Smart components

Flange bearings are becoming intelligent

Flange bearings are becoming intelligent

Expensive breakdowns of machines and vehicles due to undetected defects in highly loaded flange bearings: They will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a new generation of two- and four-hole flange bearings. The special feature: The bearings from Igus made of lubrication-free high-performance plastic are equipped with miniature wireless sensors and thus enable condition monitoring and predictive maintenance.

A technician looks at his smartphone: In a conveyor belt of the beer bottle removal system, a flange bearing is approaching its wear limit. While there used to be a risk that the process would remain undetected and cause an expensive system failure, today the technician can easily replace the bearing during the production break. Knowing full well that the hundreds of other camps also communicate with him.

“This scenario is no longer science fiction. As part of our smart plastics offering, we are gradually equipping plain bearings made of high-performance plastic with networked sensors,” says Thomas Preißner, head of the igubal spherical plain bearings division at igus. “Our two- and four-hole flange bearings from the igubal series can now also enable condition monitoring and predictive maintenance to avoid unforeseen damage.”

Flange bearings transmit their status via radio

And this is how the new Industry 4.0 bearings work: igus integrates an abrasion sensor into the polymer spherical cap. A thin board that sits near the tread. Also a battery for power supply without a cable. This means that the bearing can continue to move freely for spherical compensation. As wear occurs, the conductor tracks on the circuit board are interrupted. When the electronics lose the signal of a conductor track, it knows that the wear has reached a certain level. The sensor sends out a digital signal via a Long Range Network (LoRa), a wireless standard for the Internet of Things that is known for its energy efficiency. The receiver is the i.Cee control cabinet module, which evaluates the data.

The associated software now knows that the conductor track is worn and determines the percentage of wear. Over time, the sensor itself wears out layer by layer - parallel to the running surface of the bearing. And it continues to send out signals that allow conclusions to be drawn about the condition of the bearing. Users can see what the remaining service life is like and when maintenance is due on a web-based dashboard that they can access from anywhere in the world with a PC, tablet or smartphone.

Luxembourg State Railway Company's first pilot customer of the smart flange bearings

The new flange bearings are in the prototype phase. But they have already convinced one pilot customer: the Société National des Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois (CFL). The Luxembourg state railway company operates a 200-meter-long car wash that cleans local and long-distance trains every day. In the past, malfunctions in the gearboxes on the washing truck repeatedly led to costly system failures.

The operator has therefore said goodbye to lubricated standard ball bearings and instead used the networked spherical caps from igus in the UC bearing housings. The advantage: The spherical caps made of high-performance plastic are corrosion-free, chemical-resistant and, thanks to integrated solid lubricants, enable low-friction and maintenance-free dry running. “The other bearings need to be lubricated every few weeks, which is time-consuming,” said CFL maintenance manager Mike Feinen. “We have ticked this maintenance point off a bit.”

Thomas Preißner: “The new networking puts the icing on the cake for these advantages. Thanks to continuous condition monitoring, CFL can prevent failures, optimally plan maintenance operations and fully utilize the service life of the polymer bearings.”