The manufacturing, mining and automotive industries should prepare for a potentially significant shortage of bearings in the coming year, and also exercise caution when buying products amid a global influx of counterfeit products, says bearing and power transmission distributor Bearings 2000 MD Nick Stamatiadis.
He tells Engineering News that the expected shortage could increase lead times for orders to as much as two years, which could impact on the production capabilities of a number of industries that require bearings components, and result in considerable downtime.
Further, the concern over the shortage has boosted the illegal manufacture and distribution of counterfeit bearings and related components to fill the supply gap in the market.
“Counterfeit bearings originate primarily in China and are well-capitalised, major criminal operations. These facilities can produce any make of bearing for any application. Even the experts find it difficult to distinguish between the genuine and the counterfeit products, and they are entering the market at a critical time, owing to the expected shortages,” explains Stamatiadis.
He notes that the cause of the expected global bearings shortage has yet to be identified, but the 2008 economic recession and increased demand for bearings from the expanding wind generation industry are con- sidered to have contributed to the situation.
“The shortage of bearings is not unique to the South African market and has occurred as a result of a combination of a number of complications in the international market after the 2008 economic crisis,” he says.
During the 2008 economic downturn, the strategic inventories of major manufacturers dwindled to 30% or 40% of regu- lar capacity, owing to lower production in response to uncertain market trends. The rebuilding of inventories to more sustainable levels has resulted in an erratic supply of bearings and unpredictable lead times.
Stamatiadis emphasises that while the bearings shortage is not acute, the unpredictability of the market is worrying.
“Our greatest concern is that we simply do not know the extent of this potential shortage. Many lead times are normal, but a noticeable percentage of orders are quoted with very long deliv- ery times of up to two years, in some cases. We did not cut back on our ordering during the economic crisis, which means we are well stocked and our service level to customers has not been affected but, as a precaution, we are monitoring the development of this shortage,” he says.
In addition, the expected shortage has exacerbated the production of counterfeit bearings and related components, creating a market for easily available and less costly products.
Counterfeit bearings pose a significant safety risk to both people and property, owing to the nature of the sensitive applications in which they are used and the lack of adequate manufacturing standards to which authentic bearings are bound.
Bearings 2000, in collaboration with its principal, industrial manufacturing group Schaeffler, offers a service to its clients to identify the authenticity of bearings bought, and advises them to deal only with authorised distributors.