Strength Under Pressure: Timken Service Engineers Triage and Treat Costly Equipment Challenges
July 27, 2020
Xavier Monachon was working through a high-stakes problem. It was Saturday, and a ferry that connects the island of Corsica with mainland France needed a replacement bearing for the propeller shaft. The existing bearing was a competitor’s. Arriving with a plan, products and required tools, Xavier soon encountered an issue with the shaft clamp rings—they didn’t fit in the existing housing that customer wanted to continue to use.
“The ship can carry more than 500 passengers and 120 cars at a time, and it had to set sail in 12 hours,” recalls Monachon, a Timken service engineer based in Lyon, France. “Missing the deadline would have meant needing to cancel at least one round trip, inconveniencing passengers and potentially costing the ferry operator €240,000 or more.”
Monachon got creative, leveraging connections to rapidly custom-modify the clamp rings for a correct retrofit. His thinking under pressure meant that the ferry sailed on time. Ultimately, the customer ordered the same solution for additional ships.
The linchpin between end-user operations and Timken technology
Every day, Timken service engineers like Monachon troubleshoot varied issues. Some are small but if left unaddressed, could grow into larger issues. Others are massive and catastrophic. Service engineers use expansive knowledge, mechanical skills and an ability to improvise to keep end-user equipment moving forward in facilities worldwide. While one helps an India-based pharmaceutical company improve bearing mounting practices in a critical pump application so it can deliver medicine for patients without delay, another recommends new assemblies and fitting standards that increase uptime for a U.S. paper products manufacturer—ensuring consumers get the toilet paper and facial tissue they need. They listen to customers in distress, identify root causes and provide both quick fixes and long-term solutions.
“They are our eyes and ears in the field,” says Dragos Oprescu, Timken’s global manager of service engineering. “While our product and application engineers always design for the real world, our service engineers are there to solve problems when that world suddenly changes. They can see when isolated customer practices are becoming industry trends. As they report what they are seeing back to their colleagues in other engineering roles, it helps inform and shape future Timken product innovations.”
That’s how Timken identified an industry-wide need in paper mills to overcome excessive moisture and insufficient sealing in press felt roller bearings. U.S.-based service engineer Scott Ickes realized that multiple mills he visited were experiencing equipment downtime due to the issue, which started an engineering collaboration resulting in a new spherical roller bearing solid block housed unit.
The product became a win-win. It significantly increased paper mill uptime for customers and strengthened a great partnership for Timken. Each mill includes 36 bearing positions affected by the same sealing challenge.
Delivering solutions across industries and product lines
The scope of Timken’s service engineering capabilities has broadened over the years as the company has added to its family of brands and markets served. Today’s network of Timken service engineers includes skilled, field-ready professionals with expertise across a wide spectrum of power transmission scenarios.
Last April, Timken Power Systems’ Northeast General Manager Rich Chrzanowski woke up to a 2 a.m. phone call. A nuclear power plant that provides uninterrupted electricity to customers in the Northeastern Unites States needed to get its primary systems back up and running after an internal lubrication error caused a massive failure in a clutch. The clutch was provided by Philadelphia Gear, part of the Timken Power Systems (TPS) group years prior and is a critical component that helps control power transmission in a steam turbine the size of an American football field.
Philadelphia Gear service engineers and suppliers collaborated around-the-clock, during a holiday, to disassemble, ship, repair, return, and reinstall the clutch in a matter of days-instead of the weeks it would have taken in a non-emergency situation.
For consumers, hospital and businesses, a potential power outage is inconvenient and even dangerous. For a nuclear power plant, “it stands to lose $1 million daily if it isn’t generating power,” Chrzanowski says. “Our philosophy is we run to the problem. Treating it like it’s our own operation that needs to get back online is what sets us apart. Our engineered solutions and desire to go above and beyond is what allows us to sell customers uptime, and the ability for them to recover in a time that is unparalleled.”
For the wind energy industry, Timken Power Systems has a highly-trained field service team specifically focused on large corrective services for wind turbines. In one recent case, the H&N Wind team—also a part of TPS—traced the cause of several generator failures at a wind operator’s site to a common problem with damaged wye rings. Wye rings serve as the electrical connection between the generator and rotor coil packs that essentially act as the “ignition” for a wind turbine.
The technicians, who have a unique mix of electrical and mechanical engineering knowledge, performed uptower assembly of the upgraded wye rings, bearings, and other components to restore service to several generators at the wind farm. Their work helped the wind operator avoid extended equipment downtime and kept electrical power service going uninterrupted for surrounding households.
‘Can perform other duties as needed’
While it’s typical for associates across Timken to contribute beyond their formal job descriptions, nowhere is it more prevalent than among the global service engineering team.
“Timken service engineers create mounting manuals and setting and lubrication instructions for new bearings before they’re ever installed,” says Oprescu. “During product installations, service engineers go on site to help with those processes and to train customer teams on how to apply them correctly, enhancing both equipment performance and the workplace safety of equipment operators and maintenance teams.”
Service engineers also help make decisions about how to get a Timken solution from the factory floor to its application home. “We advise on how to place them in boxes or pallets to make sure they travel well through the logistics chain,” Oprescu says. This could seem an easy task when products are relatively small, but will become a real challenge when parts are extreme in size or weight. For a single, multi-ton roll neck bearing for a steel mill, an ultra-large wind turbine mainshaft bearing, or a gear drive on a naval ship, that chain of logistical decisions can be critical. If the part is damaged during shipping, it can be a major setback.
“When the customer receives the product, we’ve already considered how they’re going to open it, handle it, and install it correctly. Our input essentially impacts every touchpoint in a product’s lifespan, from initial design to replacing it when its service life comes to an end.”
Seasoned service engineers also mentor new service engineers in the field to impart their decades of knowledge on the next generation.
That field experience is critical, says Oprescu. Unlike application engineers, who specialize in particular industries, service engineers serve a mix of customers within their territories. “There’s no easy way to learn everything there is to know, and we have people who have been doing it for 40 years and they still learn something new every day. It takes a lot to be a service engineer, but their continuous learning on the job benefits our customers—and ultimately consumers—every time they make a service call.”