The origin of SKF dates back over a century.
In the Swedish city of Gothenburg on 16 February 1907, one of the company’s founders Sven Gustaf Wingqvist applied for a patent on a multi-row self-aligning radial ball bearing he had invented.
With the patent granted on 6 June the same year, Svenska Kullagerfabriken (SKF) – or Swedish Ball Bearing Factory in our language – was off and rolling.
The revolutionary new bearing was an instant success and by 1910 the company employed 325 people and had established a subsidiary in the United Kingdom.
By 1912, SKF was represented in 32 countries and by 1930, a staff of over 21,000 was employed in 12 manufacturing facilities worldwide.
In an interesting twist, SKF Sales Manager Assar Gabrielsson and Managing Director Björn Prytz were also the founders of automotive company Volvo AB in 1926.
The company funded the production run of the first thousand Volvo cars, built at Hisingen, Gothenburg, starting in 1927, using one of its previously trademarked names: AB Volvo, which appropriately for a bearing company derives from the Latin ‘I roll’.
SKF’s involvement with Volvo lasted until 1935 when the final shares were divested.
Today SKF employs around 44,000 people at 140 manufacturing facilities across the globe. It also has some 17,000 distributors encompassing 130 countries.
From the outset, a fundamental principle of the company has been to continually improve the products and services it offers; with Australia playing a major role in these efforts – due to having some of the harshest operating environments on Earth.
According to Chris Hayes, one of the shining stars in the SKF lineup is the Scotseals range which covers the wheel end sealing needs of trucks and trailers. Scotseals were originally developed and patented by US seal specialist Chicago Rawhide – a company that was acquired by SKF in 1990.
Chris says the modern-day unitised hubs – fitted to trailer axles from a number of prominent OE (Original Equipment) axle manufacturers – feature SKF bearings and seals designed for a one-million km service life. He adds that the ability of the components to stay the course over such a long lifespan in harsh Australian conditions is testament to the quality of the products and the effort and resources SKF puts into its research and development (R&D).
“SKF’s unitised hub is the component of choice in the mining industry in northern Western Australia and has continued to grow in popularity in recent times,” Chris says. “It was developed in conjunction with a leading OE axle manufacturer and has become a predominant axle for heavy-duty applications in rugged mining operations.”
Chris reiterates 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 a fast- paced trucking industry with increasingly high demands.
“Development of seals and bearings is always ongoing with SKF – changing of profiles and manufacturing techniques including the ingredient mix of the steel used to produce the bearings.”
Chris explains that the fine bulldust encountered in outback WA has made the state an ideal proving ground for SKF’s seals.
“The bulldust gets into everything which means if our seals work well in this environment, they will work well anywhere,” he says.
The culmination of this development is SKF’s new Scotseal X-Treme wheel-end seal for trucks and trailers for which the company offers market-leading warranties.
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 surface.
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.
“One of SKF’s goals universally is to become a ‘greener’ company in the way it manufactures its products,” he says. “This encompasses using less non-renewable energy in the processes as well as producing components of the highest quality standards that last as long as possible.”
While it’s been well over 100 years since SKF’s beginning, a founding principle of continuous improvement remains as strong as ever; ensuring the company continues in its relentless quest to supply the highest quality products that precisely meet the needs of its customers.
One of SKF’s latest developments is a high-tech wheel-end monitoring system that is cloud-based and keeps the operator informed about bearing condition in real time.