Above: Conveyor rollers are machined using the B&O RH900 rotating head cut-off system.
A machinery builder leverages 123 years of history to create wholly automated tube and pipe production systems that anticipate the future
May 2014 - Producers, processors and fabricators have long come to Bardons & Oliver when they want to streamline and automate the manufacture of components from steel tube and pipe.
Established in 1891, the Solon, Ohio-based machinery manufacturer has witnessed a multitude of economic cycles but consistently adapted to the times while being able to visualize what customers will want in the future.
Besides those skills, what sets Bardons & Oliver apart from its global competitors is that customers using its system are able to process raw material into a finished component in one fully automatic operation, President Bill Beattie and project manager Tom Van Horne say.
The company started out making bicycle hub lathes, then turret lathes, Beattie says. “For us to continue, we have had to change with the times. Many machinery builders did not change product lines,” and they no longer exist.
Bardons & Oliver sells its processing lines to pipe and tube mills, service centers, processors, fabricators and to parts and component manufacturers that have in-house processing.
These machines might be as straightforward as cut-off equipment at the mill, made to produce pipe in standard lengths of 13 to 45 feet. “After that, those same pipes and tubes go to a processor, a tier one supplier, or the OEM,” Van Horne says, like “John Deere or someone else taking a tube and making it into a hydraulic cylinder.”
He outlines how the company has automated processes at each level, allowing users to produce more efficiently.
“At the mill we do things like we never did before. In the old days, it was just cut to length. Now, you have to do things such as cut off a test ring [from a tube section], analyze it and record it for traceability.”
Bardons & Oliver’s systems are able to create a test ring, “get it out of the line without interrupting flow,” identify, document and save the test data immediately, says Van Horne.
Not long ago, service centers simply brought in raw tubes, packaged and shipped them down the supply chain. Today, however, few customers want a standard 24-foot-long pipe, “but want it pre-cut and chamfered, or machined complete, so service centers have to man up.”
Torches and band saws are not sufficient to meet all these requirements, he says, so service centers are installing more value-added processing lines.
For example, “we have machines at Summit Steel Manufacturing Inc. in Reading, Pennsylvania, which processes tubing for others, making blanks as well as finished parts,” Van Horne says.
Bardons & Oliver also supplies Scot Industries, “a big player in the hydraulic cylinder business. We are dominant in the hydraulic cylinder business in North America. If you (make cylinders and) don’t have a Bardons & Oliver, you’re probably at a disadvantage,” he asserts.
“We have sold over 80 installations at hydraulic cylinder manufacturers,” adds Beattie.
A second major end market for the company is conveyor rollers. Mine operators use heavy-duty conveyors to get raw ore from mountains to processing centers. “Some conveyors are 20 miles long (and have) four rollers every 2 feet.” Tubing lengths for such conveyors range from 1 to 7 feet. “In the last 12 months, we shipped roller systems to conveyor manufacturers in North America, South America and Australia for the mining market,” says Beattie.
Bardons & Oliver machinery also processes tubing bound for light vehicles. “We have a customer, Production Saw & Machine [in Clark Lake, Michigan, just south of Jackson]. They bring in full-length seamless tubing from Timken Co., use one machine to cut the tube into blanks, then put the blanks into CNC turning machines and produce finished components that could be a gear in the transmission, a suspension part or a vibration dampener on the drive shaft,” says Van Horne.
The oilfield business provides multiple outlets for Bardons & Oliver machinery, starting with mills like U.S. Steel Fairfield Works, Birmingham, Alabama, for which the company is building a section of pipe finishing line.
“We also thread the pipe that goes down the hole as well as produce a coupling that connects the two pipes. We have two applications there: We take pipe and cut it into a blank, then we take the blank and put it into a CNC turning machine and thread both ends, which makes it a coupling,” Van Horne explains.
Then, “We process these couplings, palletize them and ship to such customers as Halliburton and Schlumberger. The last stop is the well owner. Our coupling goes all the way through that supply chain.”
Turnkey a must
Bardons & Oliver sells two to three dozen pipe processing systems a year. Competitors may sell more individual machines but Bardons & Oliver also supplies the material handling equipment at both ends of the machine and integrates them for smooth in-line production. “That separates us” from competitors, Beattie says.
Compared with five or 10 years ago, customers place “more and more emphasis on turnkey. They want automation provided but from one source, so the integration is seamless,” Van Horne says. “In the past, a customer would purchase automation from one place, a CNC machine here and an unloader here and [when all in place] the engineers just stand there and stare at it. In the steel mills today, they demand turnkey: If you cannot supply turnkey, they won’t send you an RFQ.”
Understandably, Bardons & Oliver cannot make do with a one-size-fits-all approach. “There is a $1.5-million solution and a $750,000 solution. My job is to understand the customer’s needs and resources and create a solution to match that,” says Van Horne.
Looking ahead, “There is no question we will be required to provide equipment that is more efficient [because users] will continue to look at pieces per hour versus their price points. They are looking to us to do more parts of the [tube and pipe production] line.” One example is involvement “with [material] inspection, feeding data back and forth between the machine and quality control system. Customers will continue to ask us for efficiency in our systems,” says Beattie.
Bardons & Oliver is already succeeding in that arena. “One hydraulic cylinder manufacturer in Nebraska bought a system from us in 2007, before the recession. Last year they bought a second line because they doubled their business based on what our equipment can do.”
In producing both hydraulic cylinders and conveyor rollers, “the methodology to make parts required three to four different machines or processes,” says Van Horne, “but with one automated solution, we eliminate multiple machines. Previously, each machine had a different operator. Now you can have one operator run two of our lines and deploy those extra resources elsewhere in the plant.”
For some, the efficiency argument is a hard sell, initially. Customers want proof. “I was in Australia when we installed our system right beside a manual system, which had one man cutting tube with a saw, then taking it to a chamfering machine; another picked it up and moved it on to the next process,” Beattie says.
The Bardons & Oliver system consisted of a loader, machine and unloader all in one line. That customer “realized only one person was needed to process parts with the new system. Work in process is the hidden savings. Customers can print money with that, if you can get them to focus on that,” he says.
In other cases, machinery buyers will ask: How far into a process can you go, so I don’t have to call anybody else?
Bardons & Oliver systems are scalable from a small fabricator up to a major pipe mill. Often, however, “when you start out with a new customer, you have to provide a small system first, and he’ll come back later to buy a bigger system. You can’t always get the whole elephant the first time,” Beattie says.
“However far we are taking the process now, it’s not far enough,” says Beattie. There is room for additional automation, particularly with material handling: feeding and unloading machinery.
“We have a line in Germany that used to just cut tubing. Now they have two lines face to face with a robot in between. The robot identifies each finished part and puts it into the correct shipping bin, so they don’t need someone to perform sorting.”
Bardons & Oliver will integrate its tube processing lines with Fanuc robots.
Monitoring traffic on the Bardons & Oliver website, “the automation section for robotics gets more hits, by far, than anything else. That speaks to what customers want in the future,” he notes.
Up and down the same supply line—from a steel mill to an automotive supplier—companies are wondering, “Can I get a robot and deploy human resources elsewhere and for safety’s sake, get my operator out of harm’s way?” says Van Horne.
The employee-owned and operated company plans to continue anticipating the next wave of tube and pipe processing technology and remain at its forefront. MM