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NSK Engineers Discuss Future of Automotive Bearings

NSK's engineers are driving the future of
the automobile through the development of automotive bearings

Automotive bearings are essential components that support moving parts throughout the vehicle. While demand for these bearings will only increase in the years to come, the shift to electric and fuel cell vehicles poses many new challenges. We ask four engineers on the frontline of development in Japan to share their thoughts about the future of the industry.

Takayuki
Group Manager,
Chassis Bearing Technology Department,
Automotive Powertrain Bearing Technology Center

As an independent manufacturer with customers around the world,a career at NSK offers many opportunities
to contribute on a global playing field.

As an independent manufacturer with customers around the world, a career at NSK offers many opportunities to contribute on a global playing field.

The four of us work in the Automotive Powertrain Bearing Technology Center, which leads the design and development of automotive bearings at NSK. My department, the Chassis Bearing Technology Department, works specifically on the design of hub unit bearings, an essential component that supports the vehicle body and enables the smooth rotation of the wheels.

Wheel bearings require a high degree of reliability, but because of their position on the underside of the vehicle, they are often exposed to extreme conditions that lead to deterioration: mud and salt water to name a few. One factor that determines reliability is the cleanliness of the materials used.

As an independent manufacturer, NSK serves customers from around the world by manufacturing our products locally. With this opportunity comes challenges, however, one of which is procuring clean materials from local suppliers that will enable us to produce the high-quality bearings NSK is renowned for. While our materials team is heavily involved in supplier selection, we engineers also have the chance to go abroad and visit local suppliers.

NSK is a global company with plants and offices all over the world. In 2010, I had the chance to work on a long-term assignment in Germany, where I was able to offer support to local customers and contribute to the design process at our local subsidiary.

If you’re ready to partner with automakers and component manufacturers from around the world and have your voice heard on the future of the industry, there’s a place for you here.

Aya
Assistant Manager,
Electric Powertrain Bearing Technology Department,
Automotive Powertrain Bearing Technology Center

A place where women
with a passion for engineering can thrive.

A place where women with a passion for engineering can thrive.

My department’s focus used to be on bearings used in electrical accessories and vehicle engines. But in 2016, it was merged with other divisions specializing in motor bearings into the current Electric Powertrain Bearing Technology Department, giving us the technological edge we need as the market shifts to electric cars.

Engine-related components will undergo drastic changes in the years ahead. As combustion engines are gradually replaced by electric motors, valve bearings will disappear, and bearings used in alternators and cooling pumps will also be affected. But at the same time, there will be new demand for bearings specific to electric and fuel cell vehicles. My department is actively working to develop new bearing applications to meet these demands.

I took maternity leave for about a year back in 2014. After returning to the job, I’ve been given many exciting opportunities to work on new projects and interact directly with our clients. I never felt like I was treated any differently than my male coworkers, in terms of both opportunities and expectations.

NSK values those who step forward to do the job, no matter their background. The company is actively working to hire more female engineers with a passion for the auto industry. Are you ready for the challenge?

Koichi
Needle Roller Bearing Technology Department,
Automotive Powertrain Bearing Technology Center

As we shift to electric motors and
more gears in automatic transmissions,bearing technology will become even more critical.

As we shift to electric motors and more gears in automatic transmissions, bearing technology will become even more critical.

In the Needle Roller Bearing Technology Department, we work to develop needle bearings for transmissions, engines, and compressors. Since joining NSK back in 2008, my area of focus has been the design and development of automatic transmission bearings.

Over the past decade, the biggest change to automatic transmission has been the increasing number of gears these transmissions can accommodate. As demand for fuel efficient, low emission vehicles increases, transmissions with six to eight gears are on the rise, and now even nine- and ten-speed transmissions are beginning to make an appearance. As transmissions begin to use more gears, a greater number of needle bearings will be required to support them. The challenge here is in keeping the transmission small and light enough to ensure that each additional gear is actually serving its purpose to improve overall fuel efficiency. Which is why designing these bearings to be compact and lightweight will be just as important as ensuring they are low friction. Also, with the shift to high-output EV motors, exposure to electric currents will make bearings more vulnerable to corrosive wear, and there will be more demand for corrosion-resistant bearings.

Bearing technology is incredibly complex, and specialized knowledge is essential in this field. Which is why NSK provides internal training opportunities to ensure its employees are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need. Join us at NSK as we work to build the car of the future.

Yujiro
Assistant Manager,
Powertrain Bearing Technology Department,
Automotive Powertrain Bearing Technology Center

As demand for more integrated applications increases,NSK will leverage its strengths
to maintain a competitive edge in the market.

As demand for more integrated applications increases, NSK will leverage its strengths to maintain a competitive edge in the market.

My main work involves designing ball bearings and tapered roller bearings used to support the transmission shaft.
With the shift to electric and fuel cell cars in the years ahead, the combustion engine will eventually be replaced by an electric motor. But as long as there’s a shaft that rotates the wheel, the demand for bearings to support that shaft will likely stay constant.

The performance required of those bearings, however, will change drastically as electric motors become the norm. Until now the noise from the engine has always covered up other sounds under the hood, but we will now be expected to create quieter bearings in line with the quieter electric motor. With the motor’s higher output and faster rotation, bearings will also need to be more durable to keep up.

Improving efficiency is an endless endeavor. While size and weight reduction is a constant task for bearing designers, in the future these requirements will be extended to the shafts and housings bearings are used in, making it necessary to develop integrated applications that involve multiple adjacent parts. This is precisely where NSK’s strengths can shine. Our unique analysis technology puts us in the perfect position to develop and propose such integrated applications to our automotive customers.

Come to NSK and learn the latest technology from the best in the industry, and join us on our quest to develop even higher performance products.

As an independent manufacturer, NSK does business with automakers from around the world. Automotive development is a complex and exciting endeavor, and there are no right answers: different automotive customers have different approaches even toward the same components, and rely on us to come up with customized technological solutions for their development needs.

This is why NSK has an essential part to play in setting the future in motion together with our partners in the auto industry. Join us as we work to build the future of the automobile.

Note: Department names and job titles reflect those current at the time of the interview.