How To Do More With Less - Adding a Loader to an Existing Tube Bending Process Can Increase Capacity and Free Up Labor
Why a Loader?
In short, a device that automatically loads a fabrication machine often makes the difference between a process that is questionably profitable and one that is definitely profitable. Let’s face it, direct labor can be expensive and is somewhat susceptible to human error. Both factors don’t help the bottom line. A robustly designed tube loader on the other hand doesn’t ask for vacations and will load a tube the same way day in and day out. These factors can help the bottom line.
So when should you employ a loader? The answer can vary widely from one company to the next. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it's a financial decision. Integrating a loader to an existing forming process can free up an employee to operate a secondary operation while at the same time the same employee can make sure the loader stays supplied with raw material.
Believe it or not, an automatic loader has been known in recent years to save a few US jobs. How is that? Well, the addition of automation can move a job from red to black and thus allow existing direct labor assets to take on new responsibilities. It can be that simple.
Types of Loaders
Loaders come in various shapes and sizes. The simplest of all loaders is the human loader. The next level up may be an automated single-stick tube loader that feeds a fabrication system at an exact moment in the fabrication process. Add a bit more sophistication with the addition of a magazine loader which can hold a short supply of blank tubes. Beyond a magazine loader is a world of hopper loaders, bundle loaders, and programmable robotic type loaders.
Loading a Cutoff Machine
Saw type cutoff machines often make use of long blank lengths of raw tubing. These blank lengths can range from several feet in length to 40+ feet long. To keep the tube cutoff machine running, a magazine loader (Figure 1) or a bundle type loader is commonly used.
A magazine loader is able to hold about a dozen tubes before it requires operator assistance. Conversely, a bundle loader is designed to hold between 100 and 400 sticks of tubing. When tubes are delivered in bulk bundles, the bundles often fit right into a bundle loader thus reducing the needed labor to hand load the long sticks into the system.
Loading a Tube Bender
Not all but most CNC tube benders work with pre-cut lengths of tubing. Over the years, all types of loaders (including a hopper loader, Figure 2) have been used to feed a tube bending system.
As with all loaders in most applications, consistency is very important. Making sure the tube is presented to the bender consistently will influence the part quality. This is where a robust loader design can make all the difference.
Tube benders that are automatically loaded that don’t work with pre-cut blank lengths may pull tubing from a bulk spool of tubing. In this case, the overall system originates from the OEM with the ability to make use of a bulk spool as a means of feeding the bending system.
Loading an End Former
Much like CNC tube benders, tube end forming machines can be loaded and unloaded in a variety of ways. However, standard tube end formers often require a more custom loading/unloading solution. This is because most modern end forming machines are designed to load a tube, form the tube, and then unload (exit) the tube along the entry path. Using one path for loading and unloading increases the cycle time.
Custom end formers (Figure 3 above) can allow for loading from one side and unload from the other side. Loaders are not for all applications. Call us to discuss your particular application and whether adding a loader can increase your profitability.
About the Author
All of our semi-rigid coax and tube fabrication machines at Winton are designed, manufactured, and tested in-house. We have a large line of standard products as well as the ability to engineer the best solution for our customer’s needs. Our experienced sales staff makes sure that our customers can justify their capital equipment investment by offering a solution that is exactly what they need in order to manufacture their parts. Please contact us today to discuss your project.