Advanced Bearing System Analysis, Powered by Humans
January 29, 2021
The Syber Bearing System Analysis software platform is known by Timken’s global customers for its ability to identify the right bearing for whatever power transmission system you plug into it. More than one customer has voiced a secret wish to acquire Syber, to help them design power transmission systems more efficiently.
Mark Martens, who’s led the Syber team since its early days, says it’s not quite that simple. “What customers perceive to be the value of the program really comes down to the value of the Timken application engineers who are empowered by this tool,” he says. “Our research and development (R&D) folks come up with great solutions. We merge them into a common platform so that application engineers can tap into all that knowledge.”
With Syber, application engineers can take information about a customer application—a gear box, an axle center, a wheel end, a pump—and replicate the details to perform an analysis of how the bearings and the rest of the system work together. Through that analysis, they can then predict bearing life, power loss, heat generation, deflection and internal stresses to identify the most effective Timken product alternatives for a given system.
More inputs = greater accuracy
Timken got an early start using computer systems to model customer systems for bearing analysis, says Martens. He spent about 10 years as an application engineer himself, supporting customers using previous generations of tools. Some of those started out on a mainframe computer, becoming accessible by personal computer over time.
“As Timken expanded its product lines, our needs grew pretty dramatically,” he says. “We needed a platform that could do a lot more things. Our customers were becoming more sophisticated, saving costs by reducing weight and maintaining structural integrity. They were looking for lower torque for fuel-efficient, green solutions.”
Timken launched Syber in 2005, and the team has introduced major updates every year since. “Some of the most interesting results have been the integration of Syber’s quasi-static analysis with more dynamic modeling—what happens over time as things change,” says Martens.
Since Syber was introduced, the team has expanded its capabilities to include many bearing types, and has also increased its ability to accurately predict the life of those bearings within the systems they operate in.
“When Syber was released, Timken did a lot of testing to figure out how accurate it was,” says Bill Hannon, a bearings scientist who develops mathematical equations that enable Syber’s performance modeling tools. “It has always been accurate—but accurate has gotten better over the years.”
Accuracy is directly related to the number of individual stress elements that an engineer can analyze. “As a customer pushes to tighten things down within a system, we can include more and more of those inputs in our calculations, which allows us to get closer to the solution,” says Martens.
Streamlined customer collaboration
Recently, Hannon spearheaded leaps in a temperature prediction model that has streamlined the process for designing fuel-efficient vehicles. “We’re getting more precise calculations, correlated to not just to first-principles data, but also to our test data and physical, real-world content,” says Martens. “Today, we can solve for the equilibrium temperature in many systems in less than an hour.”
That kind of responsiveness is invaluable to customers, especially since Syber also includes the ability to incorporate outside stiffness and compliance matrices. “Most of our customers design in commercial software, such as Abaqus FEA, so this feature allows us to interface with their simulations within Syber,” says Nikhil Londhe, a principal product development engineer who works on bearing life prediction models in Syber.
That connection to customer design processes is increasingly critical to the way Timken application engineers collaborate with customers, says Martens. Syber’s ability to streamline connections back and forth and share information (such as how hot a powertrain part will get) helps customers design adjacent components. “It really helps us enter into a partnership and make sure they succeed,” says Martens.
All this collaboration is included as part of Timken’s commitment to customers, and customers also drive the R&D breakthroughs that make their way into Syber calculations. “We’ve seen the edges of Syber pushed a lot, almost always in the course of helping a customer,” says Martens.
Londhe points out that the benefits go both ways: Customers provide invaluable field experience, validating the theoretical equations that he and Hannon come up with. “They help us decide which models are working, and which ones aren’t. Their feedback and validation give us crucial direction,” he says.
Coming Soon: A Leap in Syber Capabilities
Big changes are in the works to extend the capabilities of Timken’s Syber Bearing System Analysis platform and make it even more collaborative and more secure.
The Syber development team is working on an all-new version of the platform, built on a modular Microsoft Windows infrastructure. The new Syber takes advantage of the latest digital IT infrastructure advancements, including more cloud content and a lighter local footprint.
The investment came about as a result of a decision made in 2018, to modernize Timken’s digital infrastructure as a whole. “Timken’s vision for where we wanted to go ended up being consistent with some of the challenges we faced in 2020, with the global pandemic and the necessity of working remotely,” says Mark Martens, who leads the Syber team.
The new system will provide greater ability to store data centrally, so application engineers can access calculations and data from anywhere and collaborate more easily across time zones and organizational silos. At the same time, it will take advantage of modern security protocols, so administrators can maintain strict controls over who can see what.
From the start, Syber 2.0 will include extended power train components in its analysis. “We’ve learned a lot from our acquisitions,” says Martens.
“All the companies we have acquired have things that rub, things that rotate, things that move—they all work with tribological components,” says Hannon. “All the Syber models we’ve discussed and worked on for those power train elements have the potential to add tremendous value to the designs our customers are working on.”
What no software program can replace
At its core, Syber is a platform built to help people at all levels of the organization collaborate, and that collaboration is foundational to Timken’s success. “I begin applying my ideas to on-the-ground problems by having small conversations with the application engineers in my life—ideally over a cup of coffee,” says Hannon.
“Having a balance between R&D’s spectacular but theoretical calculations, the practicalities of Syber implementation, and the real-world knowledge of the application engineers—that’s everything,” he says. “That triangle—bouncing assumptions and realities back and forth, and the teamwork and compassion involved—you can’t place a dollar sign on the value there.”
Martens wholeheartedly agrees.
“When an application engineer gets a request from a customer, it’s not like solving an algebra problem,” he says. “There’s no answer in the back of the book. It takes all different kinds of expertise, and I think that’s why at Timken, you end up with people who are good at bridging the gaps, people with connective skills. No software program is going to replace that.”
For Londhe, early in his already stellar career, it’s inspiring to come to work every day knowing that he’s not only solving wide-ranging problems—he’s also building on the collective human knowledge that the Syber program represents.
Not quite ready for Syber? Check out Timken’s online engineering tools. Bearing search, frequency, tolerances and more.