A Bearing Worthy of the World’s Most Powerful Wind Turbine
October 28, 2020
Liviu Anton has a passion for two things: engineering and manufacturing. Not one or the other—but both at once. “I need to see the ideas I’m thinking about worked out in physical space,” he says. “Design without manufacturing is just a piece of paper.”
When his team was asked to develop a bearing for the largest, most powerful wind turbine in the world, that integrated approach was key to their success.
“For new markets like wind, research and development (R&D) is critical,” he says. “It’s not just about the complex validation required on the product side, however—the manufacturing process plays an equally important role: How to produce these bearings in the factory. What materials will achieve performance requirements in such high-stress applications. How to get one of the largest bearings we’ve ever built—at 11.25 feet (3.43 meters) in diameter—out of the factory, to the site, and correctly installed.”
A team with a habit of excellence
Anton helped build Timken Ploiesti’s Engineering Center of Excellence, which acts as a global development center for the company. “We keep connections and processes fluid between customers and manufacturing,” he says.
“I grew up in the Ploiesti plant, and Timken found me there in 1998 when they acquired it,” says Anton. Today, it’s no longer just a plant, and Anton serves as general manager for product design and development. The center has experienced significant growth and today boasts 350 years of collective associate experience in bearing design and development.
Geographically, Ploiesti is ideally placed halfway between China and the United States. Associates there can easily incorporate daily interaction and dialog between customers, engineers and manufacturing plants across the various industrial regions of the world.
“We sit in the middle, listening from both directions,” he says. “We connect customers to our internal functions, and we connect our manufacturing plants to the latest product specifications.” The result is product design that reflects customer application and service requirements—designs that are manufactured efficiently and accurately at multiple Timken plants around the world.
An integrated approach leads to sustained performance
Anton spends a lot of time thinking about design for manufacturability, making sure that the designs Timken engineers put on paper reflect the simplest and most efficient way to manufacture products.
He oversees an integrated engineering team working in Romania at the Ploiesti center and also at Timken headquarters. That team works hard to identify potential problems with customer applications in the early stages, before a customer prototype has even shipped.
Manufacturing is a constant process of change management, says Anton. As lessons are learned, efficiencies are realized, costs reduced and materials optimized, product designs must change to reflect those shifts.
“It’s about sustained performance,” says Anton. “If I’m a customer, I want a robust consistency between what’s on paper and how the product performs. The confidence I have in my bearing’s performance under my operating conditions comes from knowing that Timken engineers are testing and validating the concept, the spec and the material prior to delivering that bearing.”
Leading innovation for the wind energy market
Wind energy is one area where Ploiesti’s Center of Excellence team has shone in the past decade. Wind turbines are typically fitted with multiple bearings that sustain high and uneven loads throughout their life cycle. As turbines grew in size in the early 2000s, the increased load stress tested conventional bearing designs, particularly in mainshafts.
Timken entered the market in 2007, and the Ploiesti team developed, in collaboration with application engineering and the customer, a Tapered Double Inner (TDI) mainshaft roller bearing, which addressed the problem of excessive downwind wear on spherical roller bearings (SRB). The TDI was a game-changer for the industry, which could now increase the size of turbines even further, multiplying power output and lengthening the time between expensive maintenance projects. As turbine sizes grew, the Timken team, including Ploiesti, drove advancements with the new 2 Tapered Single (TS) main shaft system.
“Today, we are a key player as a bearing solution provider for wind energy turbine builders, gear box suppliers and energy producers,” says Anton. Timken’s case-carburized cylindrical bearings and wear-resistant spherical bearings are popular with wind energy customers, as well.
The latest wind turbine prototype, for which his team designed one of the largest bearings in the Company’s history, will be capable of powering 16,000 households on its own. That’s a huge jump from the 2,000 to 5,000 homes that previous individual turbines could serve.
It couldn’t have happened without the technical knowledge, manufacturing expertise and competitive mindset coming out of the Center of Excellence. Growing the wind energy market and making it increasingly viable is all about reducing costs and increasing output. Wind farms and turbine manufacturers require premium, high-tech solutions that meet strict budgetary guidelines.
“Through rigorous engineering work and state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, we were able to meet both these requirements,” says Anton.
“Ultimately it’s about quality,” he says. “We want to produce the best product possible. To do that we continually learn from our customers, focusing on application-specific requirements and producing at the end of the day the best results possible with the most advanced design and manufacturing processes in the industry.”