Bearings and sewers

Sewers, waste, sewage, water, not the first things people think of when you say bearings. In fact the most thing many people think is that you’re lost and need directions, but never mind. However bearings were exactly what the engineers needed for the Lee Tunnel project in London, and SKF provided a solution to all their stinky problems.

Those Victorians never imagined the scale of which London has grown over the decades, and to prevent the slop from overflowing into the River Thames major sewage upgrades are needed. This is where the Lee Tunnel comes in; it is designed to help protect the 150 year old Victorian sewers that flush away London’s waste and… you get the idea.

It is going to be one of two tunnels that will capture an average of 39 million tonnes of sewage a year from the most polluting sewage overflows, originally built by the Victorians, and transport it to the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.

What about the bearings?

SKF Lee Tunnel Pump

To move that 39 million tonnes of excrement, you need pumps; big, specialist pumps, pumps that weigh 54 tonnes, which of course need bearings. These pumps are essential to ensuring that the waste does not overflow then contaminate and pollute the River Thames and it’s tributaries. And it is going to be a challenge.


“The SKF bearing solution is designed to address critical performance demands in an exceptionally high profile installation, demonstrating once again our ability to provide solutions for the toughest applications,” Rakesh Makhija, SKF President Industrial Market Strategic Industries. 

Not only do they need to be able to process incredible flows of waste-water, but they need to be able to withstand all the contamination, foreign bodies and other things found in sewage that could increase the wear and damage of the components.

These pumps are going to be the largest waste water pumps ever made and they are going to be in a remote location and buried 80 meters below ground. Reliability is therefore key to avoid expensive downtime to try and repair and replace these parts. SKF are providing heavy duty, high quality components to handle the demanding loads and reliability requirements.

“Our experience with the quality of SKF bearings and the technical support provided by SKF engineers has been outstanding. Given the importance of this project and the demand for long term reliability, with pumps mounted 80 meters underground, GIW specified that only SKF bearings should be used,” Robert Visintainer, VP Engineering for GIW.

Find out more

The Lee Tunnel project is due for completion next year, but you can find out more about what has happened since construction started in Septmeber 2010, and the plans for the future.