Interview with Andy Bairsto – Advantages and challenges of providing bearings in the cement industry

By Published on April 26, 2022


The cement industry is on par with the rising population. As the population grows, so does the construction of homes, buildings, roads, airports, hospitals, dams, schools, and factories. Although there was a setback during the pandemic, the cement market size was 4.4 billion metric tons in 2021 (more than USD 325 billion) and the CAGR is expected to grow by over 6% for the next few years.

This immense industry touches all our lives from both a personal and professional point of view.

As seen in this month’s newsletter stories, Brüel & Kjær Vibro has been involved in monitoring a wide range of machines that make cement. This includes the machines that mine limestone and clay, grind it to a fine powder, burn it at 1450 C, and then grind it again together with gypsum to make cement. NSK has also been involved in this industry, but from a different perspective. NSK is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of rolling bearings, linear technology components, and steering systems.

Andy Bairsto, head of AIP, which is NSK’s global Added Value Programme for improving machine reliability, productivity, and performance in specific industries, will tell us more about the role he and NSK have played in the cement industry in this interview.

Image of Andy Bairsto
Andy, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you have been personally involved in the cement industry?

Altogether I have been working in the bearings industry for over 40 years, and during this time I have been involved in many industries including cement. I have visited quite a few cement plants, mainly in the UK, but also some in the UAE, too. In my role as AIP lead, we have been helping customers, so they get more value in use from their bearings.

How much overall experience does NSK have in the cement industry?

Our portfolio of products and services is ideally suited for this industry and includes some bearings that offer extended operating life in such a harsh working environment. In addition, our global team of highly knowledgeable sales engineers supported by a global network of technology centres on every continent, offer both end users and OEM’s the kind of technical advice and support they need on demand.

Which cement plant machinery do you focus on?

NSK has bearings that are suitable for a variety of applications in the cement industry for every stage of the manufacturing process from quarrying and extraction, crushing, blending, grinding, material preparation, pre-homogenisation, storage, clinker grinding and transportation. Specific applications include, but are not limited to:

  • Conveyors
  • Crushers
  • Vertical grinding mills
  • Separators and grinding tables
  • Reduction gears
  • Vibrating screens
  • Pre-heater, rotary kiln rollers, thrust rollers and coolers
  • Roller presses
  • Finish grinding mills
  • Drive pulleys, bend rollers, return rollers, tension pulleys and tail pulleys
  • Electric motors, pumps, compressors and gearboxes
  • Mobile plant

Obviously, some applications are more critical than others, but premature bearing failures in all applications in the cement industry are both expensive and potentially risky. All NSK’s bearings, however, are designed and manufactured for optimum operating life.

What are the challenges for the operation and maintenance of the bearings from these machines?

The harsh operating conditions in this industry pose a variety of challenges for bearings and the maintenance and operations teams, including:

  • Heavy and variable shock loads
  • Abrasive, dusty conditions
  • A combination of hot, cold and sometimes wet conditions

Potential failure modes resulting from these variable conditions include:

  • Contaminated lubrication
  • Lack of or excessive lubrication
  • Overheating
  • Vibration induced failures
  • Inappropriate fitting and alignment practices

NSK services and products offer special benefits for these machines.

Do you have any examples on how NSK bearings created savings for the cement plant customer?

Yes, we have several examples. One particular example involves the rotary kiln, which is similar to the one described in the monitoring case study done by B&K Vibro in this newsletter. In this NSK case study, it is the fans used to cool the kiln shell that were a problem. During clinker production the kiln shell is subject to process-related high temperatures. This affects the useful life of the refractory brick lining inside the shell and can result in expensive downtime and repair, if the shell temperatures are not properly controlled. The variable speed fans cool the shell along its length, where the temperature can vary considerably due to secondary fuel use.

The original fan bearings have been failing within 2-4 months due to the harsh environment, lubrication issues and high speeds.

These bearings were subsequently replaced by NSK SAF pillow block bearings. These had a better fit, more lubrication capacity, easier lubrication purging and better speed rating. This resulted in much longer life of the bearings, which amounts to over 93k euro savings each year. (You can read more about this case study here.)

We have other NSK case studies in the cement industry where in a similar fashion there were savings by replacing the bearings for other machines.

Andy has a lot of experience in improving asset performance in a number of industries, including cement. For the work he is doing, it is not a question of just selling bearings cheaper than the competition, it is more about providing added value to the customer’s process. Contact us if you would like to learn how you can improve the performance of your own assets. We’ll tell you more about our solutions for the cement industry, especially the possibilities that arise from the synergies of NSK and B&K Vibro

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