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Most people are shocked to find out the length of standard bearing lead times. Some of the shortest real manufacturing lead times in the industry are just under 2 months. The average bearing manufacturing lead time is around 18 weeks, yet it only takes 11 days to assemble a Boeing 737.

Though factories are experiencing lower demand for some bearings now, a number of quotes that came through our office in early 2008 had lead times longer than 120 weeks. Just what, you may wonder, can take the major bearing manufacturers so long to make a bearing.

There are a number of reasons for long bearing lead times, but the main ones can be summarized by four primary factors:

  1. Raw material availability

    Most bearings are made from standard materials like 52100 steel or 440C stainless, but components are machined from specific bar, tube or forged shapes that have to be procured for specific production runs. There are also many bearings that contain more exotic raw materials like beryllium or stellite that have long lead times themselves.
  1. Variety in components and production processes

    Because each bearing is made up of many components such as inner races, outer races, balls, retainers, enclosures and lubricants, there are lead times associated with each component's processing. Very little can be done in bearing assembly until all component processing is completed.
  1. Capacity and long term demand

    This is the single largest reason for the extremely long lead times on some bearings. There are few truly domestic manufacturers left in the United States. With demand still high for some aircraft and DFAR's compliant parts there is limited capacity for the production of these highly specialized items. There are also extremely high costs associated with increasing the existing capacity, meaning there is very little room to adjust to large spikes in demand like those experienced from 2006-2008.
  1. Existing backlogs

    Backlogs have been falling during the economic downturn, so this has been one lead time driver that's recently eased. While bearing lead times are still long, some parts can be purchased at 60% of the lead times quoted only 1 year ago, because of currently light backlogs at many factories.

Despite the fact that most lead times have fallen over the past year, bearing lead times still remain long compared to many other types of components. If your product or service relies on bearings, the constraints and market forces affecting lead times over the next 2 to 24 months can have a profound effect on the level of service you may experience.

The only assurance many companies have against stock-outs on vital components is putting inventory on the shelf. However, in today's economy, the prospect of excess inventory is challenging or nearly impossible to deal with for many companies. If you are experiencing these difficulties, your next turn might be to a distributor who knows the industry and importance of your bearing components.

If you have questions about a specific issue related to your bearing requirements or lead times, contact NPB for a requirements evaluation.

Manufacturer Lead Time Comparison 2008 to 2009

Some recently quoted domestic lead times (non product specific) from major bearing manufacturers compared to lead times from May 2008:

Major Domestic Manufacturer LT May 2009* LT May 2008*
Aurora Bearing Company 18-20 weeks 24-26 weeks
NHBB Astro Division 16-18 weeks 26-28 weeks
NHBB HiTech Division 24-30 weeks 50-60 weeks
NHBB Precision Division 22-24 weeks 26-28 weeks
RBC Aircraft Products, Inc. 18-24 weeks 30 weeks
RBC Heim Bearings Corp 18 weeks 22 weeks
RBC Industrial Tectonics Bearings Corp 30 weeks 30 weeks
Timken Aerospace 18-64 weeks 52-120 weeks
Timken MPB 12-18 weeks 16-26 weeks
*Representative lead times seen on quotes to NPB on a variety of parts.

Tom Koetje
Manager of NPB Products

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