Nippon Bearing Co., Ltd.
Design and Engineering
Roller guide “EXRAIL” has been developed to meet the demands of a new era. Yusuke Ueki, from our design and engineering department and a member of the EXRAIL development project team, talks about its performance, features, the story of its development and the unique manufacturing of Nippon Bearing that is highly rated both domestically and abroad.
The president had a desire to “introduce into the world roller guide products that would become the face of NB,” so we started by forming a small project team. Our company handles guide products that use balls as rolling elements, but there was no lineup of so-called roller guide products that used rollers. Looking at the market ratios for these two types of guide products, the proportion of roller guides was continually increasing, so the development of roller guides was important.
It was a situation where there were already a lot of roller guide products from many makers out there in the market. We thought that the biggest issue was deciding what kind of product we would develop as a late-coming manufacturer. I think it is correct to say that since it is a mechanical part, it would be good as long as it is easily replaceable and not inferior to other products, just like any other ordinary bolt. However, from the very beginning of development, with EXRAIL we wanted to have a product that had a clear difference from other products, and one that customers would single out and buy.
First of all, we thought to target manufacturers of machine tools. We also thought that this was a field in which our company’s products were not being sufficiently sold despite being one of the main users of roller guides. We visited dozens of machine tool manufacturers, interviewed them, and examined how it would be best to differentiate ourselves.
In addition to guide products, we saw many cases where machine tool manufacturers have adopted slide guides. The main reason they have adopted these is because guide products do not have sufficient rigidity and damping. Also, there were many manufacturers who were concerned about the quality of the manufacturing process. Paying attention to these issues, we proceeded with development, with an eye to differentiation in terms of “high rigidity,” “high motion accuracy,” and “high damping capability.”
When you increase the length of the roller, the contact rigidity of the roller and the track surface becomes higher. Also, if you use many rollers of small diameter and increase the number of rollers supporting the load, then the vibration of the moving body and a vibration called “waving” decreases, and precision of the motion increases. Based on this, using long rollers of small diameter, that is to say using needle rollers, yields a beneficial difference in the performance of the machine tool; and we thought this is how we could achieve a differentiation.
My impression is that since machine tools are expensive commodities, naturally, people are looking very carefully at guide products which are one of the main components. Honestly speaking, there is some feeling that we have not prepared enough verification data to meet customers’ needs; and because we have differentiated ourselves, people seem to ask for rather more verification data. Thankfully, we are also receiving cooperation from customers who are evaluating with test machines; and little by little, we would like to work at accumulating more data and putting this into examination tables.
Furthermore, there are several machine tools in operation that, at the time of introduction, we had asked manufacturers to build EXRAIL into. It may seem like bragging, but we get good evaluation from operators such as the machined surface quality of these machines is by no means inferior to that of slide guide machinery. It is a product with its own special features, so of course it will depend on the situation; but if we can make the most of its unique features and get a characteristic improvement in processing quality, etc., we hope that it will be a product that garners more and more good ratings from customers.
PLANE Co., Ltd.
We interviewed Hiroaki Watanabe about the EXRAIL's design. He is the president of PLANE Co., Ltd., and has extensive experience in product development with many well known manufacturers, and worked for frog design, a company famous for designing Macintosh products from the second generation Macintosh and on.
I first heard from Nippon Bearing when they told me they were looking for a product designer. I have never designed a machine part, but I used to collect bearings, nuts, and gears, and always had an interest. Bearings are already exceptional products even without the touch of a designer. I was always touched by its elaborateness and delicacy, and since it was a product that met my principles, I always wanted to design one if I had a chance.
Many people see design as a "decoration," but I disagree. Rather, I think design lies in removing the unnecessary things, think about what is most important, what is most necessary, leave those concepts, and to remove all the rest that are unnecessary.
It was close to perfection, and only needed some adjustment of the surfaces. I started to brainstorm ways to accentuate it without adding much. On the other hand, I heard that this was the first time Nippon Bearing worked with an outside designer, and thought they didn't need our services if Nippon Bearing thought of design as a "decoration".
Again, the EXRAIL itself didn't need much modification in its design, as it was already close to perfection. On the other hand, it was important that the EXRAIL's high performance was communicated through its design. The EXRAIL's performance highly exceeds that of other manufacturers' roller guides. This is due to its needle rollers, but the needle rollers are built in and can not be seen from the outside. The challenge was to communicate this advantage, which is not easily seen, and how best to communicate Nippon Bearing's brand image through its design.
Nippon Bearing's corporate colors are orange, green, and blue. I used orange, a symbol of "vitality," for the color of the NB Brand Emblem so that it stands out from the black and silver components. The EXRAIL has an extremely high performance, yet one can not see this from the outside. I'm sure the engineers and staff at Nippon Bearing involved in the development of this product take great pride, and we wanted to express that feeling. The orange emblem symbolizes the pride of the makers and is also a "sign of quality," a promise of the value it provides. The orange emblem, a mark of its high quality, shows that both the maker and user can take pride in the EXRAIL.
I didn't want the design to interfere with the performance of the EXRAIL, and I imagined how the parts were structured inside, and suggested to insert the emblem in between parts instead of adding it on later. By doing so, the emblem will not fall out when the product is being used. The emblem is L shaped, easy to recognize and takes on a 3-dimensional shape when light reflects on it, and by adding it on both corners, I made it so the emblem is apparent from any angle. This is a product that the engineers spent many months and years to reach completion, so I felt it was my mission to finish it well.
The engineers easily understood what I wanted to do, and the communication process went smoothly. We didn't have a huge gap in our ideas of the final design of the product. There usually are differences in opinion that occur with new clients, but even if there are struggles during the design process, I want my clients to say that "we want to do our best and challenge ourselves".