Unlocking industrial drone performance: The role of precision bearings

Published:  14 May, 2024

PWE looks at why precision bearings will play a pivotal role in ensuring seamless industrial drone operations

The integration of drones in manufacturing is on the cusp of a significant transformation. Commercial and private deployment of airborne drones is revolutionising many industries, and the global commercial market is expected to reach an impressive £15 billion.

Drones offer a multitude of benefits in manufacturing, from asset monitoring to enhanced safety. Indeed, industrial-type drones make-up 50% of the market share according to Unmanned Airspace. However, challenges relating to regulations persist — according to UK laws, drones must be kept a minimum distance of 150 meters away from commercial areas, and industrial sites, like factories. There are also concerns about how drones might operate safely and reliably in complex operating environments.

However, Chris Johnson, managing director at SMB Bearings, says drones are already being used in some maintenance applications. BP, Shell, and Exxon have incorporated drones into their operations for tasks like asset inspection and planning. For example, he explains that Exxon introduced drones after its sonar technology attracted a population of whales to a shallow Madagascar lagoon in 2008. Almost 100 whales became stranded and sadly died. Now, drones are proving invaluable for monitoring whale populations near Santa Barbara, which the oil and gas giant will use to inform its offshore operations.

Beyond marine life, Johnson explains that drones offer substantial benefits for other applications, such as pipeline maintenance. These vital infrastructures often traverse hazardous terrains, making visual inspections perilous. Drones not only enhance safety but also lead to considerable cost savings, with estimates indicating up to a 90% reduction in inspection expenses. Their agility and data analysis capabilities surpass traditional methods, offering a more efficient and effective solution.

Elsewhere, Johnson highlights that drones are revolutionising warehouse operations with their versatile applications. They play a vital role in visually inspecting materials and loads, and even enable picking goods from shelves.

As features like drone design, battery life and payload capacity continue to evolve and improve, industrial drones are poised for a substantial role in the future of warehouse operations, and industrial bearings will play a vital role.

Operational integrity

Bearings are the unsung heroes of industrial operations, effectively reducing friction between moving components. In the realm of drones, Johnson says this translates to smoother and more efficient flight. This is particularly crucial for drones carrying heavy payloads, where minimising wear is essential for prolonged performance.

First, let’s look at how industrial bearings could help enhance the load-bearing capacity of drones. Johnson says that industrial drones are frequently tasked with carrying substantial loads, ranging from specialised equipment to materials for various applications. Examples include drones transporting heavy cargo, efficiently delivering construction materials like concrete blocks, steel beams and roofing supplies — often to remote or inaccessible areas. Moreover, they transport specialised equipment, such as surveying instruments and scientific instruments for research purposes. Additionally, he adds that they aid in disaster relief efforts by carrying essential supplies like medical kits and food to affected regions swiftly and efficiently.

The choice of bearings becomes pivotal in ensuring the drone can manage these loads effectively, without compromising its operational integrity.

Another consideration according to Johnson, is mitigating vibration and noise. He explains that vibration and noise can be detrimental to both the longevity of a drone and its surrounding environment. By incorporating high-quality bearings, manufacturers can significantly reduce vibration levels and keep noise emissions at a minimum. This is particularly relevant in sensitive or densely populated areas.

Rapidly evolving sector

Johnson believes that if one thing’s for certain, precision bearings will be crucial to the evolving use of drones in industrial environments. Their role, he says, is twofold: firstly, they minimise friction between moving parts, enhancing overall efficiency and extending the drone’s operational life. Secondly, precision bearings provide stability, ensuring precise control over rotor and propeller movements.

By integrating precision bearings, manufacturers can elevate the performance, safety, and reliability of drones in manufacturing, ultimately driving efficiency and productivity gains in this dynamic and rapidly evolving sector.

The use of precision bearings extends across various critical areas of drone operation. From main shafts to rotors, tail drives to swash plates, blade holders to control linkages, precision bearings are integral components that contribute to the seamless functioning of industrial drones.

Nevertheless, the right choice of bearing will also be essential. High-quality bearings are needed, which are specifically tailored for industrial applications and can help revolutionise the way drones operate in manufacturing.

For further information please visit: http://www.smbbearings.com/


Realise the full potential of drones

One example of bearings perfect for drone applications are precision EZO bearings, designed to excel in low noise and vibration environments, precisely the conditions that are paramount for drones. EZO shielded bearings, manufactured by Sapporo Precision and supplied by SMB Bearings, are lubricated for life with a low noise, low torque grease. This ensures optimal performance and longevity, even in the most challenging operating conditions.

In addition to the design of the precision bearings themselves, regular wear checks for drone bearings are also essential. This proactive approach to maintenance helps to identify and address any potential issues before they escalate, ensuring uninterrupted operations and minimising costly downtime. The integration of drones in manufacturing operations presents a transformative opportunity for increased efficiency, reduced costs and improved safety.

By minimising friction, enhancing load-bearing capacity, and providing protection against wear and corrosion, bearings play a pivotal role in ensuring the seamless operation of industrial drones.




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