Interview with Dr. Jens Dörner, European R&D Director at NSK DEUTSCHLAND GMBH
Monday, 23 May 2022
NSK’s mission statement is to “contribute to a safer, smoother society and to help protect the global environment through its innovative technology integrating Motion & Control™”. Please explain what this means and how this is continually achieved at NSK?
To answer this in detail, we must look at the way NSK conducts its research and development. NSK divides its R&D activities into “4 plus 1” areas, namely: materials, tribology, numerical simulation and mechatronics. From this we develop the products of tomorrow. The “plus 1” refers to the way NSK manufactures these products. Production engineering is also an integral part of R&D. It clearly doesn’t make sense to develop products that are complex and expensive to manufacture. We are therefore constantly striving to improve our shop-floor processes and thus increase yield and productivity. Returning to the four main technology areas; tribology is about reducing friction. Here we are talking about coatings, surface qualities or lubrication. With materials, we focus on metallurgy or hardening processes, for example. Numerical simulation is a fascinating way to learn more about the challenges faced by a bearing in any type of application. Finally, we strive to integrate our technology seamlessly into the customer’s application. This requires a thorough understanding of mechatronics and their use at the customer. R&D is at the heart of NSK, reflected in the fact that top management has a strong commitment to keeping R&D investment stable at around 3-4% of annual sales.
NSK works closely with many different industries such as agriculture, cement, automotive and wind energy. How do you understand the needs of each sector?
First of all, NSK has been in the rolling bearing business for more than 100 years, since when our products have been used in almost every application imaginable. If we look at the industrial business, we have sector management for our main markets. In addition to NSK’s sales and key account contacts, we have strong engineering back-up with our technology centres (in Europe: European Technology Centre – ETC). At the technology centres, our designers and application engineers translate customer requirements into a technical solution. In addition, the exchange of information between the regions and our head office helps to understand the industry specifics of potential new markets.
One of NSK’s success stories is saving money for your customers. How do you achieve this?
NSK only calls a story a success story when the customer saves money. We achieve this via a thorough analysis of the application process by NSK experts, the so-called AIP Added Value Programme. By identifying the root causes of premature bearing failures, for example, it is possible for our experts to propose a solution, which rarely involves simply replacing the existing bearings with products from NSK. It often turns out that staff training, the use of different greases or more efficient sealing, especially in very harsh environments, is the key to longer bearing life. However, sometimes it transpires that better storage of the bearings or the use of special tools during installation offer the solution, thus providing potential savings for the customer.
What does your role entail as European R&D Director?
My role includes various aspects, from very early project stage such as pre-development, through market foresight, to aftersales service for our customers in the automotive and industrial sectors. Our Technology Scouting Office takes care of identifying relevant future markets and trends, as well as specific technologies, to solve current issues in development projects. In addition, our CAE team supports lean product development and contributes to faster development cycles and iterations. Finally, we have dedicated teams that conduct tests on bearings and the materials used. We have a large number and variety of different self-developed test benches to confirm our quality for new products or specific customer requests.
Prior to working at NSK, you worked for a large electronics company. Are there any similarities in technology with the bearings industry?
Yes, more than I thought before I joined NSK. In fact, at my previous job, I worked on several products, focusing on manufacturing technologies. There, I already realised that there are numerous platform technologies applicable to multiple products, such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics. But of course, there are also contrasts between these industries. The project management and product life cycles of mobile phones and bearings are completely different. However, at NSK we have very experienced and skilled people who quickly helped me to become familiar with this environment.
What attracted you to becoming an advisory board member for The Bearing Show?
During my work as a research assistant and PhD student, I have gained experience in attending and even organising conferences and other types of events. With the Bearing Show, as a new format, I saw an opportunity to participate again in terms of style and content, of course only to a certain extent. In addition to being a member of the advisory board, you can see NSK’s further commitment to the Bearing Show via our paper submissions, for example.