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25 February, 2021

UK anti-friction market is bearing up well
Published:  01 September, 1999

Sales of anti-friction bearing in the UK will almost double in the UK over the next decade, says a new market analysis. The study* by the US-based Freedonia Group predicts that the UK bearings market will expand from £500m last year to £984m by the year 2008.

The UK bearings market - the sixth largest in the industrialised world - is forecast to grow by an annual average of 6% to the year 2003. Although this rate is slower than it has been in the past, Freedonia suggests that it is "respectable, considering the slowdown in macroeconomic growth that is expected".

The sales growth will be fuelled by continuing demand from the automotive industry, particularly from UK-based Japanese car-makers. Over the ten years to 2008, UK demand for bearings for industrial applications is forecast to rise from £316m to £547m, while automotive sales will grow from £137m to £250m.

Exports from the UK will rise slightly from £53m to £62.5m. However, these figures mask the high level of international trading in anti-friction bearings with annual imports and exports to and from the UK falling in the £187-250m range for much of the 1990s.

In terms of technology, roller bearings will continue to dominate the UK market with sales rising from £303m to £515m. Sales of ball bearings are expected to expand from £215m last year to £375m by 2008.

Globally, the bearings market is forecast to grow by an average of 6.7% to exceed $40bn (£25bn) by the year 2003. Almost 200 suppliers are fighting for a share of this business but the market is dominated by a handful of multinational producers.

Although the bearings business is expected to grow faster than it has in recent years, Freedonia warns that the industry "will continue to operate in an environment of overcapacity which must be rationalised, and price competition is likely to remain intense". As a result, it suggests, the world bearings industry is likely to undergo further restructuring and down-sizing.

The study does not expect much difference in the growth prospects for ball and roller bearings, but is does see some potential for differentiating products on the basis of enhanced technologies such as "smart" bearings incorporating electronic sensors, and novel materials such as ceramics and advanced alloys.

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