60 second interview: Stewart Davies, Schaeffler UK

Paul Fannning speaks to Stewart Davies, Principal Engineer at Schaeffler UK.

How did you get into engineering? As a child, I liked taking things apart and then trying to assemble them again. At the age of 17, I therefore decided to take an engineering apprenticeship at a local architectural/ironmonger company. Originally, I wanted to become a maintenance fitter, but I was deemed as very technical in my thinking and so was encouraged to go down the technical apprenticeship route, which eventually led to me becoming an applications engineer at Schaeffler (formerly INA Bearing Company) in Sutton Coldfield in 1987. What does your job involve on a day to day basis? My job here in the engineering office involves working very closely with customers on various applications, helping to select the most suitable bearing solutions for their application. This involves all Schaeffler products, not just rolling bearings, but linear guidance systems, automotive engine components and so on. Primarily, this involves bearing design and calculation work for specific customer projects. What interesting projects and technologies have you worked on? Too many to mention really! However, recently the most interesting projects are where we have been asked to develop specific bearing solutions for electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, motorcycles and off-highway/construction vehicles. I've also worked on some very advanced bearings for gearboxes on renewable energy systems, including the latest wave/tidal energy technologies. Are there any new technologies that particularly excite or that you see as being quite revolutionary to the wider world? Some of the new bearings that we've developed for the all-electric and hybrid electric vehicles are genuinely revolutionary in terms of reduced friction and weight. What is the biggest issue/driver facing your industry? In the automotive industry, rising fuel prices and stricter legislation means that our customers now require even more compact, lightweight bearings that also offer reduced friction, which in turn leads to reduced CO2 emissions from the vehicle. In other markets such as marine, renewables and power generation, we are being asked to develop environmentally friendly bearings that are also able to withstand extremely harsh environments, often for up to 20 years. It is encouraging to see the UK taking the lead in many of these new technologies. What advice can you give to younger engineers just entering the industry? Get as much practical exposure and experience as possible in terms of bearing manufacturing processes, design and application engineering. While there are lots of academically bright young people out there in the UK, our industry is lacking people with practical knowledge and experience of how things are actually made! One solution to this is to encourage more young people into engineering apprenticeships. How do you see the bearings industry changing going forward? Within the UK, the bearings industry is moving towards serving new market sectors such as renewables (wind energy in particular) and hybrid electric vehicles. Also, condition monitoring is becoming more attractive to customers now, as it enables companies to maximise the efficiency of existing plant and equipment, as well as holding less stock.