Profiles in Flexible Modeling: The Schaeffler Group

The ancients didn’t have combustion engines, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t have had cars. But why didn’t they have bicycles?

A Short History of Ball Bearings

The answer lies, in part, in the ball bearings. Without a technique to keeping moving parts from rubbing against each other, carts and other rolling systems break down quickly. For much of history, our ancestors used water or animal fat to reduce friction between axle and wheel, but it still required a lot of force to move any kind of load.

Ball and roller bearings lessen the friction significantly. Even Leonardo Da Vinci understood this, and ball and pivot bearings appear in his fifteenth century sketches.


But conceptualizing a system and building one are two entirely different things. The biggest problem with building a practical bicycle was machining the balls that go in the bearing cage. A repeatable and accurate technique to produce those little spheres eluded designers until 1883.

That’s when Friedrich Fischer (son of Philipp Moritz Fischer—inventor of the first pedal bicycle) solved it. According to Wikipedia:

Friedrich Fischer developed an approach for milling and grinding balls of equal size and exact roundness by means of a suitable production machine and formed the foundation for creation of an independent bearing industry.

By 1896, Fischer’s production plant was putting out 10 million balls per week, and today he is called “the father of the modern ball bearing.” Because of innovations like his, bikes move smoothly and fast—as do the automobiles and countless other modern machines that followed.

Schaeffler Group Continues the Legacy

Fischer’s former company was eventually merged with others, and today the company that maintains Fischer’s brand (FAG) and legacy is the Schaeffler Group, a PTC Creo customer that specializes in “anything that moves.” The global company designs components for machines, equipment, and vehicles, including aviation and aerospace applications.

Schaeffler says all of its major brands, like FAG, were “founded with an ingenious invention.” As such, the company continues a strong commitment to research and development, releasing hundreds of new products every year.

“Thousands of engineers work constantly on new products, processes, and materials in state-of-the-art R&D centers worldwide,” reads the company website. “They create and improve products for automotive, machinery, consumer products, energy, and aerospace industries … using the latest engineering tools.”

Schaeffler and PTC Creo Flexible Modeling Extension

Among those engineering tools is PTC Creo and its Flexible Modeling Extension (FMX). Tracy Novinski, product design specialist says that with FMX, team members who aren’t full-time CAD designers can better participate in the development process.

For example, application engineers (who don’t all specialize in parametric CAD systems) can create design proposals by re-using existing 3D engineering data.

“Casual users don’t know the constraints or the family tables—concepts that are easy for intensive CAD users because they’re on the system all day,” says Novinski.

With the PTC Creo Flexible Modeling Extension, AEs can easily edit 3D CAD data in a parametric model. It gives occasional users more flexibility and speed as they work closely with customers to define product needs. AEs easily work with geometry and features, saving time and reducing errors and frustration.

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