Fifteen months ago, BNL & the University of Bradford started a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) aimed at researching and developing materials and design techniques to maximise the effectiveness of polymers in automotive applications.  Working development of automotive application specific bearings, improved existing product performance and various new validated bearing materials, are an encouraging array of results so far.

With a further 8 months to go, the benefits of the project collaboration are apparent to both parties. The results of material and application research and testing have potentially increased BNL’s automotive product portfolio and subsequently, the size of its automotive product market.

KTPs are now a popular and recognised mechanism to promote collaboration between businesses and universities, facilitating the exchange of technical know-how, new technologies and skills and establishing centres of commercially relevant research and training.

The University of Bradford/BNL KTP began with the acknowledgement of the increasing demand for lightweight materials in the automotive industry and growing interest in using plastic components in all areas of automotive engineering. The question posed: how can moulded plastic bearings meet the design and material challenges these applications present.

The objective of the project was to investigate the ability of polymer rolling bearings to meet the wide operating ranges of loads, speeds and temperatures required by automotive applications – with a focus on those related to BNL’s existing automotive bearing range, for steering wheels, steering columns and automotive controls.

The development and testing of a variety of materials that allow BNL’s plastic bearing designs to meet broader specifications, has expanded and accelerated BNL’s R&D and product capabilities, with research findings being integrated into new and live automotive projects.

Key achievements of the collaboration so far include:

  • Increased performance in bearing life using the new developed and tested materials
  • Uplift in load and temperature capabilities, impact resilience, speed and strength
  • New opportunities that maximise the performance of BNL’s existing materials, such as POM, through better understanding of the materials’ character when moulded versus machined
  • Working development of a new range of plastic products aimed at meeting the high performance objectives of the automotive industry

Mark Goldsmith, Engineering Director, stated, “BNL can see these new developments coming through into live projects and we are extremely excited with the response from our customers when communicating the output of the KTP and BNL’s R&D bearing advancements. The team at BNL look forward to introducing the technology across our application areas in the future.”

For the University of Bradford, final year projects have been generated for engineering students. Technical journals have been outlined with work investigating the morphological effects on surface properties from changes on mould temperatures and injection speeds. Additionally, the KTP associate has presented at the PPE’17 Conference and collaborated with an Italian researcher teaching optimised cryogenic microtoming techniques for microscopy.

Having completed the initial planning stages and the material, bearing life prediction and application testing stages, the project is now in its early stages of validating bearing capability which has stringent specifications to achieve.



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