Only a few companies lay claim to a century of business and SKF is one with 112 years of history. Founded in 1907, the bearings and seals manufacturer was founded in Sweden. Within a couple of years, it formed branch offices in various European countries, including a subsidiary in New York. Today, SKF continues to manufacture bearings and seals on a global scale, in addition to a host of other products and services such as lubrication, coupling systems, condition monitoring, test and measurement, and others that support “a world of reliable rotation.”
This week, the company hosted a press event in Philadelphia (its U.S. headquarters is in Lansdale, PA) to share insights on what it has learned and what’s new. One of the most relevant changes (or progressions) of its time: digitalization.
“This digital world is one of the most exciting times,” said SKF president John Schmidt, during the event’s opening message. “Whether connected or handheld digital devices…all of these tools have expanded our competency and allow us to impact the performance of rotating equipment.”
Schmidt credited digitally connected devices (via the industrial internet of things) for optimizing three main approaches to manufacturing and equipment maintenance: 1. Life modeling (predicting the life of a bearing); 2. Condition monitoring (detecting and predicting equipment faults); 3. Data analytics (examining information and forming conclusions).
“With the fourth addition of connected devices, we can now work to a scale that was previously unimaginable,” he said.
John Chioffe, SKF’s director of business intelligence, agreed. “Data drives decision-making or at least it should, and most senior leaders understand that data is a core business asset. They also understand that the use of data and analytics is important in making better business decisions,” he said during his presentation at the press event.
This is good news but Chioffe also pointed out that there is a “common problem” in several industries. According to research group Mackenzie, fewer than 20% of organizations have maximized data analytics or scaled it for optimization.
“Certainly, nearly every application or business function has collected data and stored it in its own data repository and created its own data model. But this had led to huge data proliferation.” Chioffe explained that companies are typically collecting a vast amount of relevant industry data — but not sharing it. “This is leading to data silos.”
As a sidebar to Chioffe’s talk, a recent study by ONYX Insight serves as a case-in-point in the wind industry. The predictive analytics company found that access restrictions to wind-turbine performance data are preventing wind from reducing O&M costs — by up to 30%.
“In recent years, the industry has been gathering ever greater amounts of data, and greater processing power has allowed the industry to mine rich data streams faster and more accurately,” said ONYX Insight CEO, Bruce Hall, in a related press statement. “However, restricted data access stops us from gaining these insights – and realizing their economic benefits.”
Chioffe discussed a similar narrative during his talk. “Now companies are starting to realize that to survive in their competitive market, they have to unify and democratize their data,” he said. “What I mean by this is to unify the data and bring it all together and then to democratize it and make it accessible to everyone.”
The real value of accessing this data comes from the insights it could provide industries. “The benefit is when the data can be correlated with information that is actionable, easy-to-use, and easily accessible,” said Chioffe.
One question to ask yourself or your company: “Are you using your data strategically?”
According to Chioffe, it’s imperative to employ prescriptive or advanced data and not solely rely on description or historic analytics. “Descriptive analytics tells you what you already know…but you want to know what actions to take.” For wind, this could mean determining that a bearing is subject to micropitting before failure and having the maintenance plan in place. For SKF, this has meant modernizing the customer experience.
“We want to predict and reduce supply chain so that customers can have the right product at the right time, when they need it. We almost need to know what they need before they do, and without the right data we wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Chioffe. He said SKF also wants to help customers reduce operating costs and increase profitability. “The data is not just about us. It’s about helping our customers.”
He said SKF is actively educating people on what it means to be a data-driven culture and employing new resources, such as data scientists and visualization developers. “The new digital world is here and it’s important to advance with it.”
To help keep up, Chioffe provided a few data fundamentals.
- Data is everywhere. There are few limits to what is trackable or scalable.
- Understand the data landscape. This means planning a clear data strategy (knowing what data to look at, how to use it, and when). “Because of the sheer amount of data, you have to have a plan about how to use it wisely,” said Chioffe.
- Institute a robust governance program. Conventionally, this goes to the IT department, said Chioffe. But he suggested governance belongs to those who have the knowledge and capability to understand and change the results — which may require different expertise than IT.
- Re-evaluate data architecture. Technology is changing rapidly. It’s important to keep architecture current and updated.
- Mobilize the organization. “This requires changing mindsets,” said Chioffe. “And educating employees about what it means to be a data-driven culture and how to think differently. It starts with senior management.”
What’s new at SKF…
As part of its aim to help customers, SKF recently launched a Rotating Equipment Performance program, which maximizes machine performance and minimizes O&M costs. SKF works with clients to monitor equipment, detect and solve problems (using actionable data), maintain performance, and rebuild services. The aim is to optimize equipment and lower the overall cost of ownership.
SKF also offers SimPro Quick single-shaft bearing-simulation software, developed to quickly evaluate the design of bearing arrangements and their field performance based on relevant application requirements and conditions. The goal was to provide designers with more SKF engineering knowledge and autonomy to accelerate the design process and optimize the selection of appropriate bearings.