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Important investment helps keep British bearing manufacturing skills out in front

10 December 2012

Cooper Roller Bearings of East Anglia has been at the forefront of split bearing manufacture worldwide for over a century and now looks set to stay that way

A £4M investment by parent company Kaydon Corporation extends what the company can do in the manufacture of made-to-order split roller bearings, in the direction of larger shaft sizes, the handling of higher levels of thrust and faster delivery.

Split roller bearings are used where poor access for maintenance or replacement rules out ‘solid’ bearings. Cooper’s product also has an important role in dusty or dirty locations where its sealing has proved significantly superior. These two ‘niches’ in fact constitute an important world market for standard, off-the-peg bearings in which Cooper, defying gravity some say, has enhanced its leadership position. The company has remained competitive using quality British manufacturing while competitors have largely turned to cheaper sourcing overseas.

Recession-defying growth

The custom-design and manufacture of larger bearings (30cm and upwards in shaft diameter) is another distinct market. Here, customers are increasingly looking for expertise to help escape the design constraints of keeping fixed bearings in easy-to-access positions. To innovate in design, as well as to economise in operation and maintenance, they increasingly opt for the greater freedom offered by ‘splits’.

So much so that these larger bearings now form an important part of Cooper’s business, a part that has been growing at over 25% per year, in defiance of the recession.

Larger bearings, greater accuracy and efficiency

The investment has been used to purchase new turning/grinding centres and lathes that extend the size of bearing that Cooper can manufacture, while maintaining the company’s reputation for superbly accurate engineering.

“For years now we have been making cylindrical roller bearings and housings to order for shaft sizes up to 1550 mm. To this we can now add split taper roller bearings for shafts up to 780mm,” says Pat Smith, Director of Operations at Cooper’s factory in King’s Lynn.

“These machines will also increase our efficiency and flexibility, maintain quality and help us to drive down our lead times, which are already the best in large, bespoke split bearing manufacture”

Part of the reason for the company’s record of fast delivery is the fact that, unlike its competitors, it maintains a vertically integrated operation for both housings and bearings on its main site at King’s Lynn, including design, casting, turning, grinding and finishing. Cooper is also one of the few UK engineering companies to maintain a full apprenticeship scheme, so that the skills are in place to assure a high-quality workforce far into the future.

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