Bedford, MA-Engineers at Peddinghaus, a manufacturer of drilling and plasma cutting machines, were having difficulty with the linear guideways on a prototype drilling machine. "We're using servo hydraulic cylinders to control three different axes and measuring on all three of them," says Jeff Mulliken, manager of production engineering. "So we need both high accuracy and tight control."
Mulliken initially approached Schneeberger, a manufacturer of linear motion technology, because he was interested in the company's monorail MR guideway, a profile guideway with a built-in magnetic encoder system. He was more than a little satisfied.
"What initially caused us to sit up and take notice of Schneeberger's technology was the fact that it could do measuring right on the rail. Obviously, the closer you can get to the machining process, the better in terms of accuracy," recalls Mulliken. "But, frankly, the technology has worked flawlessly for us in every respect--not something you expect in a prototype situation. We now even buy all our waveguides from Schneeberger, because we know we can depend on them to work right the first time."
Quality story. Peddinghaus' experience with Schneeberger is no isolated incident. Quality or "top-of-the-line" are often the first words that customers use to describe the company's products, and it is clearly an attribute of motion control products that the market is looking for. Over the past five years, Schneeberger has averaged 25% growth in revenue over the previous year in a market where it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate one product from the next.
A reputation for high quality products is something that Schneeberger has cultivated since founder Walter Schneeberger-Grublad opened the doors of his mechanical workshop in Roggwil, Switzerland, in 1923. "The shop produced grinding precision sharpening tools for woodworking, and was one of the first shops to apply cross-roller bearing technology to produce components of a much higher finish and quality than the competition," says George Jaffe, executive vice president and managing director of Schneeberger, Inc., the company's U.S. subsidiary. "The company discovered early on that a product with extremely high quality and consistency is something that you can take to the bank."
Marketing Manager John Skaltsas says that the company's focus on quality has been passed down through the generations. "I've been with the company for nine years, and while it is terrific to have customers describe your product as the 'Cadillac' of the industry, the thing that has made the biggest impact on me is seeing Hans Schneeberger, son of the company founder, in action. Here he is, a man who has been able to inspire a deep commitment to quality throughout the entire company, and yet he is such a humble, unassuming person," explains Skaltsas."
In 1948, two years before Hans joined the company as office manager, Schneeberger produced its first linear guideways, which it had previously applied to a tool grinding machine. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the company manufactures a complete line of linear motion products, including linear guideways, frictionless slides, recirculating units, linear ball bearings, measuring systems, and ball screws. And it provides customers with everything from basic building components of motion control to full-blown, integrated systems.
In its technical and marketing efforts, Schneeberger focuses on two main areas. "We strive to ensure that the product performs as expected and lasts a long time, and that it is trouble-free for the customer," says Jaffe.
As a case in point, Jaffe explains that two keys to making a profile bearing last a long time is to prevent contamination and to ensure even distribution of lubrication.
A self-lubricating cartridge for monorail guideways is one of Schneeberger's newest linear motion technologies that addresses both points in its design. The unit consists of seven felt dispensing pads that control the flow of lubricant from a fillable reservoir to not only the running surfaces, but also the top rail surface, which has the most exposure to outside contaminants. "A differentiating point for our product is that we are the only ones providing oil on the top of the rail," says Jaffe.
The SLC cartridge, as it's called, is also positioned as a low-maintenance product. "The dream of the marketplace today is a profile guideway for heavy-duty use that requires zero maintenance," says Jaffe. "Unfortunately, the technology is not quite there yet, so we asked ourselves, 'What can we provide in the way of an interim solution that will solve a need in the marketplace until we get to our ultimate goal?' We think that periodic lubrication is the best approach to a long life and low maintenance today."
In all of their product development efforts, says Jaffe, Schneeberger's design engineers strive to bring high-quality, innovative products to the marketplace. Marketing manager Skaltsas concurs. "Many people look at a product like a bearing, and they think that because they tend to all look the same that they are the same. We're always looking for ways to add something to our products that not only differentiates us from the competition, but also benefits the end user. "
As for the future, Jaffe sees the company moving more deeply into systems design. "In the beginning, this business was all about components. Now, customers are asking us to design total motion systems."
% growth over previous years
|Bedford, MA-based Schneeberger Inc. has maintained consistent positive growth since its founding in 1985. Its sales plateaued in 1998 following a slump in the machine tool and semiconductor industries, Jaffe says.|
Parent company: W. Schneeberger AG, Roggwil, Switzerland
Location: Bedford, MA
Founding date: 1985
Product line: Complete line of linear motion products, including linear guideways, frictionless slides, recirculating units, linear ball bearings, measuring systems, and ball screws
Executive vice president and managing director: George Jaffe
Annual percent growth over previous year for past five years: 25%
Markets served: General automation, machine tool, medical, semiconductor, material handling, test and inspection systems