22 May, 2022

High volume production of turbocharger ball bearings comes to Wales

13 April, 2017

The Schaeffler UK automotive plant in Llanelli, South Wales has become the global location of choice for the production of turbocharger ball bearings.

Due to changing market conditions, a shift in customer requirements and an increase in worldwide demand for turbocharger ball bearings, production has been transferred to Llanelli – a plant that is deemed more suitable to high volume, high speed, lower cost production of high precision components.

Klaus Cierocki, president business division engine systems at Schaeffler, commented: “The trend in the automotive industry towards cleaner powertrain solutions requires multiple steps and technologies. The fundamental foundation in achieving CO2 reductions at an economical cost-benefit ratio is still by optimising the conventional internal combustion engine. Downsizing of the engine leads to more opportunities for turbocharger applications.”

Schaeffler UK’s world class manufacturing plant in Llanelli produces mechanical tappets for the automotive industry. The plant, which was established in 1957, employs 250 people. A recent investment programme in new plant and machinery worth tens of millions of Pounds has now allowed Schaeffler to supply surface coated engine components that lower fuel consumption and reduce CO2 emissions, while using an environmentally friendly vacuum process (no CO2 is produced). Of the 20,000 sq m of floor space at Llanelli, around 5000 square metres has been transformed into production space for turbocharger ball bearings.

Dr Dave Bate, plant manager at Schaeffler UK, said: “We expect the demand for turbocharger ball bearings to increase over the next five years to reach millions. This demand will come from multiple turbocharger customers worldwide. This is therefore a great opportunity for the Llanelli plant to secure its future by expanding its portfolio of products. This is just the beginning of the plant redefining and repositioning itself for the future.”

Global trends

With tighter legal restrictions on engine CO2 emissions and an increasing mismatch between energy consumption and available resources, improvements need to be made to existing automotive technologies and to developing reduced friction, more energy efficient, greener alternatives.

Bate continued: “Manufacturers of turbochargers are being asked to provide more compact, higher efficiency turbocharging systems that are more reliable, durable and affordable. Originally, these turbochargers were required for just high-end passenger cars, light duty and heavy duty trucks, but we are now seeing a shift in demand to include passenger cars with smaller, highly efficient engines with lower CO2 emissions and improved fuel consumption. This has led to an increase in global demand for ball bearing guided turbochargers.”

Turbocharger ball bearings are angular contact bearings that utilise ceramic balls, metallic cages, anti-rotation device, an outer ring, a compressor inner ring, a turbine inner ring and a series of oil flow control jets. The bearings rotate far beyond 150 000 rpm. In hot shutdown conditions, these bearings can also reach temperatures of up to 400degC. The bearing is designed to be cooled by the lubricating oil flow and the bearing materials must resist extreme conditions at all times over the complete life of the turbocharger.

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