Linear Motion, Exponential Growth

Take a walk through the testing labs of SKF Motion Technologies and you'll find a curious assortment of equipment. An adjustable hospital bed. CAT Scan machine frames, wheelchairs and incubators. Semiconductor assembly equipment. Even a hamburger grill. What these items have in common is the use of linear motion devices – the kind that are fueling fast growth in many industrial applications.
   

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Take a walk through the testing labs of SKF Motion Technologies and you'll find a curious assortment of equipment. An adjustable hospital bed. CAT Scan machine frames, wheelchairs and incubators. Semiconductor assembly equipment. Even a hamburger grill. What these items have in common is the use of linear motion devices – the kind that are fueling fast growth in many industrial applications.
   

Throughout business and industry, linear motion systems are helping companies to automate manual processes or improve the functionality of their products. Unlike bearings, which rotate, linear motion devices run along a linear shaft and help to move an object from one point to another. It sounds simple enough. But many of the applications are so unique and complex that they require a customized solution. That's where SKF Motion Technologies' products – and engineering expertise – come into play.
   

“Often, a company wants to develop a new product or add a particular function to their product, but they're not certain how to do it,” explained Poul Jeppesen, General Manager
of SKF Motion Technologies. “Our engineers consult with the customer and recommend ways to turn their ideas into reality.”
   

Linear motion systems can be found in countless applications across many different industries – and often in areas the average person encounters regularly. At a dentist's office, the adjustable chair uses linear motion devices to raise or lower the patient. At a restaurant, oversized cooking pans that are too heavy for manual lifting use linear motion devices that tilt the pans for easy emptying. In computer chip manufacturing, linear motion devices move materials along the assembly process precisely and consistently.
   

And in a warehouse, the devices help to move large pallets from one point to another.
“Each of these applications is very different and requires a linear motion solution tailored to its requirements,” Jeppesen said. “The ability to provide a linear motion solution that meets an application's specific needs requires a very close working relationship with customers. Because our engineers work closely with the end customer, we can recommend solutions that are appropriate for each unique situation.”
   

A prime example is a recent project undertaken for a major wheelchair manufacturer in North America. The customer was interested in developing an entirely new kind of wheelchair. Jeppesen said the wheelchair manufacturer described this new concept as a true “paradigm shift” in its industry – one that required a very specialized solution.
In this particular case, SKF Motion Technologies recommended the use of linear slides and linear actuators to make the new wheelchair design workable. In this highly specialized application, the components provided by SKF Motion Technologies had to meet the customer's exact specifications for design and performance. By creating entirely new components and adapting existing devices, SKF Motion Technologies was able to accomplish the goal. As a result of this customized approach to product development, SKF Motion Technologies is now one of the top three suppliers of linear motion devices to the wheelchair industry.
An expanding market

SKF Motion Technologies began as part of the SKF bearings division in the mid-1980s. By January 1997, the company had spun off to become part of SKF Linear Motion Worldwide – an organization with manufacturing and sales facilities around the globe. Based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, SKF Motion Technologies focuses on the North American market – one Jeppesen said is growing at a very steady pace.
   

“The North American market for linear motion systems is growing at an average of 5 percent to 10 percent per year, which varies by industry segment,” he said. “There are new applications surfacing all the time.” While SKF Motion Technologies isn't the only supplier of linear motion systems, it is the market leader in some of the niches it serves. These include the human handling market – with a particular emphasis on wheelchairs – and applications requiring roller screws, an emerging market with great potential.
Providing engineering support

“The downsizing trend has cut many companies' engineering resources significantly,” Jeppesen explained. “As a result, our customers are relying more on external consultants for engineering advice and assistance. We're determined to meet that need, which is something many of our competitors are not.”
   

One key differentiator is the company's in-house testing lab – the place where linear motion systems are put to the test. This hands-on environment – filled with working equipment provided by customers – is the place where engineers can test their ideas within an actual application. By working closely with hospital beds, wheelchairs, deep fryers, and other equipment in which a linear motion device will be used, engineers are able to adapt the technology very specifically to each customer's unique needs.
“In the linear motion industry, there are typically many different options and possible solutions to any given problem,” Jeppesen said. “Because we have extensive engineering experience, SKF Motion Technologies can look at an individual situation in-depth and recommend the best approach.”
   

Another key to SKF Motion Technologies' success is its decision to specialize in distinct markets. While linear motion devices can be found in nearly every vertical market today, SKF Motion Technologies focuses its efforts in the medical/human handling, semiconductor, commercial kitchen equipment, and materials handling industries. By focusing on specialty areas, the company's engineers gain the in-depth knowledge they need to develop customized solutions. For instance, a group of engineers recently attended a seminar on liability issues within the medical/ human handling industry. Now, they're in a better position to recommend linear motion solutions that meet
the business needs of customers in this market.
   

“The closer we stay to our customers, the better we're able to help them sort through the many options for linear motion systems,” Jeppesen said. “Ultimately, our job is
to help companies compete more effectively, by helping them develop products that meet their customers' very specialized needs. If we keep that focus in mind, we will be in prime position to capture our share of this expanding market.”