Incorporated in 1935 and headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, BDI (Bearing Distributors Inc.) is a supplier of maintenance and repair operations (MRO) products and provides manufacturers with hundreds of thousands of parts and devices from the world’s top names. The categories of items, assemblies, and applications that BDI handles for manufacturing facilities include bearings, mechanical power transmission, electrical power transmission, material handling products and systems, motion control, fluid power, filtration, industrial hose and fittings, retaining/locking products, sealing device products, adhesive sealant and lubricant products, and other industrial products.
“If it moves in a plant, we have a product that touches it somewhere,” says marketing manager Bill Shepard.
BDI maintenance and repair services cover ball screw repair; bearing modification and repair; condition monitoring; conveyor belt installation and fabrication; electrical circuit board repair; electrical system integration; gear box repair; gear, sprocket and shaft fabrication; indexer repair; spindle repair; trolley and chain building; and others. Customers are a who’s who of American business and industry that rely on BDI to come in at the plant floor level and find cost savings, increase productivity, and reduce and optimize inventory. In addition to industrial and retail customers, BDI has military and government accounts in infrastructure programs such as water treatment and transit.
The company serves customers through its more than 50 U.S. warehouse/sales locations and more than 150 branches in nine countries representing more than 1,000 manufacturers. BDI has global operations in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and China to serve customers with international facilities.
“We’re the fourth-largest bearing and power transmission distributor in the U.S.,” Shepard reports. “There are (competitors) that are bigger than us with more dots on the map, but no one else has the global presence that we have.
“We do what the customer asks and follow them where they want us to go,” he adds. “If a customer in the U.S. is facing competition from overseas, because of our reach of product around the globe, we can help them become more competitive domestically by bringing in low-cost product. So if we have an OEM customer that manufactures machines to build gutters, for instance, we can source products for them from China, bring product in and make them more competitive. That may help keep a plant in Tennessee instead of moving it to China.”
The company has specialized units devoted to industries including power generation, mining, material handling, package handling, the food industry, and automotive. What exactly can BDI do for customers? BDI can reduce costly down time in factories or on the power grid. Take an example from the power industry where the cost of a gearbox may not be significant, yet a faulty gearbox can shut down a 1,200-megawatt power station. “When you look at the down-time costs of not producing power, that gearbox suddenly represents a significant cost,” Shepard observes. That is why BDI becomes so important to its customers; in this case BDI can get the assembly repaired in a matter of hours to keep facilities online. “We reduce risk for the customer,” Shepard says. “If you do business with BDI, we are going to cover you on that basis.”
A specialized knowledge of customers’ manufacturing processes allows BDI to manage the stockroom and maintain and repair facilities in a way that even the customer can’t accomplish. “MRO is not their core expertise,” Shepard explains. “If their expertise is to produce and sell automobiles, then it’s not to know everything there is to know about a gear box or about bearings. Our product specialists are skilled in the replacement and application of all types and combinations of devices used in manufacturing facilities so we are a resource for determining the most productive and cost-effective solution to maintenance and production challenges.”
In addition to tapping top manufacturers for their parts, BDI handles turnkey projects and also has production facilities of its own for industrial filtration systems.
“One of the hottest products we have going is our centrifugal filtration system, manufactured in our Youngstown, Ohio division,” Shepard says. The system uses centrifugal force to remove solid contaminants from the stamping and cutting oils used to clean steel, for instance in an automotive plant before parts are stamped out. “Rolls of steel shipped from the steel producer get dirty and oxidize. But before you can stamp out a door panel you want to make sure the steel is clean since contaminants can promote defects,” he explains. “Oil is used to clean off dirt and grime and that oil is recirculated. Most systems use bag filters that are a costly, consumable, replaceable item. Our system is a loop system that hooks up to the tank of the oil reservoir and continuously cleans using centrifugal force, resulting in significant cost savings.”
Another filtration product of BDI removes bacteria from oil reservoirs to neutralize odors in the plant. Yet another area of production for the company is flat conveyor belt fabrication done in BDI’s Columbus, Ohio plant.
The privately held BDI was purchased by Forge Industries in the 1960s. Originally distributors of bearings, those parts still represent about 30 percent of sales.
“We still have a very strong focus on bearings and train our employees on bearings through manufacturers’ factory schools. As we bring on new product lines, our inside and outside sales people have to be trained and knowledgeable about the products to know how to recommend solutions to the customer. Our sales people go out and speak with customers to understand operations. Then we may bring in an engineer to look at the application. That’s what allows us to add many more product lines, and understanding of processes.”
In addition to countless parts and devices, BDI provides services and operations including conveyor belt services, corporate account services, database creation, e-commerce, inventory management, OEM conversion programs, order automation, plants and store room surveys, integrated supply, and training.
Improving efficiency for customers is the value-added proposition that makes BDI a success. “If a customer uses 1,000 of a particular bearing per year, that’s steady business. But we’ve taken the approach of asking the customer why do you use so many of them? We’ve evolved from being just a commodity supplier to a solutions provider. Customers then ask what else we can do, and that’s where our product offering gets wider, driven not by us but by our customers. So our growth milestones are because we follow our customers technologically, geographically and culturally.”
One trend that the company keeps pace with is standardization of parts. “We are playing a very active role in that,” Shepard says. “Instead of a facility having 400 different brands of bearings, they will standardize on, say, five manufacturers. What that does is eliminate waste and duplication.” As things now stand, an automaker might have many different brands of an equivalent bearing in its storeroom, an unneeded investment in redundant inventory and also training since technicians need to know how to install each part.
“If you’re a buyer you have many suppliers to deal with and supply reduction can help the bottom line,” Shepard stresses.
The ultimate supply reduction is to let BDI handle maintenance and repair operations. “We want to be that supplier,” Shepard says. With its yearly sales growth rate of 20 percent, BDI may be the only name manufacturers need to know.