Winning new contracts as the nation emerges from recession will pivot on the ability to demonstrate optimised machining processes. And although automation has the unerring ability to level the labour cost playing field, a number of machine shops will have resisted the urge to replace their barfeeds during the recent economic difficulties, preferring instead to consolidate operations and extend the life of existing equipment.
Despite this trend, progressive barfeed manufacturers used the recent downturn to innovate and develop new products in anticipation of the upturn. Hydrafeed (01908 376331), for example, says it has been working tirelessly to expand its range of conventional bar feed products and its automated range of component handling products.
Hydrafeed now offers a range of short magazine bar feeds as well as full length magazines coupled with additional automation products to complement any CNC turning centre. The Multiservo short magazine barfeed is now able to serve the fastest of machine tools, minimising feeding cycles through innovative features that can effectively remove the barfeed cycle time in some instances.
"New methods now enable bars to be loaded, measured and prepared while the machine is working on an already loaded bar, thereby reducing dead time on the lathe to virtually zero," says Hydrafeed's operations director Martyn Page. "The benefits of this application are most apparent when the Multiservo is fitted to highly productive sliding-head or twin-spindle fixed-head machines."
The range has been expanded recently with the new Autofeed long magazine barfeed now available with up to 65 mm bar capacity. A new quick change guide channel means that bar changeovers can now be achieved within the allotted downtime parameters of most lean manufacturing facilities. Hydrafeed is also adept at manufacturing equipment to handle finished components, and here the Rota-Rack is one of the latest additions to its portfolio. This stand-alone product is designed to collect finished components as they exit CNC equipment, supporting lights-out production. It can manage large volumes of components where traditional methods of conveying do not protect the parts adequately.
Image: Rota-Rack, supporting lights-out production
Research and development has also been top priority at LNS (01226 270033). Launched late last year, the Sprint 542 barfeed has caught the imagination of many production engineers. To make the barfeed – and the lathe – even more productive, LNS has developed a new human-machine interface for the Sprint 542. Touch screens facilitate the troubleshooting process for operators and assist them in supervising the machine. In addition, the innovative 'E-connect' enables fast Ethernet communication between the lathe and barfeed.
"It is now possible to run the barfeed from the lathe or even from a remote operation office," says Carlos Muniz, LNS product manager – bar-feed. "E-connect eliminates machine downtime, minimises mistakes and makes the whole system more efficient. A web browser and internet connection are all an operator needs to connect to the lathe.
"The latest generations of CNC lathes are designed for high rotational speeds, fast movements and easy programming," he continues. "The times when the barfeed and the lathe were considered separate are over – it is one system in which everything intertwines. That is why communication becomes more and more important."
Of course, LNS also realises the importance of entry level systems, recently launching its very first model aimed at this market – the Alpha ST 320 series. In the coming two years, LNS plans to introduce up to four other entry level barfeeders to reach a market share of 30 per cent in this segment within three years.
Capturing market share is also the objective at Samsys (01623 706170), which has recently opened a UK subsidiary. "Our sales and marketing strategy here in the UK will be two-pronged," says Martin Doyle, Samsys UK's managing director. "Key and core markets for us are precision manufacturers who are looking for a cost-effective, high productivity automation solution that's geared to helping them maintain their competitive edge. The other market is with UK lathe, turning centre and turn-mill machine tool manufacturers, and suppliers who we will partner to provide their customers with a sophisticated and automated turnkey turning solution."
Image: Samsys is after market share
An example of success in the former can be seen at Cambridge-based Aspec Precision Engineering, which recently invested in a new Hardinge RS 200MSY multi-tasking turning centre integrated with a Samsys Multi 3000 barfeed.
"We were being increasingly asked by our customers to manufacture certain parts in larger quantities," says director Colin Flack. "Manufacturing these parts from a variety of metals and plastics, in the volumes required (100–200 off typically), meant that we would need a barfeed to automate production."
The Samsys Multi 3000 unit selected by Aspec Precision is a servo-driven unit that enables the company to benefit from fast set-ups, smooth load/re-load operations and fast material feed rates. With 65 mm bar diameter and 1,240 mm bar length capacity, plus accurate bar positioning, in-built versatility and low running and maintenance costs – the decision was made.
Flexibility is a major factor when selecting a new barfeed. Iemca, represented in the UK by Kitagawa Europe (01725 514000), says its recently launched Master 80 HF is the choice if jobs have to be changed more than once a day, if a very wide bar range (i.e. from 15 to 80 mm) has to be machined, including hex and square shapes, or if seeking the comfort of a barfeed that doesn't require any manual adjustment.
Proprietary development benefits
Many turning machine manufacturers offer their own barfeed solutions, stating that customers benefit from equipment designed specifically to engage with the lathe or turning centre for which it was intended. One such supplier is Tornos (01530 513100), which offers the SBF series barfeeds for single spindle machines, the latest versions of which, according to Tornos, offer a radical new design. "Prospective customers should note the innovative quick change channel segments with four bar ranges built into the segment," says John McBride, general manager of Tornos UK. "Complete channel changeover can be achieved in less than 10 minutes."
Of course, another significant benefit of proprietary barfeed systems is that they come ready-integrated into the machine's CNC to save time setting up barfeed parameters as a separate entity. "The customer is guaranteed that the barfeed system complements the capacities of our Deco sliding-head lathes," says Mr McBride. "Furthermore, the new Robobars do not require the use of numerous costly options, since the guide channels and pushers correspond to the machine capacity and are supplied as standard."
First published in Machinery, April 2010