Posted at 24-Mar-2021

Industrial Gearboxes: Unsung Heroes

Paul Skade
By Gareth Lenton
General Manager, Power Transmission

I joined WYKO in January of 2000, the dawn of a new millennium and a completely new start for me after spending 2 years backpacking through South East Asia and Au...

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Heavy duty helical, bevel, worm and planetary gearboxes are among the most common pieces of equipment used in many different industrial applications, from food and beverage, pharmaceutical and quarrying, to mining, power generation and the manufacture of metals and chemicals.  


Despite their widespread use and, in many applications, their critical role in power delivery and control mechanisms, they are often overlooked; until such time, that is, when they develop a fault or fail unexpectedly.  An expected failure can, at best be inconvenient, and at worst result in considerable loss of production and unplanned costs, often running to many thousands of pounds.

Gearbox faults generally stem from factors such as incorrect lubrication, poor installation or alignment, overloading and inappropriate maintenance practices.  Industrial gearboxes are often subject to high levels of shock loading, vibration and extreme environmental conditions, so harsh operating conditions will rapidly exacerbate the effects caused by imbalance or wear. 

An inherent feature of power transmission components has been material degradation, which leads to failure and is often exacerbated by the local environment in which the components operate.  Failure of components will lead to downtime, which can be extremely costly for many industrial processes.

Wear is not the only factor that limits the lifetime of power transmission components. The best manufacturers will advise customers to consider all the factors involved in the mechanics of each application. It's all too easy to specify components based on breaking load, but this does not necessarily ensure that the best solution is found in terms of total service life.

The most common components that fail are bearings, seals and gears.  Around 50% of all gearbox faults are caused by bearing failures due to excessive axial and radial loads on, for example, output shafts; similarly, over or under lubrication of bearings, or using the wrong lubricants, can cause overheating or metal-on-metal contact within each bearing.

Gearbox seals generally fail due to high levels of contamination such as dirt and other debris that accumulate around shafts; as each shaft rotates the dirt and grit is ground into the seal causing it to abrade.  Damage can also occur if shafts are misaligned or if the gearbox is exposed to temperatures outside its operating specification, with the risk that seals will warp.

Gears typically fail due to contaminants mixing with the gearbox lubricants.  Contaminants can enter through damaged seals or be produced from within the gearbox itself, for example from particles generated by metal-on-metal wear.  In each case, particles can become trapped between gear teeth, causing heat, wear and potential failure.  Problems can also arise if gears have been incorrectly assembled or installed, or if they become misaligned during operation due to excessive loads on rotating shafts.

Gearbox repair: the options

Gearboxes either fail catastrophically, causing an immediate loss of power, or gradually exhibit a decline in performance due to component wear; this typically manifests itself as vibration, leading to excessive heat and noise, which should be detectable using standard condition monitoring instruments.  Ultimately, even the best maintained gearbox will eventually reach the stage where refurbishment will be required.

Although there are many gearbox repair companies, few have the skills, knowledge or resources to analyse and understand the root causes of gearbox failures.  Consequently, they will replace parts on a like for like basis, or fit low cost but often sub-standard components, with the inevitable result that the customer is condemned to an endless cycle of breakdown, downtime and repair.

At ERIKS, as an SKF Certified Gearbox Rebuilder, we take a different approach.  Our teams have undergone specialised training with the emphasis on root cause failure analysis, bearing installation, lubrication, sealing and condition monitoring.  Our objective is simple: to prevent recurring failures and extend gearbox service life.

The repair or refurbishment process begins with a full analysis of the condition of the gearbox, including all components parts, to determine the cause of failure or unexpected wear; this is generally referred to as root cause analysis. Only after a complete check of those components that could have a negative impact on bearing and gearbox service life, do we carry out the necessary repairs to return each gearbox to optimum reliability.

Our engineering teams work to exacting standards and specifications, using only high-quality components from the original equipment manufacturer, including the most advanced SKF bearings and seals. 

We are also regularly audited to ensure we comply with all the latest technical and quality requirements. 

Our gearbox services extend beyond repair and refurbishment.  We can, for example, remove and re-install each gearbox, and can upgrade older gearboxes with the latest components and lubricants to improve capability and lifetime reliability.  Just as importantly, all work is fully guaranteed, with each gearbox being supplied with a detailed inspection report that acts as a benchmark for future maintenance and condition monitoring inspections.

We’ve been repairing industrial gearboxes since 1982 and have developed an unrivalled level of experience and knowledge.  We now provide nationwide coverage from our custom-built engineering facilities, working to the highest quality standards to provide a timely and cost-effective service that helps customers maximise their productivity and profitability.

SKF Certified Gearbox Rebuilder

As a certified SKF Gearbox Rebuilder we must meet exacting standards and specifications. We use only high quality SKF components and are regularly audited to make sure we comply with all requirements. That means repairs are done right, every time.

Performance advantages

  • Lower total cost of ownership from:
    • Increased productivity
    • Decreased downtime
    • Lower maintenance costs
  • Extended mean time between failure
  • Enhanced reliability

SKF certification advantages

  • Conform to SKF specifications and standards
  • Reliable, high-quality rebuilds
  • Root cause failure analysis
  • Ongoing training
  • Access to SKF technology
  • Use of quality SKF components
  • Auditing and re-certification mandatory

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