Genuine quality – made in Berlin: An interview with Uwe Müller, managing partner of UKF Universal-Kugellager-Fabrik
A company with ambitious goals and an innovative spirit
We’re always keen to introduce our readers to interesting companies and their personalities. Today, we turn our attention to UKF. Headquartered in Berlin and founded in 1932, this company has been manufacturing the widest variety of bearings for the past 90 years. The company’s location and Made in Berlin, Germany quality statement transcend a long and fascinating history that is definitely worth telling. To this end, we had the pleasure to speak with someone who, by his own admission, has spent his entire professional life working with bearings and drive technologies. Uwe Müller is the managing director of UKF and recently celebrated his 30th anniversary with the company — a fitting occasion to profile UKF GmbH and to shine a light on its history and accomplishments over the years.
Hello, Mr Müller. Nice of you to find time for us and congratulations on your anniversary! Could you briefly walk us through UKF’s corporate history?
Müller: It all started in 1930 with the development of bearings equipped with roller ball guidance. At that time, this innovation eliminated the need for 20 different types of bearings. Two years later, UKF Universal-Kugellager-Fabrik GmbH was founded in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin by engineer Paul Brühl, the inventor of the spacer ball-equipped bearing, and Max Staub, who provided the funding for the project. Over the years, the company’s product range grew to include spindle bearings, whose engineering and production were done entirely in-house. To this day, all UKF products are Made in Berlin, Germany. One has to bear in mind that, back then, before the war, Berlin was a major industrial centre. At the time, DKF Gruppe also had a deep-groove ball bearing factory in Lichtenberg, a district of Berlin that later ended up in East Germany. In fact, a number of former employees of that factory, which was closed in the early 90s after reunification, still work with us, today.
What products do you manufacture today?
Müller: We offer a wide range of products. On the one hand, we manufacture bearings equipped with roller ball guidance and a self-tensioning guidance ring, which maintains the bearings’ very high ex-factory precision as long as possible. We also manufacture a wide selection of spindle bearings — namely, series 718, 719, 70, 71, 72 and 73. In addition, we produce inner rings with spiral-free grinding, as well as planetary wheel bearings for use in planetary gears. These are full-complement cylindrical roller bearings with no outer ring. Furthermore, we specialise in completely customised spindle units that can be belt-driven or motor-driven. In this area, we limit our production batches to one to three units, since we’re focused, above all, on meeting the customer’s specific requirements. You might say that, at UKF, special requests are the standard!
What’s special about your production process?
Müller: With the exception of hardening, we perform all of the manufacturing processes for our rings in-house. This begins with sawing the tubes to the required ring width, followed by the turning, grinding and polishing work. The bearings are then assembled before each and every bearing is fully inspected to ensure 100-per-cent quality. UKF emphasizes quality rather than quantity. Due to our focus on small batches, we’ve always managed to excel by delivering a reliable and genuine standard of quality — and we continue to do so.
Your spindle bearings with a 21-degree contact angle are a special product. How long has UKF been making them?
Müller: We’ve been manufacturing our 21-degree bearings since the 1970s. About 20 years ago, some of the major spindle bearing manufacturers started to add spindle bearings with alternative contact angles of 19 or 20 degrees to their portfolios. So, I guess we were ahead of our time, back then.
The two common contact or pressure angles for spindle bearings are 15 and 25 degrees. How did you come up with the 21-degree angle and what is its advantage?
Müller: Based on testing and empirically derived data, we determined that 21 degrees is the optimum contact angle between the two competing characteristics of load capacity and rotational speed. In other words, relative to the conventional angles, 21 degrees give you the smallest loss of load-bearing capacity and the smallest loss of rotational speed. In fact, it’s the best option for nearly 80% of applications. The 15-degree or the 25-degree contact angles should be employed in the remaining applications, where either rotational speed or load-bearing capacity needs to be maximized. The main advantage of the 21-degree angle is that engineers don’t have to choose between load capacity and speed. It gives you the sweet spot between the two — an optimal balance of both key characteristics for your application.
How can customers find out more about your products? And what materials and certificates do you offer to assist them with their purchasing decisions?
Müller: Of course, we provide them with all our catalogues — and these contain the necessary technical information on our spindle bearings. The current versions of these catalogues can be downloaded from our website (https://www.ukf.de/files/content/downloads/Lagerkatalog_2011.pdf). And our sales department and engineering department are happy to assist those with further technical questions. Clarifications are often needed, particularly when it comes to the new design of our spindle bearings. Our engineers are always glad to provide this support. In addition, our clients have the option of contacting PICARD, our exclusive sales partner for the specialized trade, with any questions regarding our spindle bearings, our bearings with roller ball guidance, or our inner rings featuring spiral-free grinding.
We wish to thank Uwe Müller for this informative interview.