N.H. Ball Bearings acquires German firm

Cerobear manufactures ceramic ball bearings, giving NHBB a new product

New Hampshire Ball Bearings Inc., a subsidiary of Japan-based Minebea Co. Ltd., has acquired Cerobear GmbH, a company in Germany that specializes in ceramic ball bearings, giving NHBB a new technology and new markets.

The deal, announced Monday, was closed June 26 in Germany, three days after the Paris Air Show, which both companies attended. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

NHBB, whose headquarters were moved to California after it was acquired by Minebea in 1984, has two plants in the New Hampshire — in Peterborough and Laconia — which employ a total of about 1,000 workers. However, NHBB is relatively small compared to the ball bearing giant Minebea, headquartered in Tokyo and traded on the Tokyo exchange.

In its last fiscal year, ending March 31, Minebea reported $3 billion in sales, with $19 million in net income and some 55,000 employees worldwide. While sales in 2012 were up slightly compared to previous years, profit margin was the lowest in five years, the company said.

Cerobear is even smaller than NHBB, employing about 100 engineers in Herzogenrath, a small city near Cologne in westernmost Germany.

The company’s website maintains that its ceramic bearings outperforms steel in several ways, but particularly because the bearings don’t rust, so they are able to resist corrosion caused by washing needed in all sorts of processes, from manufacturing silicon wafers to production of low-density polyethylene.

The company also claims that its bearings can run with less lubrication, are not magnetic (thus perform better in an MRI) and are both stiffer and lighter than steel.

Cerobear bearings are also used in NASCAR racing cars, but the company was still trying to break into the aerospace industry.

NHBB – which specializes in that industry – will open up that market for Cerobear.

“Ceramic and hybrid ceramic bearing technology is gaining wider acceptance with aircraft and engine manufacturers as they continue their search for innovative materials and solutions that reduce weight and increase fuel efficiency,” said the company in its press release.

In addition, Cerobear can help expand NHBB’s European presence. NHBB acquired its German myonic business unit in 2009. Myonics — tiny ball bearings used in medical applications — are now manufactured in the United States, Germany and the Czech Republic.

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