Quick-change Rotary Design: the Broadband of Bushings and Toolholders?

Cutting Tools

Equipment design teams today are more conservative than ever on the cost of hardware components. But in many cases, the cost of using customized rotating bushings or cartridge bearing assemblies may be as sensible as choosing broadband over dial-up Internet connections.

If it means paying 10 times the price of "commodity items," such as bearings or bushings, the chances are good that savvy design engineers and purchasing agents will think twice before they spec or buy customized machine components that are available as commercial hardware. Yet there are many instances where customized or high-end solutions, such as broadband Internet connections, automated material handling, or composite materials, create competitive advantages or advance a technology. Although situations exist where none of these may be functionally essential, all can provide such advanced performance characteristics that end users would be left in the dust without these "upgrades."

When it comes to machinery, certain items can deliver quantum improvements that are essential to precision cutting or drilling operations, where it is necessary to hold dimensions or location or withstand wear over extended periods. In such applications where consistent quality and uptime are critical, equipment makers have the option of using frictionless "rotary" bushings. A technology long known to machine and tool designers and engineers, rotary bushings are essential to piloting and providing rigid support of rotating tools used in precision cutting operations, such as drilling, boring, reaming, milling, and spot facing.

Today, as manufacturing quality, speed, and uptime become a matter of survival, engineers with diverse applications ranging from giant paper mill machinery to undersized model making tools are taking a serious look at rotary bushings.

"There are countless manufacturing and machining operations who are looking for ways to improve product quality and machine uptime while reducing operating costs," says John Palazzolo, sales manager of Gatco, Inc. (Plymouth, Mich.), a manufacturer of frictionless rotary bushings and toolholders. "In some cases a production design team — possibly an engineer or a purchasing agent — may be so cost-conscious that they overlook rotary bushings, even though they can improve manufacturing accuracy and uptime dramatically."

Rotary bushings are self-contained bearing cartridges currently used to support and guide rotating cutting tools. Used instead of detail parts (e.g., individual bearings), the cartridges are price-competitive after considering all the variables, according to Gatco. They also offer many advantages that have become crucial to long-term accuracy and uptime.

A longtime supplier of rotary bushings to leading manufacturers and tool makers, Palazzolo's firm is so identified with rotary bushings that these devices are known throughout industry as "Gatcos."

You might compare the difference between a rotary bushing and standard drill bushing with Internet access via 56k modem versus more expensive broadband. While you are able to access any web site through a slow modem, it would be foolish and counterproductive for businesses to ignore broadband based on price. Still, specifiers and purchasers in many segments of industry struggle with cost versus benefits when it comes to hardware components.

"There is a whole universe that uses common drill bushings, where the tool rotates within a solid bushing, that are candidates for rotary bushings," says Palazzolo. "If they have to hold a critical dimension, or hold size or location . . . if there is something unique that they are having problems doing with a drill bushing, then the logical step would be to look at a rotary bushing."

Logical or not, some designers and engineers are very ambivalent about paying a considerably higher price for rotating bushings. For that reason, Gatco offers engineering and evaluation services that allow prospective users of rotary bushings to measure cost and performance benefits at no cost.

"It's understandable that today engineers and purchasing agents are more concerned with purchase price than ever," Palazzolo says. "Nobody wants to overkill on components. But when a drill bushing begins to wear, the parts are going to start to wander off tolerances. So if you need consistent accuracy, you need a solution that is going to give them that. The initial purchase price will be considerably higher, but the overall benefits in terms of uptime and quality will be easily justified."

Palazzolo gives an example of a situation where a manufacturer's purchasing agent did not want to spend $600 on a custom rotary bushing when he could buy a standard bushing for $60. Eventually the machine broke down and had to be torn apart, with a loss of many thousands of dollars in lost production and maintenance costs. "We ended up making a retrofit rotary bushing for them," Palazzolo says, "but it was a shame that we didn't get to collaborate with them on the machine design in the first place."

Collaboration has become a vital aspect of machine and tool design today, and many equipment design engineers prefer to partner with suppliers, such as Gatco, who can help them with solutions that will enhance products and productivity.

"We work together with Gatco to create an optimum solution," says John Ciniro, president of Master Tool Corporation (Grand River, Ohio), which designs and builds special tooling for machining automotive transmissions, engine blocks, and cylinder heads. "This applies especially to material that is not easily machined or has a weakness characteristic that may cause the cutting tool to chatter or vibrate. Over the years, both companies have developed the technologies and know-how to overcome those problems, which is essential to safeguarding that we don't have to redo the tool again . . . that it will produce quality and reduce downtime."

Hundreds of other OEM and aftermarket suppliers to myriad industries have experienced the same partnership benefits. Gatco services include reverse engineering, which can be highly advantageous in the design of retrofit assemblies such as quick-change bearing assemblies.

"Wherever bearings are used, we might be able to improve the performance of a machine or machine tool," Palazzolo says. "If a machine builder incorporates a bearing into equipment, the end-user may have to disassemble the entire system to replace it. In that case, a quick-change bearing cartridge solution can be vital to avoiding terribly expensive downtime. Our solution is more expensive, but extremely low-cost compared to the cost of disassembling the machine."

Retrofit parts, including bearing cartridges, are a staple of Gatco's business. When one of the world's largest machine tool builders retooled a cylinder block-boring machine for a major U.S. engine maker, the tool builder contacted Gatco to design and produce a replacement for some internal bearing assemblies.

"We work with a lot of end users on the repair and replacement of various bushings and bearings," Palazzolo says. "In this case, we were able to put together a bearing cartridge assembly replacing detail bearings that would have been time-consuming to rebuild. Although we don't recommend not having spares, we can provide repair or replacement service very quickly. If an end-user does not have spare bearings or bushings on hand, we can help get them back up and running very quickly."

According to the company, the rotary bushing's unique design makes it an ideal candidate for a range of applications where bushings or bearings are used, including those requiring the support of any rotating shafts or tools. "We have an open invitation to anyone with a new or current application need to contact us for an evaluation," says Palazzolo. "We'll blueprint a Gatco that's right for the job, and fire back a quote with no obligation attached."

For more information on Gatco rotary bushings, contact Gatco, Inc., at (734) 453-2295; fax: (734) 453-2310; web: www.gatcobushing.com.

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