Krishna Raman, Frost & Sullivan, India, Chennai –
Applications of agricultural machines are endless, starting from most trivial ones such as soil tillage machines, irrigation equipment, and harvesting machines and extending to specialized applications such as combined harvesters and self-propelled machines, manure spraying machines, and harvesting processing machines. Bearings and gears form an indispensable part of all agricultural equipment.
Since the beginning of 2010, there has been an increase in the demand for food products globally because of the high population growth rate. It has been estimated by the World Bank that from 2013 to 2025, the global population is likely to grow at a rate of about 1.2% or 80 million per year. Globally, new land areas that will be available for agriculture are expected to grow at a smaller pace compared to the growth in the demand for food and other agricultural products. Therefore, efficient utilization of land is becoming the collective responsibility of both farmers and agricultural machinery manufacturers. This trend is expected to increase the demand for machines in applications such as tilling and irrigation. Moreover, the growth in mechanization of agriculture in regions such as India, China, Brazil, Argentina, and sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase the demand for agricultural equipment, thereby increasing the demand for bearings and gears used in them.
Trends in Product Design
Agricultural equipment needs to be highly energy efficient, exhibit high load handling capacity, and withstand extreme environmental conditions such as heat, moisture, mud, and dust.
Areas with hard and/or heavy soil require equipment that exhibit high mechanical strength so as to navigate through the soil. Some of the common bearing designs that are used to achieve high load capacity include ‘double-row roller bearing’, in which two rows of rollers with varying diameters help achieve a trade-off between maximizing load capacity and minimizing frictional losses, and ‘double row angular contact ball bearing’. In case of sowing machines that operate in close contact with the soil, bearing designs such as ‘four-point contact ball bearing’ are used. The lubrication of bearings and gears plays a crucial factor in ensuring efficient working of bearing design and longer bearing life.
Moreover, bearings and gearboxes that are used in agricultural equipment are exposed to extreme environmental conditions such as moisture, mud, and dust. Equipment used for tilling and sowing operations, which are carried out in spring or during the rainy season, needs to be operated in moist and wet environments. Equipment used for harvesting operation, which is carried out in the hot summer season, needs to withstand dust and high temperature. All these increase the risk of lubricant contamination that can reduce the effectiveness of the bearings and gears and reduce their working life.
Therefore, seals of bearings that are used in such equipment need to be designed to withstand moist and wet or dry and dusty conditions. Triple-lip seal is commonly used to seal both sides of bearings that are used in agricultural machinery, in order to prevent moisture, dust, and other contaminants from entering the inner surface of bearings. Moreover, the side of the bearing that faces the source of contamination can also be sealed using a triple-lip cartridge seal.
In the future, as cropping cycles shorten to meet the increasing need for food, machines are expected to be used more intensively, thus leading to a higher wear and tear of gear teeth and bearings. This is expected to increase the replacement rate of these spare parts.
Spare parts revenue contributes to a significant share of revenue from bearings and gears in the agricultural machinery market; it accounts for more than 50% sales in regions such as the United States, Western Europe, and Australia and New Zealand, where the degree of agricultural mechanization is higher than that in the rest of the world. Manufacturers of bearings and gears need to focus on establishing strong distributor networks in these regions in order to take advantage of the demand for spare parts.
The share of spare parts revenue accounts for more than 33% and up to 50% of the sales in the other regions of the world. Regions such as northern Africa, Latin America, and Asia have a higher installed base of agricultural equipment as compared to regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, huge opportunities exist for sales of bearings and gearboxes for new equipment in sub-Saharan Africa. Bearing manufacturers need to focus on building strong relationship with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and machine builders who supply agricultural machinery to these regions.
Overall, the focus on ‘sales and distribution management’ and ‘demand forecasting’ is very important for bearing and gear manufacturers to compete successfully in a market.
SKF, Schaeffler AG, and NSK Bearings are some of the major bearing manufacturers catering to the needs of the global agricultural machinery market. Italy contributes a significant share of global revenues from bearing and gear sales, as the country hosts a large number of agricultural machine builders who export these machines to emerging markets such as Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
Potential of the Internet of Industrial Things (IoIT)
Worn out or faulty bearings and gears can result in significant loss to farmers, who are the end users of agricultural equipment, in terms of higher energy consumption because of frictional losses, and/or sub-optimal quality of tilled land or of harvested crop. In most cases, these end users have very limited knowledge about the mechanics of the equipment that they use, and therefore find it difficult to identify faults in the machinery or its components.
By adopting predictive maintenance of bearings and gearboxes enabled by IoIT, manufacturers can accurately predict the time of bearing failure or reduction in performance of their bearings and gears. Through the deployment of IoIT-enabled equipment, the end users can be notified on their mobile devices on impending faults and performance shortfalls in the machines. Such a framework will also help bearing and gear manufacturers to more accurately forecast demand for spare parts by region. This can lead to the reduction of the supply chain cost and increase the overall profitability of the manufacturers.
Bearings and gears used in agricultural equipment are subjected to harsh environments and heavy duty cycles because of the trend of decreasing cropping cycles. Manufacturers of bearings and gears need to produce specifically designed products that suit the application requirements. They should also adopt differential sales and distribution strategies in different regions according to the nature of the demand. Moreover, the manufacturers need to invest in the latest technologies such as the IoIT that is expected to mutually benefit manufacturers as well as farmers.
For further information: Anna Zanchi, firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Agricultural mechanization in Africa – Time for action” report of an expert group meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations in January, 2008.
- World Bank Database at http://data.worldbank.org/indicator – by “The World Bank Group”