Local bearings manufacturer GB Bearings will introduce a new range of ball and roller bearings in the first quarter of next year, says company export sales and stock products manager Alec Cutting.
He tells Engineering News that the cross- over market between white metal bearings and ball and roller bearings means that, while white metal bearings are used in a limited, niche market, ball and roller bearings have a wider appeal and are used more frequently.
The new range will, therefore, be suitable for all other equipment with rotary functions, such as pumps, motors, conveyors and washing machines.
Cutting says the stock expansion will unite a European premium brand of ball and roller bearings with the GB brand, which, he states, has always stood for quality and reliability, further expressing his hope that, in the long term, GB will be able to export the range to the rest of Southern Africa.
GB and Eskom
“GB has been assisting [State-owned power utility] Eskom with the manufacture and refurbishment of various bearings for pumps, fans, electric motors and, more importantly, the bearings and hydrogen seal on the turbines, specifically for the Duvha, Tutuka and Majuba sites, which are currently the largest suppliers to the grid,” says Cutting.
He notes that GB delivered the bearings to Eskom predominantly during this year’s maintenance periods, but points out that GB has supported and always will support Eskom and the various original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in their requirements for white metal bearings to assist them in “keeping the lights on”.
Cutting emphasises this commitment by recalling the various contracts signed with the OEMs, enabling GB to supply about 90% of the white metal bearings to the Kusile and Medupi new-build sites: “[GB] will continue to remain involved in both . . . sites, assisting as and when [needed] with any white metal bearings requirements. . . ”
He also notes that GB Bearings repairs and manufactures white metal bearings for the Koeberg nuclear power station, in the Western Cape, as well as various hydropowered stations in the country.
GB made inroads earlier this year in terms of expanding the company’s export base, making contact with Italian companies in particular. Cutting notes that GB’s perseverance has paid off, as keeping in contact with four Italian companies has enabled it to enter the market, with the company receiving its first order from an Italian fan manufacturer.
He adds that the client will conduct on-site quality and inspection tests on the bearings before the end of the year, and he is confident that, once the testing is completed, the client will retain GB as a supplier.
“Once we have received the stamp of approval from this major player, the company will be able to use them as a reference in . . . the Italian market to gain further entrance,” says Cutting.
GB is currently in final negotiations with one of Italy’s leading turbine and generator manufacturers to supply generator bearings, and it expects that negotiations will be concluded before December.
Cutting asserts that GB has designed bearings to meet clients’ specific needs, and has replaced the company’s original in-house design. “Not only is our unit cheaper than the cumbersome and costly original unit, but there will also be valuable time saving for the client during maintenance outages, as our housing construct has an easier assembly process,” he says.
Locally, the main deficit in bearing sales could be attributed to the mining sector cutting back and a lack of new equipment being ordered, he says, adding that this has not had too much of a negative impact on GB. “Equipment needs to be maintained, even if it’s the bare minimum, and GB is there to assist wherever possible.”
Cutting says GB continues to identify the niche sectors of the European market that will benefit from its products.
GB has a skills development programme for engineering students from the Vaal University of Technology and the Durban University of Technology, which aims to assist them in compulsory practical training at GB’s factories in Elandsfontein, in Gauteng, and Pinetown, in KwaZulu-Natal.
The programme started in 2012 and accepts about eight students yearly, based on their academic results and an aptitude test, which enable GB to focus on certain aspects of their individual development.
Cutting notes that the training programme has resulted in GB employing two students on a permanent basis at the Pinetown factory in the technical and drawing office sections. Although the initiative is meant to contribute to social development, GB recognises that it is also a great way to recruit skilled staff to assist with company requirements when they arise.