Technologically advanced materials have revolutionised many applications in the industrial environment with engineered plastics able to outperform and outlast steel in heavy-duty applications such as bearings, bushes, and protective housings.

Ian Hewat, managing director at igus South Africa. Photo by igus South Africa

Ian Hewat, managing director at igus South Africa. Photo by igus South Africa

They have also enabled modern manufacturers to develop strong and durable solutions for age-old problems such as protecting cables, reducing wear, and providing flexible control for robotics and automation through the development of specially produced chain flex energy chains (e-chains). These can be developed for cables from 3mm to massive 300mm hoses in applications that replace festoons, busbars and cable reel drums and enhance machine operations.

Simultaneously, modern-day cables are being developed especially for these applications and boast equally advanced materials that enhance cables’ strength, durability, longevity and can be developed to adopt properties that are required for many differing applications.

Technology trailblaser

At the forefront of these technological developments is German manufacturer, igus, which acts as a hub for the rest of the world and introduces several hundred advanced plastic products and chain flex cables to the market every year. With production facilities across the globe and a fully autonomous local operation, igus South Africa, local manufacturers and engineers have a wealth of products and materials that can dramatically improve equipment and processes.

igus South Africa managing director, Ian Hewat, says the company is actively engaging with industry to introduce these new solutions into the local market. Whether it is the replacement of bearings with greaseless and maintenance free polymer alternatives on heavy duty excavator, grab hooks and massive port cranes or simple high-glide linear polymer bearings that reduce wear and eliminates wear on the shaft of the machine.

“We have been a mainstay of the e-chain market in South Africa for more than a decade. Our e-chains are providing continuous protection on some of the country’s largest cranes at our ports and harbours, while similarly tough and durable e-chains serve the mining, automotive, packing, and other industries wherever cables or hydraulics are required to run in linear applications,” says Hewat.

Local solutions

“It is time for the local industry to embrace new motion plastic materials and tap into a world of reduced maintenance, safer working environments, greaseless operation and vastly simplified mechanics offered through the use of polymers. Our slogan at igus is ‘Plastics for Longer Life’ and we work with customers and entire industries to find solutions that can drive costs down and product life up.

“Our e-chains for example allows direct continuous control with no slip rings or joints required for added reliability, while our specially developed chainflex cables are tailor-made to required applications. We have the widest variety of cables specifically for use with e-chains and dynamic applications. Different outer jackets and specially developed internal material have been developed for these applications and provide users with a three-year guarantee for added peace of mind.

“Having specially developed cables for different applications significantly improves the reliability of the cable systems and provides reduced maintenance and increased lifespans, which in turn increases a system’s mean-time-to-failure. Best of all we have solutions for almost all industries wherever there is moving and dynamic cables for measuring, fibre optics, power, servo cables, control, Bus and data systems,” says Howat.

Lubricant free

Simultaneously, advanced new materials in the manufacture of polymer plain bearings and bushes allows engineers to replace a wide variety of steel and other traditional bearings. igus polymer bearings make use of Tribology materials that include polymer, fibre and dry lubricants into the polymer.

They are manufactured with the latest materials for self-lubrication that provides a lifetime of maintenance free operation that is usually far longer than traditional types. Even in the heaviest and dirtiest of conditions these materials can perform flawlessly and can even run underwater with no contamination. Similarly, they can maintain continuous operation in the hottest and driest of conditions or provide corrosion or chemical resistance with any one of its 40+ different standards base materials.

Perhaps the biggest measure of the success of the advanced products from igus is the uptake of its products in the country’s largest projects on mining drill rigs, metals recycling, high speed packaging plants and throughout the logistics supply chain, from lifting to manufacture, distribution, and shipping.

The products are well suited to a host of operations within the robotics and automation industries and the company provides low-cost delta robot and linear automation solutions, as well as shafts, linear pads, motors, drives and cable chain and more for use on 3D printers, routers, and CNC Machines.