Making bearings a breeze for wind sculpture artist

Bearings 23-05-2018

Although its history is deep, kinetic art did not establish itself as a major artistic movement until the last century. The term describes any creative medium that depends on motion for its effect — think weathervanes, wind sculptures and mobiles. As with any item requiring movement, these pieces of art require specialist bearings to allow for smooth rotation. However, these components are not always available, as Jankowski Weathervanes, sculptor artist, quickly discovered. 

Stan Jankowski has been designing and creating kinetic wind sculptures since the 1990s. The venture was a swift career change from his previous life in Birmingham, where he worked as a motorcycle engineer.  Having left the city at age 50, Jankowski began a new life in the Welsh countryside, committing his time to the creation of weathervanes.

As an ideal selling point for shows in the Welsh countryside, Jankowski began creating weathervanes donning the Welsh dragon. However, the now Powys-based artist quickly developed the enthusiasm to embark on more complex projects. Art from his current body of work has taken in new leaps in creativity. In fact, some of his recent sculptures will be displayed at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show 2018 and at Hatfield House, competing in the Leading Contemporary British Sculpture category.   

The theatricality of Jankowski’s sculptors has also attracted commissions from the film industry, including the creation of a weathervane for use in box-office hit and family comedy, Nanny McPhee (2005).

Despite Jankowski’s success, the creation of these sculptures requires more than vision and creativity, but also the correct supply of resources to complete the piece — particularly when working to tight deadlines for commissions.

As an experienced sculptor in this field, and a former engineer, Jankowski knew exactly which type of bearing could deliver the rotation needed for his sculptures. Unfortunately, he found they were often unavailable. This caused a huge bump in the road for this art form reliant on movement. Choosing and acquiring the correct bearing was essential to the completion of the piece.

“The last thing you want in this industry is to be unable to complete a project for the sake of one small component,” explained Stan Jankowski of Jankowski Weathervanes. “Particularly for commissioned pieces or for sculptures required for a specific show or deadline, failure to complete the piece due to lack of inventory is incredibly frustrating.

However, stocking up on the readily available standard bearing brand was simply not an option for Jankowski. Due to the nature of his work, the bearings required for a particular sculpture could change during the creation process, particularly for speculation pieces.  That is when he contacted specialist bearings supplier, SMB Bearings.

SMB Bearings concentrates on the delivery of miniature and specialist bearings. Primarily, the Oxfordshire-based company serves industrial customers, such as those acquiring bearings for instrumentation, automotive and manufacturing applications. However, the company’s in-depth knowledge of bearing performance allowed the technical team to advise Jankowski on bearings for use in his sculptures too.

“Jankowski Weathervanes has been a customer of SMB for many years,” explained Chris Johnson, managing director of SMB Bearings. “For his sculptures, he needed bearings that could run for a long period of time, with the goal of maintaining rotation for the entire lifespan of the sculpture. To obtain this rotation, we suggested EZO stainless steel bearings.”

SMB Bearings is the official UK distributor of EZO bearings from Sapporo Precision. The Sapporo Precision range includes miniature, thin section and stainless-steel bearings, specialising in bearings of high precision, thanks to advanced levels of quality control at Sapporo’s Japanese manufacturing facility.

“EZO bearings have always proven popular with out customers,” continued Johnson.  “In fact, we relocated to a larger premise in 2015 to house the full EZO range. We put this popularity down to the consistent quality of the brand. For customers like Jankowski Weathervanes, this level of reliability means he can depend on these bearings time and time again, without the need to quality test the batch.”

Unlike other suppliers, SMB Bearings also provided Jankowski Weathervanes with a consistent supply of bearings. The company's high stock levels ensure there are no delays for Jankowski, particularly when working on time-sensitive projects. What is more, because EZO bearings are also used in technical applications, such as aerospace, medical, machine tools and instrumentation devices, they are designed to last.

“I cannot speculate on how SMB’s range of EZO brand bearings will wear over time,” explained Jankowski. “That’s because I have not needed to replace one yet. In fact, even after working with SMB Bearings for many years already, the company’s bearings have never failed on me, and do not appear to be showing signs of wear.”

Kinetic art cannot perform without bearings to maintain its movement. However, producing long lasting wind sculptures requires the use of the highest quality bearings to ensure this rotation is maintained — otherwise, it is little more than a static sculpture.

SMB Bearings is an expert supplier of bearings and can advise on the correct bearing choice for an array of applications. By understanding the technicalities behind each and every bearing it stocks — such as its maximum speeds, tolerances and materials — the company is able to suggest and supply bearings for almost any application.

Discuss your application with the technical team on +44 (0) 1993 842 555 or e-mail to arrange a consultation.  

Our determination to remain specialised gives us a high level of product knowledge, providing bearing and lubrication solutions to existing or potential customers, whether individuals or large corporations. We don’t just sell bearings, we help to solve your problems. - Chris Johnson, managing director of SMB Bearings.