Vis Reddy-Paul Byrne

Lighter and stronger – a new standard in idlers

When the Australian company PROK embarked on a composite idler project, high quality was the main priority. To that end, the company sought a collaboration with SKF.

Text and photo Miri Schroeter

Deep groove ball bearings

To say something is the best in the market is one thing, but to prove it through high-quality, long-lasting products is a much stronger statement. Collaboration with world-renowned companies that have a shared understanding of high quality and service helps to underline this message.


PROK, which is part of Australian engineering company NEPEAN, provides solutions for many industries that use idlers, rollers and pulleys daily on a range of applications. The company is headquartered in Bayswater, Australia, and it has more than 1,400 employees.

With 70 years of experience in conveyor components design and manufacturing, PROK is an expert OEM in that field. The company has manufacturing facilities in Australia, Germany, Sweden, Finland, South Africa, Chile and Brazil, and these facilities service 66 countries.

When Australian conveyor components company PROK wanted to launch a new idler, it chose to partner with SKF not only to be able to say the product was the best, but also to prove it.

PROK engaged SKF for a theoretical and practical assessment of bearing compatibility with special fit-for-purpose sheet moulded composite (SMC) housings for idler rollers. The aim was to use SMC in new conveyor rollers with SKF deep groove ball bearings.

Composite rollers

Composite rollers equipped with SKF deep groove ball bearings.

Continuing success in conveyor systems

PROK Managing Director Paul Byrne says that using high-quality bearings in PROK’s applications and partnering with top companies is the logical way to offer customers a solution that will last.

Cooperation with SKF

SKF Australia worked with PROK’s R&D team, helping to test the interaction of the SMC end cover with the deep groove ball bearings and to design a test rig and run various finite element-analysis models.

SKF also works with other departments within PROK, such as its pulley manufacturing site in New South Wales and other sites in Australia. The collaboration of the two companies has resulted in a top-performing product that takes idlers to the next level in terms of reliability, cost, efficiency and durability, in the process proving that there is a more effective material than traditional metallic or polymer materials that can be used in idler roller projects.

“In the operations that we supply, the cost of the product is very small compared to the opportunity cost of lost throughput, which is why we focus on quality and reliability,” Byrne explains. “The numbers are totally disproportionate when saving a few dollars on bearings might cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in production loss.”

As a company specialized in pulleys and idlers, PROK needs to constantly adapt to new industry needs and trends – such as the recent push by consumers for reliable composite and safety-focused conveyor equipment that lasts. Byrne says it is paramount for PROK to deal with suppliers that can work long-term with the company to achieve its goals.

Paul Byrne

Paul Byrne, managing director, PROK

Replacing metal for a stronger material

Byrne explains that in the early 2000s, PROK and several other companies developed non-metallic idlers to replace the steel component. “Non-metallic rollers have a number of benefits,” he says. “For starters, their light weight reduces risks associated with manual handling.”

Saving a few dollars on bearings might cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in production loss.
Paul Byrne, managing director, PROK

Another important feature of non-metallic rollers is that they don’t damage the conveyor belt. Conveyors often operate in highly contaminated environments. If contaminants enter the bearing cavity, the bearing can be blocked. The consequence is that the conveyor belt slides over the roller and is damaged. Replacing belts can be extremely expensive, and the replacement also causes a substantial amount of downtime.

“Non-metallic rollers have a number of benefits in heavily contaminated operating conditions,” says Byrne. “However, traditionally, they simply don’t last as long as the steel product. The technology that was developed in the early 2000s is still currently being used by many vendors.

“Older models were good at the time, but this one is better,” Byrne continues. “It provides a better-quality seat for the ball bearing.”


Idlers ready for delivery.

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The structural composite material is lighter, thinner and stronger than HDPE (high-density polyethylene), and it uses more effective manufacturing methods.

“All the earlier HDPE housings were injection moulded,” Byrne explains. “It doesn’t allow you to get the accuracy you can get with the new composite one, which is compression moulded.”

PROK saw a gap in the market, and with extensive research the company was able to bring the idler to market. For the future, PROK is constantly expanding, with plans to grow businesses in Asia and elsewhere, so collaboration with companies that can provide high-quality solutions and also keep up with demand is key.

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