A Pinnacle of Modern Manufacturing: New Prahova Plant Expands Global Leadership in Tapered Roller Bearings
January 15, 2019
Over his 27 years at Timken, Doug Smith has participated in almost every aspect of the tapered roller bearings business—from design and development, to leading R&D and quality, to building and running manufacturing plants in China and India and overseeing Asian operations. Nearly ten years ago, Smith came back to the United States to be the company’s chief technology officer. His executive role now includes product line vice president, where he leads the entire zero- to twelve-inch tapered roller bearings business—the core upon which the company was founded nearly 120 years ago.
To keep that part of the business growing, vibrant, and relevant in a mature industry, Smith is charged with growing the top line as well as the bottom line—making sure that the business is profitable financially and then bringing new technologies to bear in the form of new customer applications, new materials and new manufacturing technologies.
Global growth creates a metric opportunity
When Timken decided to build a new tapered roller bearings plant in Prahova, Romania in 2015, all of those considerations came into play. Timken started out in North America, naturally offering bearings in imperial units. As it expanded across the world in the 1920s, the company broadened its offering to include metric sizes.
“We focused this plant on the metric products that are used throughout Europe,” says Smith. European designers are creating a wide array of products that require 100-300 millimeter-sized tapered roller bearings for the markets Timken serves, including agriculture, construction, and mining. The new plant helps meet growing aftermarket demand from Timken distributors in the region.
“Timken is known for its high-quality, high-performance products, but we’re also known for our high-touch technical service model,” says Smith. Having supply chains and manufacturing plants in the regions where original equipment manufacturer (OEM) customers operate is essential to growing the product line.
A modern plant, sustaining global leadership
Timken had been manufacturing bearings in Romania since 1997, when it acquired a plant near Ploiesti. There, the company produces large-bore bearing solutions for industrial markets. “Geographically, we’re nestled right in the midst of all the markets that we want to reach out and touch,” says Smith.
The new Prahova plant, just 20 kilometers away from Ploiesti, features sophisticated advancements in computer controls, robotics, and automation. “We’ve taken our game to the next level, from the perspective of modern manufacturing,” says Smith. While Prahova associates demonstrate a new level of technical savvy and engineering acumen, Timken’s basic operating methodologies have not changed. “Prahova is equipped to handle a wide variety and volume of part numbers quickly and efficiently,” says Smith. “Our improved operating model and state-of-the-art technologies help with that.”
Taking Timken quality to the farthest corners of the world
Timken’s investment in the Prahova plant represents a significant step forward in the thermal treatment and finishing processes that have always played a central role in Timken product performance. The advanced through-hardening processes and furnace technologies rolled out at Prahova improve consistency through the heat-treating process, yielding significant downstream productivity improvements.
Those technologies and processes help Timken sustain its status as the world’s leading manufacturer of tapered roller bearings. “Our partners value consistency and reliability above all else. Head-to-head trials have shown that our tapered roller bearing can outlast the competition,” says Smith. That performance is a result of three Timken differentiators: material specifications, thermal treatments, and finishing processes. “You can layer on top of that the quality systems and inspection techniques that we use throughout the process and supply chains, which is how we ensure we get exactly what we engineer,” says Smith.
Lead times and service rates are also important, especially when markets are at their peak. Putting another plant in Romania helps Timken maintain high standards in those areas, as well. “We have been outgrowing our markets in tapered roller bearings in Europe and Asia,” says Smith. Companies in Asia increasingly look to Europe as a center for product design. The Prahova plant puts Timken in a position to influence and engage Asian customers as they come up with next-generation designs. “It gives us better access,” says Smith. “We can be there from the beginning of the design process, to show them the plant and to interact with the design team.”
Timken’s new Prahova plant features sophisticated advancements in computer controls, robotics, and automation, taking modern manufacturing to the next level.
A new standard for Timken manufacturing facilities
Since the company’s founding in 1899, Timken has dramatically expanded its product lines, but the tapered roller bearing remains its bedrock. In this era of rapid innovation in power transmission systems and shifting trends in mobility and transportation, the tapered roller bearing remains essential to any designer who wishes to roll a load.
“Many of these new scenarios require a more power-dense, fuel-efficient, or economical tapered roller bearing,” says Smith. “That’s something we can make very capably at Prahova.” Using the thermal treatment capabilities and finishing technologies available there, he says, “we can make extremely power-dense products that pack a lot of punch into a small volume envelope.”
Smith looks forward to building on Prahova’s successes. “We challenged ourselves to think differently as we developed and deployed new technologies in this plant. It’s effectively the new standard for our operating model in this class of products,” he says.
“We’ve always stood for quality, dependability, and performance, and we accepted nothing less when we were designing this facility and the products that we would make there,” says Smith. “It’s a continuation of Timken’s performance legacy, and it’s already proven itself an asset to grow our order book with key customers.”