Managing the Bearing Supply Chain
New Hampshire Industries can be competitive against foreign manufacturers because of its highly automated process that required a significant capital investment but led to lower labor costs on the other end.
But company President John Batten said one part of the pulley systems NHI makes are imported: the bearings pressed into the center of the idler pulleys.
“We are never going to make bearings in the U.S.,” he said.
Batten, holding a bearing in his hand, said the part is made up of about nine steel balls, the housing around the bearing, a retainer to keep the balls spaced apart and rubber seals to keep the debris out.
“Basically all that for roughly half of what it costs for a soda,” Batten said. “Like every bearing, they are made in China. That is where all bearings are pretty much made or Eastern Europe. (China) buys the steel, they grind the steel, they assemble it. That is why they are made in China. It is hard to compete with that.”
But while NHI does not make the bearing, it is closely involved in the process and in fact has four employees working in China where the Defender bearing series designed by NHI is made.
“We have designed our own bearing that applies to an outdoor environment — you know, tough, wet, a lot of stuff floating around,” Batten said.
“We use millions and millions of bearings and so instead of buying from a broker, we do factory-direct stuff, which allows us to work on designs we own. We’re running in factories we are partners with and that we have been partners with for a long time. We manage that supply chain directly.”
The bearing is a key component of an idler pulley, and Batten said its failure can be costly and reflect poorly on the company.
“You do a lot of different stuff that can get into the bearing and degrade the life of that pulley,” he said. “So a relatively low-cost piece of your mower (the bearing) will actually keep it from running. If that pulley seizes up, burns your belt up, you’re down and you can’t mow your lawn. So that is why we designed that Defender bearing.”