Industrial Machinery Business

Different products, approaches, and challenges
—Bearing development ignites
my passion as an engineer

Assistant Manager,
Electrical & Electrification Bearing Technology Center,
Industrial Machinery Technology Development Center

Developing bearings to support state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner motors running at 150,000 rpm

Bearings are used in all kinds of mechanical products with a rotating mechanism. Medical instruments use tiny bearings with diameters of around one millimeter, whereas wind turbines employ huge bearings with diameters up to 2 meters. With such a wide range of bearing sizes, the development approach, materials, and manufacturing processes vary according to the application. Different product areas require diverse development strategies, and the points that need to be considered during development are entirely different.

The products I'm responsible for developing, bearings used in household vacuum cleaner motors, must also meet unique and stringent requirements. Of all the different types of bearings, vacuum cleaner bearings have some of the toughest performance specifications. While being compact enough to fit on your fingertip, they must also support a motor shaft rotating at 150,000 to 160,000 rpm without wobbling and be able to withstand more than 1,000 hours of use. Recent vacuum cleaner models, which are primarily lightweight stick-type products, generate sufficient suction power by rotating a small fan at high speed, which requires bearings capable of handling high rotation speeds. Bearings for drones, another application I am responsible for, must also meet strict requirements. In addition to being lightweight, which directly affects flight performance and time, the bearings must also be highly reliable, as well as water-resistant and corrosion-resistant to enable use in adverse weather conditions.

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Leveraging our development expertise to win orders against competition

My duties can be split into three broad areas. First, I am involved in sales support activities to win orders, such as studying and proposing optimal specifications for bearings under the customer's operating conditions and responding to inquiries. Second, once we win an order I work on the design side to manufacture bearings that meet customer specifications. Third, I engage in technological development work, such as studying new shapes for bearing components and selecting new materials that can help exceed current performance.

Technological development is what enables us to establish a competitive advantage. In recent years, bearing manufacturers around the world have been improving the quality of their products, which has prompted NSK to further strengthen its technological development. To give a recent example, we studied the shape and materials of cages: components that help maintain consistent spacing between the rolling parts of a bearing. We created a new plastic cage with a shape optimized for high-speed rotation during which significant centrifugal force is applied.

Although NSK regularly receives invitations to participate in procurement competitions to decide which bearings will be used in new vacuum cleaner products, we have no hope of winning the contract if our proposed specifications only barely meet those required by the customer. It therefore becomes a competition to achieve high rotational speed and long life while meeting the target cost. There is no better feeling than the moment a vacuum cleaner manufacturer tells us that after a rigorous evaluation and comparison, they have decided to adopt the bearing we designed and proposed.

A supportive, sharing environment that allows you to take on big challenges as an engineer

In order to expand our technological advantage by exploring new configurations and materials, knowledge and expertise from outside our team is essential. The results we've achieved have come through close collaboration with our in-house basic research and material development divisions, whose expertise has made it possible to extend the specifications we propose to customers beyond those of conventional products. In many cases, the advice of team members responsible for developing and designing bearings for other applications helped us to overcome technological challenges when the project hit a wall. In this way, I found that the solutions and hints for overcoming bearing development challenges can be found within the company.

One reason I decided to move to NSK was because I was impressed by the company's all-round technological capabilities. I previously worked in medical device development, and I noted that whenever I approached NSK for advice, they were always outstanding in both the speed and the content of their proposals.

I feel that the accumulation of a range of technological feats and the ability to work across the company to generate new technologies is what enables NSK's development engineers to push beyond already high standards.

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Trying new applications brings enjoyment and satisfaction

In my career at NSK to date, I have worked to develop and design bearings for vacuum cleaners, drones, power tools, and more. I've had the opportunity to develop valuable skills as an engineer with a specialization in bearings by tackling a range of interesting challenges such as dealing with high speed rotation. Looking ahead, I feel that further exploring the technologies within these applications would be a meaningful way to further grow my career.

On the other hand, as NSK is a comprehensive bearing manufacturer that develops a full lineup of bearings from giant bearings to ultra-small bearings only visible through a microscope, I'd also like to take on the challenge of tackling new applications that require completely different approaches than those I've used thus far.

For example, miniature bearings require special technology in their design, development, and manufacture. The smaller the size, the narrower the tolerances, and the clearance between components is also minimal. A number of conditions become ever more stringent the smaller the product becomes. Although pursuing the limits of technology is a difficult task, it is engaging and rewarding.

On the flip side, when developing giant-sized bearings, designers and developers need to completely rethink their approach to load strength and failure handling. As an engineer, this also sounds like an exciting challenge to tackle.

Message to Prospective Employees

If you are looking at this site and considering a career change, you probably have a desire to make a difference. Looking back on my own decision to join NSK, I was a little anxious and conflicted when considering my options, but I wanted to make a change and took the plunge. On a company-wide level, NSK places great importance on the concept of "going beyond the present," and I have experienced many changes, both large and small, in my work to date. If you are seeking change, there are many opportunities for you to succeed in this type of environment at NSK. I look forward to collaborating with new talent to utilize our unique perspectives, create new and innovative products, and set the future in motion.

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

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