A founding principle of bearing and seal manufacturer SKF since its formation in Sweden in 1907 is continual improvement of the products and services it offers.
Australia plays a major role in these efforts, due to having some of the harshest operating conditions in the world.
According to Chris Hayes, SKF Product Manager, the company’s unitised bearings that are fitted to trailer axles produced by FUWA K-Hitch feature SKF bearings designed for a one-million km service life.
He adds that the ability of the components to maintain consistently reliable operation over such a long lifespan in harsh Australian conditions is testament to the quality of the engineering and manufacturing as a result of the considerable resources SKF puts into its research and development (R&D) in this country.
“SKF’s unitised bearing system is the component of choice in the mining industry in northern Western Australia and has continued to grow in popularity in recent years,” Chris says. “It was developed in conjunction with FUWA K-Hitch and has become a predominant axle for heavy-duty applications in rugged mining operations.”
Chris elaborates that it is an ongoing philosophy of SKF to continuously improve its products, ensuring the designs of materials and components are kept up to date with the fast-paced trucking industry with increasingly high demands.
“Development of seals and bearings is always ongoing with SKF,” he continues. “We are constantly making amendments including changing profiles and manufacturing techniques such as the ingredient mix of the steel used to produce the bearings.”
Also, in line with its ongoing product improvement strategy, SKF is developing an upgraded version of its wheel-end monitor that was originally released in 2010 to give operators an early warning of trailer and truck wheel bearing issues.
Chris explains that the original design featured a red and green light system that gave the operator a visual cue of when a bearing set needed replacing. It did this by detecting vibrations caused by spalling of the bearing cup surfaces.
The new version, currently under development, is far more high-tech and can be linked with the vehicle’s telematics or to a cloud-based app on a Smartphone. In this way it can deliver alerts to the operator in real time when abnormalities such as excessive heat or vibration are detected.
According to Chris, the new product is designed for a longer service life than SKF’s original wheel-end monitor, which aligns with the company’s long-term strategy of reducing its environmental footprint.
Meanwhile, from an Original Equipment axle manufacturer’s perspective, FUWA K-Hitch Western Australia State Manager, Ryan Ussher, says the company is proud to have an ongoing relationship with SKF for the mutual benefit of both companies.
“We’ve been pleased to work with SKF during the development of the unitised hub which has enabled us to warrant our wheel ends for three years/ 1,000,000km,” Ryan says.
“Being a unitised hub, it offers our customers the extra longevity; as long as the nut is kept torqued to 950Nm every 100,000km, that is all that’s required.”
To ensure ample lubrication for the 1,000,000km lifespan of the unitised hub, Ryan explains, 30ml of semi-fluid grease is installed when the axle is assembled to ensure the seal stays adequately lubricated for the life of the unit.
“Over the years we’ve progressed the servicing aspect of our axles and we work in close collaboration with SKF, following their guidelines to ensure the best possible outcome.”
Fuwa K-Hitch WA recently moved from Welshpool to Kenwick into a new purpose-built facility on a 10,000-square-metre block of land.
According to Ryan, the new premise has ample room to house all equipment as well as room to expand in the future.
“A much larger production facility will help us pull down the lead times on all our builds,” he says.
“A big part of this is assembly of our unitised disc brake axles which account for about 80 per cent of total disc brake axle production in WA.”
Ryan relates that that the demand for disc brake axles in WA has been strong for a long time due to their lighter weight, less greasing points and better heat dissipation compared with drums. He mentions that the WABCO disc brake callipers that FUWA uses are also a sealed unit, therefore requiring low maintenance over their lifespan.
As for disc pad life, he explains that it varies widely depending on where the vehicle is running.
“A truck running around metropolitan Perth with frequent stops and starts may get one quarter the brake lining life relative to distance travelled compared with a road train operating between Perth and the north west of the state,” he says.
Ryan also mentions extra measures the company has introduced to prevent the ingress of contaminants into the bearing cartridge on the unitised hubs in off-road applications.
“About eight years ago we engineered an extra dust shield that takes up the void where the rotor sits in relation to the axle. This minimises the dirt and dust from being drawn into the void adjacent to the seal,” he says.
“This is now a standard feature on all FUWA disc brake axles and is a great example of how we have progressed from our earlier disc brake axles to the unitised hubs with these extra features to provide ultimate longevity of our products.”
All in all, the fruitful association between SKF and FUWA in the development of unitised hub trailer axles capable of a one-million kilometre service life has provided much-needed benefits in terms of reduced costs and increased efficiencies for truck operators in both on- and off-road applications
SKF has developed its unitised bearings in conjunction with axle producer FUWA K-Hitch to provide the ultimate in reliable and low maintenance trailer axles for operators.