The rise of recycled materials in bearing manufacturing
Here, Chris Johnson, managing director of bearing specialist SMB Bearings, explores the benefits of integrating recycled materials in bearing manufacturing to reduce environmental impact and promote a circular economy.
Bearing manufacturers are increasingly embracing sustainability by merging recycled materials into their production processes. This shift is motivated by a heightened environmental awareness, regulatory pressures, and the demand for eco-friendly products from customers.
Traditional manufacturing processes often rely on virgin materials being extracted, contributing to resource depletion and environmental degradation. Steel, for example, is a key component in the manufacture of bearings.
The conventional production of steel involves significant energy consumption to heat furnaces to high temperatures to smelt iron ore, raw material extraction and emissions. By transitioning to recycled steel, bearing manufacturers can mitigate these environmental impacts.
In fact, reusing scrap steel instead of virgin ore reduces CO2 emissions by 58 per cent according to Stena Recycling.
There is a desire in the industry to enhance sustainability, reduce environmental impact, and meet the evolving needs of industries and consumers. Let's take a closer look at how manufacturers are embracing material innovation.
Instead of depending solely on virgin materials, integrating recycled steel and alloys into bearing manufacturing can offer substantial advantages. This approach not only underscores a dedication to sustainable practices but contributes to environmental responsibility by minimising the reliance on new resources too.
To start, the production of traditional steel involves mining iron ore and other raw materials, leading to habitat destruction and resource depletion. By instead opting for recycled steel, manufacturers contribute to the conservation of natural resources and decrease the demand for new raw materials.
The process of refining and manufacturing new steel from raw materials is energy intensive. Recycling steel, on the other hand, typically requires less energy as it involves melting and reshaping existing steel. This results in lower greenhouse gas emissions and a reduced carbon footprint.
Scrap metal from end-of-life products or industrial processes represents a significant source of steel that can be repurposed. Incorporating recycled steel into bearing manufacturing helps divert scrap metal from landfills.
Plastic bearings and recycling
Plastic bearings have gained popularity due to their lightweight nature, corrosion resistance and versatility in various applications. Recycling and reusing plastic bearings contributes significantly to sustainable practices within the manufacturing industry.
Plastic bearings can be recycled through material recovery processes. At the end of their life cycle, these bearings can be collected and subjected to processes like mechanical recycling, where the plastic is shredded and melted to produce new materials.
Some manufacturers are implementing closed-loop systems where plastic bearings are collected after use, recycled, and then reintroduced into the manufacturing process. Something that helps reduce the dependence on virgin materials.
Furthermore, manufacturers are designing plastic bearings with disassembly in mind, allowing for easy separation of components, facilitating the replacement of specific parts and enhancing the overall longevity of the bearing.
Some companies are also experimenting with biodegradable plastics for bearing applications, providing an environmentally friendly alternative that can break down naturally at the end of its life cycle.
What’s more, manufacturers are conducting life cycle assessments (LCA) to analyse the environmental impact of plastic bearings throughout their entire life cycle. This includes assessing the energy consumption, emissions, and waste generated during production, use and disposal.
Sharing best practices
Bearing manufacturers should collaborate with other stakeholders in the industry to share best practices for recycling and reusing plastic bearings. Collaborations as such can lead to the development of common standards and guidelines for sustainable bearing production.
Adhering to environmental standards and regulations encourages manufacturers to implement sustainable practices. Compliance with regulations related to the recycling and reuse of plastic materials ensures responsible waste management and resource conservation.
In the UK, bearing manufacturers may need to comply with regulations such as the EU Single-use plastics directive or the UK Plastics Packaging Tax. These regulations aim to reduce plastic waste and promote recycling and reuse practices.
By adhering to these regulations, bearing manufacturers contribute to responsible waste management and resource conservation, aligning with broader environmental sustainability goals.
Rebuilding a used bearing
Another way of making a bearing manufacturing business more sustainable, is by remanufacturing bearings. Remanufacturing bearings involves rejuvenating used or worn-out bearings to restore them to their original or enhanced operational state.
This end-of-life management approach is gaining popularity due to its cost-effectiveness and environmental benefits. Remanufactured bearings not only offer a financially viable option for businesses but also present an eco-friendly alternative to purchasing new bearings.
Remanufacturing a bearing generates 70 per cent less waste compared to manufacturing new bearings. This reduction is attributed to the streamlined remanufacturing process, which involves fewer than ten steps, as opposed to the over 100 processes required to create a new bearing from scratch.
To sum it up, integrating recycling and reusing practices into the production and life cycle of plastic bearings supports a circular economy, reduces environmental impact, and aligns with growing expectations for sustainable products. As the industry continues to innovate, the adoption of these practices can contribute to a more environmentally responsible approach to bearing manufacturing.
By sourcing recycled steel, bearing manufacturers contribute to the development of sustainable supply chains. This involves collaborating with suppliers who specialise in providing recycled materials, building a market for secondary raw materials and encouraging responsible material sourcing practices throughout the industry.
The positive environmental impact of using recycled steel extends beyond bearing production. It contributes to the broader efforts to address climate change, reduce pollution, and promote a more sustainable manufacturing sector.
Notably, companies are recognising the importance of corporate social responsibility and are integrating sustainable practices into their operations.