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Siemens Digital Industries and PTC hold key roles when global ball bearing giant SKF implements new generation technologies

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Sep 27,2022


Often when we discuss the fantastic possibilities of PLM and automation systems to build up efficient product realization apparatuses, it is from the perspective of starting from a greenfield site.

“But the reality is significantly more complex,” claims Kent Viitanen, COO at the ball bearing manufacturer SKF, during Siemens Digital Industries' recent Nordic Digital Transformation Summit in Stockholm.

“Our main task is to efficiently keep things rotating with reliable and high-quality ball bearings in sizes from 5 mm to 10 meters. We design them and manufacture from one to millions of ball bearings within this scope,” says Viitanen. “Globally, we have approximately 600 different production lines for the manufacture of these products, and close to 100 factories and service centers that can keep track of the functionality of the ball bearings out with the customers. There is a lot of money invested in this. This means that when technology and the world change and when new innovations are to be integrated, we cannot start from a blank sheet. We have to start from what we have, and step by step take it forward where we create an optimal balance between brownfields (the existing production apparatus) and greenfields (new technologies).

This perspective is undeniably interesting and pinpoints the balance between the introduction of new technologies and when, how and where to move on and break away from established, well-functioning product realization patterns. Taken to its extreme, this is about conservatism versus radicalism, paired with a good pinch of economism. There are few places in the global engineering industry where the effects and challenges of the encounter between the possibilities of the new digital world and the boundaries of the physical world are seen as clearly as at the ball bearing manufacturer SKF.

“First and foremost, we have the ‘World Class Manufacturing’ concept. But of course, we also have a number of other ongoing deals and business relationships. The core of our needs is to ensure that we can provide data structures that support our customers with all the facts needed for correct and effective decision making,” says SKF’s COO, Kent Viitanen in today’s article.

Kent Viitanen was clear about how the company is at a turning point. Not for the digital technology itself, but for the important question of how SKF needs to change organizationally to establish cohesive digital end-to-end solutions. “The future is about how we deal with this,” he said.

In large OEM organizations, you find yourself existing in both a physical and a digital reality. It is often about complex machines, organizations and systems that you should not blindly jump into and start making changes. A number of factors must be considered, and the people in the production process are some of the most important.

How to get these people onto the train to the future is the starting point that Viitanen believes determines how fast and how successful the digitization journey will be.

So, what does the digital lineup look like? In this article, I will clarify the current context of this digitization journey at SKF, and then discuss how they did it and what the road ahead looks like within a follow up article.

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