Schaeffler has been developing special bearing solutions for light and heavy commercial vehicles for over 100 years and currently produces over 80 million bearings per year for this segment.
Bearing solutions for electrified powertrains, digitalisation, and automated driving constitute a key focus area for the company’s development work going forward.
“Heavy goods transportation is an area where bearings offer huge potential for savings, and that’s true for both conventional and electrified powertrains,” said Matthias Zink, Schaeffler’s CEO Automotive Technologies.
People often underestimate the huge role that bearings can play in eliminating power loss and hence reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in light and, more especially, heavy commercial vehicles.
“In electrified powertrains, high-efficiency bearings can be used to get increased range from the same battery, or to achieve the same range using a smaller battery,” says Dr. Dieter Eireiner, head of Schaeffler’s Bearings business division.
This pays dividends for vehicle fleet operators in terms of reduced procurement and operating costs, or – using the same battery – the ability to carry more cargo per trip. Schaeffler says it is therefore continually optimising its bearings, with enhanced seal technology, improved overall design, and reduced tolerances.
The company has now developed a new bearing unit specifically for commercial vehicles that delivers further benefits by significantly reducing friction loss. The new bearing brings together innovative design, a new heat treatment method, and a specially adapted seal concept.
On a driven rear axle with a maximum axle load of 13 tons, the bearing reduces friction by 56 per cent, corresponding to an energy saving of up to 600 W.
In a commercial vehicle with an electric range of 500 kilometers, the resulting energy saving can be as much as 11 kilowatt-hours per charge. Alternatively, the vehicle manufacturer can realise that saving by reducing the battery capacity, which lowers costs significantly.
For light commercial vehicles ranging from pick-up trucks to vans, Schaeffler has developed its TriFinity triple-row ball bearing. The TriFinity bearing is no larger than a standard double-row ball bearing but is able to transfer greater axle loads. This reduces vehicle power consumption and is a key benefit in inner city transportation operations.
While maintaining the correct tyre pressure is fundamental to reducing truck fuel consumption and tyre wear, manually adjusting the pressure for each trip and change in weather conditions is a time-consuming task that is often neglected.
Schaeffler has now developed a wheel bearing with an integrated seal that helps adjust tyre pressure to driving conditions on the fly – without any manual input from the driver.
“This solution reduces fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, and tyre wear, which enables fleet operators to lower their operating costs while at the same time improving safety,” explains Dieter Eireiner.
The key to this innovation is the pneumatic rotary union that connects the bearing to the tyre. Once integrated into the vehicle manufacturer’s systems, this can be used to automatically reduce or increase tyre pressure on all axles.
Tyre pressure can, for example, be increased automatically to the optimal level when the vehicle is loaded, and then be reduced again when it is unloaded.
Another use case relates to temperature management. High temperatures can cause tires to become overinflated, leading to both tyre damage and longer braking distances.
Here too, the new wheel bearing from Schaeffler helps keep tyre pressure at optimal levels. The solution also comes into its own in off-highway applications, where drivers commonly reduce the tyre pressure to improve traction on unpaved surfaces like mud and sand, and then have to reinflate the tyres once they are back on the highway.
Schaeffler says it will soon be possible to automate these tasks thanks to its new wheel bearing with integrated tyre inflation function.
Schaeffler has also developed a new, intelligent wheel bearing designed to bring digitalisation to trucks and accelerate the development of automated driving.
Incorporating smart sensors, this innovation enables remote monitoring of bearing and wheel condition – an important added function, given that four out of every 10 vehicle breakdowns are caused by defective tyres or brakes.
This new functionality will allow transport fleet operators to monitor the condition of vehicles on the road and receive early warnings of potential damage and breakdowns so that they can undertake preventive maintenance.
The integrated sensors can also take measurements of wheel forces, braking forces, vibrations, and wheel hub temperatures, all in a fraction of a second.
“Our intelligent wheel bearing provides key data for automated driving and digital services,” explained Eireiner. This data can be used for a range of purposes, such as detecting when items of cargo have fallen or shifted in transit, or assessing road conditions and road surfaces.