BNL

Business

Summary

BNLBNL is a market leading specialist designer and manufacturer of innovative plastic bearings products as well as plastic gears, shafts and bushes.  BNL works in long term partnership with its customers, designing and developing customised solutions for major multi-national OEMs.  These rotating parts are then used by OEMs in their assembled products.

In order to manufacture these products, BNL offers research and development, material advice, precision tool making capability and precision moulding.  Using specialist in-house expertise, purpose-built bearing products are designed and prototyped in conjunction with customers’ design teams. 

BNL’s bearings are used in a range of applications including photocopiers, ATM cash handling machines, spa baths, shower enclosures, mobile satellite antenna, vacuum cleaners, CCTV cameras, steering columns and conveyors.

Plastics bearings offer a number of key advantages to traditional steel bearings; these include among others reduced weight, lower inertia, no lubrication or maintenance required and cost benefits.

Design and development

BNL employs a dedicated new product development team with design and product application expertise.  The aim is to identify the most cost effective bearing solutions and to incorporate additional features like axles, precision gears, fixing clips, mounting flanges and pulleys to form fully integrated assemblies that deliver wholesale cost system reductions.

BNL also works closely with chemical compound companies in the development of new plastics, testing six-eight new plastics per annum. The performance of BNL’s bearings are under constant review as improvements in materials and processing expand the potential.

Manufacturing

BNL operates from two factories, one in the UK (Knaresborough, North Yorkshire) where complex assemblies and machining is carried out and one in Thailand where higher volume products destined for the Far East are made. 

BNL has state of the art moulding machines which are fitted with robots and are all served by an automated material feed system (the Group acquires machines which are tailor made to meet its requirements).  The Thai factory was commissioned in October 2008 and has enabled significant manufacturing cost reductions to be achieved.

Customers

BNL sells its products to a wide range of well known blue chip companies including Xerox, Canon, Ricoh, Samsung and Siemens.  As a result of BNL’s customised product range, customer retention is excellent. 

Size

BNL accounts for approximately 22% of Group sales.  Sales were £11.3m for the year ended 31 March 2016.

Products

BNL uses its expertise to produce innovative plastic rotating parts such as bearings, gears, shafts and bushes.  BNL uses its skills to exploit the opportunities to replace traditional heavy and expensive metal bearings products.

The majority of BNL’s bearings and assemblies are made from injection moulded Acetyl Polyoxymethylene (POM).  This is a semi-crystalline, high performance, engineering polymer which delivers very good long term wear performance and which is dimensionally stable when subject to load, temperature and most fluids, making the material idea for the bearings and functions demanded of them.  POM has a density which is one fifth that of steel, with the potential to reduce both the number of parts needed in particular product and the weight of the product, thereby reducing costs. 

Competitive advantages

  • Strong reputation and relationship with major OEMs
  • Experience and scale in manufacturing custom designed plastic ball bearings
  • Depth, range and speed of technical solutions
  • Operational and product reliability
  • Cost edge advantage through Thailand

Benefits of plastic bearings

BNL’s plastic bearing solutions and assemblies offer a number of advantages over the traditional steel bearing.  By using plastic injection moulding and utilising the properties of thermoplastics, users achieve a number of benefits:

Cost reductions

By using plastic bearings there is increased functionality through additional feature integration, allowing whole scale cost reductions across the entire process.  It is possible to use bearings to be included as a complete unit or a sub-assembly which helps to reduce the number of parts.

Greater sophistication

It is possible to incorporate precision gears, toothed pulleys, fixing clips in the races of the bearing by using injection moulding to manufacture the bearing races.  This allows customised bearings to be used in the final assemblies.

Improved performance

In highly corrosive areas, the natural lubricating and cooling properties of the bearings helps to improve the performance of the bearings.  It is possible to select a bearing that will meet specific criteria.

Lubricant and maintenance free

Using plastic bearings rather than steel means that they can be used in film processing, food processing, spa baths and in medical equipment.  There are also anti-static properties and low friction because of the omission of grease which means a faster response and less power is needed to start-up a process which can mean the use of a smaller motor.  The low friction and the ability to omit grease is achieved by using Acetal which has a natural lubricity.  This allows no/low maintenance and therefore no risk of contamination from grease particles, bacteria or dust.  Finally, Acetal has a density which is one fifth that of steel and with the potential to reduce the number of parts, there is scope for reductions in the weight of products.

Market and Applications

The Group estimates the total world wide market for standard and custom designed plastic bearings is worth £50-100m, and that the total market for metal ball bearings exceeds £10bn.  This gives some indication of the opportunity and potential scale of the market available to plastics bearings. 

The main applications and growth sectors for BNL’s bearings are currently in the following sectors:

  • Business machinery - such as photocopiers, printers and ATMs
  • Water and leisure -  such as dishwashers, pool cleaners and shower doors
  • Electrical and security applications - such as CCTV systems
  • Automotive industry  - such as steering columns
  • Traditional products - such as poultry wheels

Competition

BNL has no direct competitor on a global scale in the custom designed plastic bearings market.  However, there are a few smaller regional competitors primarily in the USA and Japan.

BNL is the leader in the custom designed plastic bearings market with an estimated global market share of 25-30 per cent.

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