How OEMs Can Afford Magnetic Bearings

Users of turbomachines in a variety of commercial sectors are frequently asking for products with magnetic bearings from their OEM suppliers. Because of the success in commercializing magnetic bearing technology in sectors such as Oil & Gas and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), end users are increasingly aware of the reduction in operating costs afforded by magnetic bearings compared to oil-lubricated machines. The savings come from much lower viscous friction losses in the bearings and much lower maintenance requirements.

Many turbomachinery OEMs initially consider developing new products with magnetic bearings, but are reluctant when they discover the high price. This is because although the market for magnetic bearings is growing, the volume for machines equipped on magnetic bearings is still relatively small. The small market drives up the cost of magnetic bearings in the following ways:

  • Manufacturing costs to the magnetic bearing supplier are high because the volumes don’t justify investing in the tooling and value engineering which can reduce the manufacturing cost.
  • The high costs to the magnetic bearings supplier for development and product upgrades must be spread over the small volumes, increasing the price of individual systems to the OEM.
  • Because of the relatively small number of magnetic bearing suppliers, an OEM has few options for competitive bids.
  • Once an OEM selects a magnetic bearings supplier and the turbomachine is developed, there is substantial cost to the OEM in changing to another magnetic bearing supplier because the lack of standardization means magnetic bearings from different suppliers are not interchangeable.

A prospective turbomachinery owner evaluates whether to purchase a machine with magnetic bearings by comparing the additional price of the magnetic bearing with the reduction in operating cost, and then calculating the payback period, or some similar metric. The additional cost to the OEM of supplying a machine with magnetic bearings is critical to determining whether an OEM’s price offering will be commercially successful.

For these reasons, some OEMs have opted to develop the internal capability to offer magnetic bearings for their own products. However, this comes with significant technical and economic risk. Many companies have attempted to develop their own magnetic bearings, but have failed to achieve an industrially-robust product that has the required performance and cost. And though there is a substantial body of academic research on magnetic bearings, much of this work is more applicable to laboratory demonstrations rather than industrial machines.

Some companies have opted to acquire small companies that already have magnetic bearing products. Unfortunately, this option is not practical in most circumstances due to the limited number of magnetic bearing companies and the resulting high purchase price.

At Radiant Physics, we are now offering another alternative to OEMs wishing to develop the internal capability to offer magnetic bearings for their products: we can custom-design a program for an OEM to develop the internal capability for offering machines with magnetic bearings. By leveraging the extensive technical and business experience of our principals, on OEM can greatly reduce the technical and economic risk of this option. And with the magnetic bearing technology internalized, an OEM will be able to effectively compete against competitors that must purchase the magnetic bearings from an external supplier.

Please contact us to learn more.