The International Academic Bearing Conference: BEARING WORLD – Interview


FVA – The German Research Association for drive technology is organizing the fourth International Bearing Conference on July 5 – 6 in Würzburg, Germany.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Poll, who is the Executive Director at the Institute for Machine Elements, Design Engineering and Tribology from the Leibniz University of Hannover.

The FVA always focuses on areas where something is driven, controlled and moved. Research projects concentrate on mechanical and electrical or mechatronic drive technology in stationary industrial plants, in motor vehicles and mobile machines, through to aircraft. All links in the value added chain are put to the test, from materials, production technologies and quality assurance, components and systems and their calculation, lubricants, through to environmental compatibility, quality, costs and innovation management. Currently approx. 200 ongoing projects are coordinated each year by 25 active working groups. The research results are integrated into the calculation platform FVA Workbench and are consequently available for direct implementation. Smaller and medium-sized enterprises profit from their membership in the FVA as they can participate in extensive research projects and benefit from their results without having to undertake incalculable financial risks.

We discussed and tried to reveal the story behind FVA’s International Bearing Conference BEARINGWORLD during an interview with Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Poll, who is the Executive Director at the Institute for Machine Elements, Design Engineering and Tribology from the Leibniz University of Hannover.

Q: What made you decide to get so intensely involved in BEARING WORLD?

The origin of Bearing World was a memorial colloquium in Hannover in 2012 for my predecessor, Prof. Dr.-Ing. G. Paland, who had dedicated his professional life – both in industry and in academia – to rolling element bearings. This was the starting point for my colleague prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernd Sauer and me to organize an annual rolling element bearing research colloquium, alternating between Kaiserslautern University and Leibniz University Hannover. Following a proposal from FVA, this event was transformed into the Bearing World Conference with international participation both from universities and industry. This took place for the first time in 2016 in Hannover, coinciding with my twentieth anniversary as professor and director of the Institute of Machine Design and Tribology at Hannover University. The second conference was then held two years later in 2018 in Kaiserslautern. Unfortunately, Covid 19 made it impossible to continue in Hannover in 2020, so we are now making a new start in 2022 in Würzburg.

Q: What is your role in the bearing community, and what is your professional background?

Several of my relatives worked in the bearing industry, including my father. I was born in Schweinfurt, and as a student I spent several periods in bearing factories. During my mechanical engineering studies and as a PhD student at RWTH Aachen University, I was involved in student projects and research related to rolling contacts. Since 2004, I have worked in application engineering, research, and product development in the bearing industry in Germany, The Netherlands, and the U.S., before joining Hannover University as a professor in mechanical engineering. There, I continued the long tradition of research on rolling element bearings, mainly in the context of FVA research projects.

Q: Can you tell us more about the presentations that were selected for BEARING WORLD 2022?

Once again, we are covering a wide variety of topics related to rolling element bearings and, to a lesser extent, plain bearings (which are the focus of other conferences). Specifically, this means: reliability, fatigue life prediction, failure mechanisms, condition monitoring, materials and heat treatment, lubrication, friction and energy savings, and much more.

Q: In your opinion, how important is the exchange between research and industry?

First of all, I want to stress that a lot of profound and scientifically sound research is done internally by the bearing industry. Ideally, research at universities is complementary and has its specific strengths. Typically, the word “university” implies that there is a wide variety of specialized institutes and laboratories, which makes it possible to bundle many resources for truly interdisciplinary research projects. Ideally, these projects are triggered by existing or envisioned future technical applications. Taking part in these research projects prepares young engineers for success in industry, where they are able maintain a fruitful dialogue with university research. This implies a steady exchange of information, either by giving directions or by taking responsibility for applying research results.

Q: What are the differences between mechanical engineering academic research in different countries and regions?

In my experience, the focus and the resources are indeed different. Some traditionally focus on teaching, and PhD research is regarded as an advanced level of structured study and closely supervised education. In Germany, the focus during PhD research has been and still is on developing the necessary skills to lead research projects. German university institutes traditionally have experimental equipment which ranges up to full-scale real components and systems. In some other places, the experimental focus is on laboratory and model test devices. Elsewhere, emphasis is placed on theoretical work and simulations.

Q: What challenges will the bearing industry have to face in the future? Is it still worth allocating research and development resources to bearing technologies?

Bearings are critical components, or even enablers for a variety of emerging technologies and face ever-changing requirements and environments. Current examples are renewable energies, robotics, and electrification of drive systems for cars and trucks. They must also comply with megatrends like sustainability, resource savings, emission reduction, Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, big data, and total lifecycle engineering. This means integration of sensors and condition monitoring systems, as well as continuous efforts toward friction reduction and processes for remanufacturing of worn or damaged bearing components. This all requires continuous research and development activities related to bearings.

Q: What consequences will technological and economic changes have for the bearing industry? Are there new business models on the horizon?

I just named numerous trends which need to be addressed by the bearing industry, but such challenges have always existed and been the driver of change. In general, we are increasingly talking about bearing systems and system integration, not only in physical systems but also in the flow of data, including digital twins. One really new trend that I see is the concept of offering “reliable and efficient motion for a specific period of time” as a product, rather than just the bearings themselves. This means a complete package which includes bearings, installation, maintenance, possible replacement, and a guarantee of performance for a set period of time. The bearings would then remain in the ownership of the manufacturer.

Q: What do you think should be the focus of research and development for bearing technologies in the near future?

Certainly, megatrends like digitization, sustainability, and electrification will be drivers behind bearing-related research and development. However, the more those general trends are translated into concrete tasks, it becomes obvious that important aspects of rolling element bearing functionality and application depend on experience. Efforts are still needed to enhance our basic understanding of topics such as lubrication, fatigue, and wear and the related failures of bearing components, and to develop relevant simulation tools.

Q: How can research at universities contribute to sustainability and the reduction of CO2 emissions?

As mentioned before, E-mobility combined with renewable energies and the reduction of friction losses is one way to limit CO2. How? Less burning of fossil fuels, and energy recuperation instead of dissipation when decelerating or driving downhill. How can we significantly reduce losses? For example, through new lubricants, such as water-based fluids. Rolling element bearings need to be made fit for reliable operation with such lubricants, and this is not trivial by any means. This is a complex, interdisciplinary issue that can best be solved by involving universities. Also, electrical phenomena such as EDM currents need to be addressed by combined expert knowledge, which is not readily available in the automotive industry at present. The renewable energy sources themselves – especially tidal power stations and wind turbines – pose complex challenges to rolling element bearings which cannot be addressed without university experts and research.

Q: Considering recent trends, do you feel that we need a new type of engineering education?

The complexity of current and future tasks and challenges cannot justify cluttering engineering studies or abandoning key basics. Instead, there is a need for even more intense interdisciplinary cooperation between mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer sciences. Therefore, engineering studies should be further developed in a way that fosters the interdisciplinary working capabilities of future engineers.