Dozens of local fabricators keep assembly lines running smoothly
By Susan Hoskins-Miller
Photos by Stan Gurka
It’s not widely known in most circles that the Midwest has scores of companies that manufacture vibratory feeders. Several are right here in central Indiana and in Hamilton County.
Vibratory feeders are used in manufacturing plants to sort out parts quickly before they go on a normal conveyor belt to get them from one place to where they need to be. The system works best for small parts and pieces. But instead of relying on a person at one end of a conveyor belt to sort the parts into a row all lined up neatly, many small pieces are dumped into a specially designed bowl, hand fabricated from sheet metal to the manufacturer’s size and shape specifications.
The bowl is attached to a vibrating machine and the vibrating bowl does the sorting and lining up of the pieces. They then are fed onto a conveyor belt where they travel in a straight line to where they need to be, whether it’s into a box for shipment or to the next step in the manufacturing process. How do all these small pieces get sorted out by vibrating piece of equipment? It seems like it would be not at all precise. In fact, it looks as if it would be haphazard, but it isn’t.
Ducks in a Row
“Have you ever watched the “I Love Lucy” episode where she is wrapping candy from a conveyor?” asked Doug Daubenspeck of Vibromatic Company in Noblesville. “If so, you know it doesn’t take her long to screw up the semi-automated system as a human repeating a simple task over and over.”
Daubenspeck said with a vibratory feeder system, you dump the parts in a bowl in bulk and the machine lines them up, “likes ducks in a row.”
“We not only orient them like ducks in a row, but in many cases we are feeding them out at rates of over 100 parts a minute, and in multiple lines so a three-line feeder is feeding out 300 oriented parts a minute, which a human cannot do,” he said. “It will also work 24/7 with no breaks.”
Vibromatic is one of 36 vibratory feeder companies in Indiana, and there are even more in surrounding states in the Midwest.
“The Midwest is a hotbed for this niche industry,” said Brandon Anderson, COO of Vibcon, another vibratory feeder manufacturer, located in Arcadia. “The automotive industry is centered in the Midwest, so I think that’s a big reason why there are so many companies located here.”
Daubenspeck said the reason has more to do with Vibromatic.
“Vibromatic was founded in 1955 and is the oldest feeder company in the Midwest area,” he said. “One of the founders learned the trade on the east coast and moved to Indiana and started Vibromatic along with a local mechanical engineer. So, Vibromatic has created a large family tree as it has brought people into the business and trained them and they left and started their own business.”
Brandon Anderson’s father, the late Jeff Anderson, is one of those who learned the business from the ground up at Vibromatic.
“My father had a presence in the industry for 50 years, learning the art of building vibratory machinery out of trade school and going to work and climbing the corporate ladder to becoming plant manager at Vibromatic in Noblesville.
Jeff Anderson bought Vibcon in 2010. Like most vibratory feeder companies, Vibcon was and still is essentially a mom and pop shop. Employees are considered part of the family. Brandon said his family has always been involved in the industry, but his father was the driving force. After Jeff lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 2017, Brandon’s mother, Robin Anderson, took over as CEO. Brandon moved into the COO spot, and his sister, Jessica Anderson, is Human Resources Director.
While most of Vibcon’s business centers around the automotive industry, it does serve other clients. Vibcon has worked with the U.S. Army to sort ammunition that goes into shells. It’s even sorted Stevia packets for Heartland Foods. But the client he won’t ever forget was the U.S. Mint.
The Mint brought some of its product – money – to Vibcon for a test run, to make sure the system would work well for its purposes.
“Brinks trucks came full of money,” Brandon said. “They brought security guards inside here. We had to sign a lot of non-disclosure paperwork and there were extra layers of secrecy and security.”
When the team from the Mint unloaded their product and brought it inside the factory for its test run, Brandon had to be careful not to laugh.
“It was all pennies,” he said. “They brought all this security for pennies.”
Need for new talent
Brandon said the biggest challenge his company faces is finding employees.
“The high schools don’t teach classes in trades any more like they used to and with about 60 percent of the Indiana workforce retiring over the next few years, many companies are scrambling to find new talent to fill these trade jobs in the vibratory industry.
Vibcon applied and was awarded a state training grant last year to hire, train and retain new talent. The funds are being used in a partnership with Hamilton Heights High School.
“It’s part of Congresswoman Susan Brooks classrooms to careers program,” Brandon said. “Hamilton Heights has added a new industrial wing to their building and Vibcon would like to start an intership program with them in the 2018-19 school year.”