Automation to spare: Shown upright from its working position, the Kegel Company bowling lane oiler relies on PLCs, sensors, and touch pads to assure precisely lubricated surfaceswhile being easy for operators to use and reporgram. Oil dispense head position is determined by proximity sensors.
Sebring, FL—Hard-core keglers are a particular lot. They demand consistency in the lanes they bowl on from week to week. And they can tell when the alley's surface characteristics change in the slightest way. Such meticulousness goes all the way to the professional level, where debate sometimes centers on how the lanes in a tournament were treated, say in favor of left or right-handed competitors.
Basically, a bowling alley is 60 ft from foul line to the head pin and formed from 39 separate boards across, totaling about 42 inches wide. The length of the lane out to about 40 ft has a thin layer of oil to keep the ball from gripping the surface and hooking toward the center until it is close enough to hit the "pocket" of pins in front. And because lane use drags oil down the surface toward the pins, and dirt and dust collect, cleaning everyday and precise re-oiling is necessary.
Traditional oilers are based on a "wick pad" technology and can give inconsistent results over time or even across a lane. Temperature effects and oil viscosity differences may also cause problems. The Kegel Company makes oilers that rely on electronic controls and sensors to precisely move the oiler down the lane, applying cleaners and lubricant in a required level for each board. The nervous system for the oilers control is based on an Omron Electronics (Schaumburg, IL, www.omron.com) PLC. "We program the PLC to make the oiler friendly to the customer," notes Kegel Lead R&D Engineer Mark Davis. The PLC works in concert with an FMI (Syosset, NY, www.fluidmetering.com) medical-laboratory-grade valveless fluid-metering pump to dispense the oil. Lubrication control is sensitive enough to dispense down to ten 16-ml drops per board per 40 ft length. The oilers also have Omron touch pads and displays, for a convenient operator interface, as well as proximity sensors to determine position down the lane. Similar sensors monitor lateral location of the oil-dispenser head as it traverses the oil transfer roller from side to side within the machine. The PLC can also adjust the speed along the lane, slowing to concentrate oil near the foul line, and faster to spread it out closer to the pins. Component reliability is vital because the machines see daily or more frequent use.
Davis notes Kegel oilers can be programmed with up to seven programs to treat wood or plastic-like synthetic lanes differently. The programs can account for bowler diversity as well—those less skilled during the day might get less oil for more grip but league players in the evening will have more to account for the higher spin they impart. Thus players out for a casual game can have a less frustrating time if they can find the pocket a bit easier to hit. In addition, varying the oil widthwise can compensate for wear caused by a larger proportion of "righty" bowlers and use of modern-material bowling balls that grip better but wear lanes quicker. However, some in the sport question the practice of lane owners "adjusting" the lanes so less able bowlers can score more, while others feel an enjoyable evening for less frequent bowlers is not necessarily a bad thing.
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