Wanted: Spoilsports
© Schaeffler
November 2023

Wanted: Spoilsports

By Björn Carstens
The premier strategy to prevent costly machine failure is an intelligent early warning system: condition monitoring. Around the world, companies monitor machines from in-house control centers but also deploy their detectives directly to customer locations for on-site analyses. They regularly include off-shore missions. Schaeffler also does this.

In the twilit bowels of a huge ship – where machines weighing many tons rotate and tight, claustrophobic conditions prevail – daring technicians force their way through a labyrinth of pipes and valves using their endoscopic eyes to discover things that would otherwise remain undetected. Their mission is to shed light on bearings to save the customer tens of thousands of euros. Leveraging their expertise, they aim to prevent unplanned engine downtime. The key word in this context is proactive maintenance.

Condition monitoring is the tool of choice for many ship owners. Various sensors from Schaeffler monitor entire systems or individual components directly on the engine. Subsequently, algorithms analyze data in real time, provide a condition assessment, and immediately issue a warning when a “spoilsport” has slipped into the system.

“With our sensors we regularly obtain a precise picture of current vibration behavior. Based on automatically calculated parameters, we can check if the system is running impeccably. We practically measure the sound of the engine. The signals the sensor provides contain information in the form of countless frequencies which we then make visible in a frequency spectrum,” explains Harald Reiners, an electronics professional who has been head of Schaeffler’s condition monitoring service in Germany for several years.

Wanted: Spoilsports
Schaeffler’s employees from Germany pay regular visits to some 100 big seagoing vessels© Schaeffler
Service for 100 seagoing vessels

Reiner’s place of work is a control center in Herzogenrath near Aachen, Germany, from where he and his ten-member crew carry out remote monitoring activities. Remote monitoring is one business segment, plus there are service agreements for on-site analyses that have been concluded with umpteen customers as an additional service delivered twice a year to enhance reliability. Reiners: “Visual inspections are important if initial abnormalities are visible in the vibration data. That clearly enhances our ability to monitor the progression of damage.” Schaeffler’s employees from Germany pay regular visits to some 100 big seagoing vessels around the globe: be they gas carriers, container ships or cruise ships.

Wanted: Spoilsports
Harald Reiners, Manager, Condition Monitoring Service at Schaeffler
© Schaeffler

“We want to relieve the operators of the burden of worrying about their engines and machines so that they can focus on their product.”

“Now, this is really the way it works: on some missions, our technicians are taken to the ship on a tender and climb up the ship’s side on a Jacob’s ladder,” Reiners relates. Before a technician descends into the ship’s interior the engine to be inspected is isolated, the oil pumped out of the bearings, and the covers on the holes are unscrewed. Reiners: “Then we go in with an endoscope.” The diameter of the mini camera is six millimeters (0.23 inches). Photo and video files enable a precise analysis of the most difficult to access sections of the engine without the need to dismantle mechanical components. “We run our endoscope through the entire bearing, assessing all corners and pockets. The process is basically like that of a colonoscopy. It’s a very similar device,” Reiners explains.


ship engines, paper mills, wind turbines, cement factories and steal cold rolling mills belong to Schaeffler’s monitoring network.

Full service by Schaeffler

All the bearings in ship engines are remote-monitored by Schaeffler in Herzogenrath. “Every month, we write a report about its vibration condition for each ship. In addition, we visit the ships every six months and create a supplementary endoscopy report with specific recommendations for actions,” says Reiners. In the worst case, that would be a bearing replacement which would require dry-docking time to be scheduled in a shipyard. Fortunately, ­Schaeffler offers full service – not only the rolling bearings but also the matching condition monitoring service. All from a one-stop shop.