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The rolling bearing of the future works as a sensor. In this way, Schaeffler creates the prerequisite for higher productivity, whether in production, energy generation or rail transport. In the digital age, Schaeffler’s mechatronics expertise is in greater demand than ever before.

Dr. Joanna Procelewska studied both chemistry and computer science. The surface technology specialist works on laying the foundation for intelligent products.

“Could I borrow your pen for a moment, please?” Dr. Joanna Procelewska wants to draw a sketch to help her explain how her virtual tribo-lab works. Apparently, she does not always have such analog tools ready at hand. The surface technology specialist studied both chemistry and computer science. Now she is advancing digitalization in her area. “Combining my domain knowledge in my area of expertise with digital technologies for data exploration has always fascinated me,” she says. Her domain is tribology – the science of friction.

Hand in Hand: Physical testing improves the forecast accuracy of simulations.
Hand in Hand: Physical testing improves the forecast accuracy of simulations.

When it comes to designing coating systems for Schaeffler products, such as rolling bearings, bucket tappets and finger followers, the virtual tribo-lab developed by Dr. Procelewska is set to become an important tool. At its core element is an interactive tribological database for coatings, which holds experimental data on layer systems and characteristic values derived from preliminary tribological tests with coated components. Based on these data, the friction and wear properties of coated components can be precisely predicted using data mining methods. This will significantly increase the success rate during the development process, as well as the quality of real-life tests – consequently, Schaeffler engineers will be able to develop new coating systems much faster and more efficiently in the future.

Combining my domain knowledge in my area of expertise with digital technologies for data exploration has always fascinated me.

Dr. Joanna Procelewska

This fundamental work not only allows the production of components with lower friction levels, but also the development of completely new intelligent layers. One such example is the Schaeffler Sensotect® coating system, with which mechanical components can be turned into sensors. A very thin, electrically conductive layer is applied, for example to a rolling bearing. During operation, tiny deformations occur in this sensor layer which give rise to electrical signals. Important information – such as load and torque conditions – can be derived from these.

Small structures, big impact: Sensotect® bottom bracket bearings with nano-functional layer.
Small structures, big impact: Sensotect® bottom bracket bearings with nano-functional layer.

The great advantage of Sensotect® is that the sensor system does not require a larger design envelope. However, Schaeffler is also developing retrofit solutions for existing systems, such as the FAG SmartQB early warning system. This detects the vibration data of machines and observes changes in the vibration patterns. Based on that, it automatically assigns defect causes and issues recommendations for action via a display. Measuring the vibration patterns is relatively easy with the help of an externally applied sensor system, as the vibrations are transmitted from the machine interior to its outside via structure-borne sound.

More and more often, Schaeffler components are becoming sensors in their own right, which is creating the prerequisite for the company’s range of digital services. But the offer extends much further, as is shown, for instance, by the “Drivetrain 4.0” that Schaeffler presented at the 2016 Hannover Messe for the first time. The system approach also encompasses intelligent on-site electronics and the Schaeffler Cloud, which enables automated data analysis. The remaining operating life of gearbox bearings in production machines can thus be calculated individually for each bearing, for example. This in turn allows predictive maintenance to be carried out without downtimes, and operation to be adapted to the specific machine status. Schaeffler is pursuing further similar concepts with its “Rail 4.0” and “Wind 4.0” for the railway and wind power sectors. What is common to all of these concepts is that knowing precisely what happens inside a machine is indispensable for correctly interpreting the derived data. So in the digital age, Schaeffler’s application expertise is in even greater demand than ever before.

Number of nanotechnology coating variants developed by Schaeffler’s Surface Technology Competence Center.

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