, Automotive North America for SKF USA, Inc.

“Electric vehicle power transmission may be mechanically simpler than their combustion-transmission counterparts, but building an efficient, reliable, and enjoyable electric drivetrain is extremely challenging,” said Zimmermann. “Although the number of bearings is about the same in an EV axle compared to a traditional one, the technical challenge is more difficult due to higher rotational speeds and demanding conditions on the bearings used in EV transmissions.”

SKF addressed some of the challenges unique to EVs by redesigning its bearings and their components, such as the polymer cage, rolling components, and by using special lubricating grease. Customized and hybrid bearings are already solving some of the fundamental issues that can affect reliability in electric vehicles, the company said.

SKF USA manufactures a variety of specialized EV products, including Hybrid Deep Groove Ball Bearings (DGBB); eDrive Ball Bearings: SKF Rotor Positioning Bearings; SKF Needle Roller Bearings; and NUBS cages for deep groove ball bearings. The company also offers sensor bearing units, High Speed Ball Bearings, and Bi-Directional High-Speed Seals.

The company’s Hybrid Deep Groove Ball Bearings use ceramic rolling elements and steel rings. Bearings of this type are said to offer improved high-speed performance and best-in-class electrical insulation characteristics, making them the premium choice for high performance EV powertrains. SKF offers tailored solutions to mitigate current leakage at the system level and to protect the entire EV transmission, the company said.

The SKF eDrive Ball Bearings are designed for electric and hybrid vehicle drivetrains. This range of bearings features an energy-efficient polymer cage, an optimized raceway geometry, and a validated long-life wide-temperature grease. The bearings are said to deliver design and performance benefits that include lower friction and lower friction variation, higher electric machine efficiency and power density, and improved battery reliability.

The SKF High Speed Ball Bearing 1.8 (HSBB 1.8) can reportedly reach a rotational speed of 30,000 rpm. This enables car manufacturers to increase the rotational speed of their electric motors to have higher efficiency and greater mileage between charges, the company said.

In addition to its product development work, the SKF North American Technical Center in Plymouth, Michigan, also supports car makers in application-specific engineering. One area of particular interest for the BEV market is noise and vibration.

Electric vehicles are quieter than conventional cars, and even small amounts of noise in the powertrain are noticeable. SKF has worked with leading international automakers to identify the sources of these noises and address them through bearing and system level design to improve the outcome, the company said.

Application-specific engineering and close cooperation with customers at the early phase of the electric powertrain development is also said to enable SKF to design high-efficiency bearings and arrangements to decrease overall system power losses and maximize EV range.

Electric vehicle manufacturers also require supply chains and engineering capabilities that fit well with their manufacturing and product development footprint. SKF said it has adopted a full-value-chain approach by investing in product development, manufacturing, and testing to target local EV markets.

“The global footprint for SKF matches the customer footprint. We work hard to make sure our products are where our customers need them, when they need them. In today’s world, SKF recognizes that our manufacturing and engineering capabilities need to be globally available to help meet customer demand,” said Zimmermann.

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