Motion control: SKF repositions to provide motion systems


System integration, Distributed control systems

Mechatronics is the confluence of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, and software engineering. Source: SKF USA

There's growth in them thar systems! At least, that's what Swedish lubricants and seals giant SKF believes, and they want to get some. In early October, they unveiled a plan to turn themselves into a 'global knowledge engineering company' with systems-level expertise in lubricants, seals, and bearings, to help in motion control applications.

So, what is a 'global knowledge engineering company,' anyway? To answer that question, George Dettloff, president and CEO of SKF USA said: 'Our focus is to provide customers with solutions developed from our unequalled experience and knowledge—solutions which ultimately make our customers more competitive and profitable.'

The company sums it up with a new mission: 'To equip the world with SKF knowledge.'

In supporting customers with high-performance lubricants, seals and bearings, SKF has dealt with most of the trickiest gremlins that plague motion control applications. Also, they have plenty of experience manufacturing high-performance, high-precision components and assemblies; they've been manufacturing state-of-the-art roller bearings for around a century. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they've been working quietly for some 16 years to develop innovative system solutions for major customers in transportation, aerospace, building construction, and even food industries.

Examples of SKF's knowledge contributions include:

Operator driven reliability : Since machine operators are closer to their machines than anyone else, they are in the best position to note visual, auditory, and odor cues that something might be going wrong with the machines they tend. SKF engineers have developed hardware, software, and training methods to put machine operators make machine operators the first line of defense in preventive maintenance programs.

Person in the loop control : While the goal of most automation activities is to replace people with automatons, sometimes it's just not possible. Person-in-the-loop control looks at an operator as an intelligent, adaptable system component when it is impossible, impractical, or inadvisable to replace them.

Centralized lubrication systems : As systems become more complex, the number of lubrication points increases, as does the penalty for over/under lubricating them. Centralized lubrication systems, in which most or all of the lubrication points are serviced from a central location, makes it possible to introduce highly sophisticated lubrication procedures based not on time, but on machine usage. They can even adjust the lubrication program to account for varying conditions, such as speed and temperature.

Mechatronic components : While others are just starting to talk mechatronics, SKF has been doing it for years. For example, they have a line of multi-functional components, such as bearing assemblies that include position, force, and speed transducers as well as races, bearings, etc. These products and the expertise SKF engineers have in using them, make it possible to build advanced mechatronic systems.

Poul Jeppeson, vice president and general manager for business development, actuation and motion control defines mechatronics as: 'Motion and control in one package integrating mechanical and electronic technologies with application-specific software.'

In other words, mechatronics is the confluence of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, and information technology. SKF says its experience includes major successful projects in automotive, marine, medical, steel, forestry, and, of course, industrial automation.

In the automotive industry, SKF has contributed to several control-by-wire technologies, including brake-, steer-, clutch- and shift-by-wire. They also provide technology for active and adaptive suspension systems and—coming soon to a passenger vehicle near you—park-by-wire!

When you look past the 100-year-old bearings, lubricants and seals image, SKF starts to look like a broadly based technology company. Perhaps SKF's new image is, to steal a line from an old western, 'No brag, just fact.'

For more information, visit .

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C.G. Masi , Control Engineering senior editor

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