The Changing Role Of Bar Feeders
Global competitive pressures on North American manufacturers have created a number of new challenges for bar feeder companies. A key issue is that these manufacturers must reduce costs by wringing every ounce of excess time and labor from their processes. This effort places increasing demands on turning machines to cycle more quickly, operate with greater efficiency at higher rpm, and use fewer, and often less skilled, workers. It also means automating production processes to maximize untended operation and to run continuously, 24/7.
At the same time, these manufacturers are dealing with more complex machining requirements, as many of them focus on making parts that require higher degrees of manufacturing sophistication. They may also face customer demands that require them to produce a larger variety of parts, often in short runs, thus requiring greater manufacturing flexibility. Typically, this means adding multifunction machine tools and cells. We’ve observed a recent trend in job shops, for example, that have long relied exclusively on one- or two-axis machines. They are now adding Swiss-style lathes and multitasking machines to achieve more production flexibility.
Another recent development is a greater awareness of precious time that is often lost at the end of the machining cycle. Even smaller shops are recognizing that the time it takes to unload a long part is every bit as significant as the time it takes to load barstock. In some applications, even robotic loading and unloading can take more time than other, less costly, methods. As a result, we have seen increased demand for the Blaze Air vacuum system that unloads parts in 2 to 3 seconds or less.
It is a different manufacturing world, indeed, and the rate of change shows no signs of slowing down. All these factors make loading barstock more complex than ever before. In a relatively short time, bar feeders have evolved from simple devices that merely pushed barstock through a lathe into technologically advanced products that do the following: allow a turning machine to operate at peak spindle speeds for maximum performance despite faster headstock travel and higher rpm; reduce bar-feeding cycle times to optimize work flow; hold sufficient barstock to accommodate uninterrupted overnight operations; reduce vibration to maintain cutting accuracies, increase tool life and ensure safety; cut change-over times to enhance manufacturing flexibility; be set up and operated quickly and easily even by less-skilled workers; and hold up well during continuous operation.
In addition to all of these technological advancements, bar feeders have, from necessity, become much smarter as they become integrated into the overall manufacturing process. Being smarter means integrating electrical and software controls into the manufacturing process and creating user-friendly interfaces that make it faster and easier to program, train and operate. In fact, the day may come when the operator will use one interface to set up the bar feeder, lathe, steady rest or other workholding device, and the part unloading process.
In today’s marketplace, however, exceptional products are not the entire answer. Companies that make and sell bar feeders must also be able to provide their customers with applications experts who look at the entire machining process and can formulate complete solutions that maximize efficiencies. They must also support their products with easily accessible, established, experienced technical service. They must integrate their products seamlessly with all types of turning machines.
Our response has been to make significant investments in R&D, rapid prototyping, refining our own manufacturing processes and, of course, hiring and training the right people. We also listen to our customers and take their input to heart. As a result, we are bringing new products that keep pace with our customers’ needs to the market more quickly. In the past year, for example, LNS has introduced four new bar feeders, each serving a different manufacturing niche. We’ve also introduced two new chip-conveying systems, expanded our workholding products line and developed new high-pressure coolant systems that enable more efficient chip cutting, especially on Swiss-type machines.
Bar feeders and other accessory products will become even more technologically advanced in the near future. At the same time, they will be easier and more foolproof to set up and operate. However, our customers will require even more from us. They will demand that we have the applications expertise and customer service infrastructure in place to seamlessly integrate this technology into their processes and support it over time. That’s our customers’ vision of the future. That makes it our vision, too.