When building grinding systems, manufacturers need to ensure that the machines themselves are resilient enough to do the job long term. Glebar Co. Inc. constantly meets that need for its customers, Executive Vice President and General Manager John Bannayan says. “An effective machine tool has to be very durable, well-designed and built with the end-user in mind,” he states.
New Jersey-based Glebar builds precision grinding systems. Founders Miner Gleason and Robert Barhorst started the company in 1952 to manufacture machine tools based on the principles of center-less grinding in a small form factor to process plastics.
As Glebar grew, the company began building machines producing other products, including drumsticks, rubber rolls, ceramics and golf balls. Today, Bannayan says 99 percent of the world’s golf balls go through Glebar’s machines.
During the 1960s, Glebar made its move into the medical industry by grinding guide wires used for balloon angioplasties. The ground wire, Bannayan explains, is pushed to the point of blockage in the arteries leading to the human heart, and guides a catheter to deliver other devices such as stents. The shape of the wire is infinite and can range from 0.020 inches in diameter to 0.0001 inches at the tip. This shape determines how it flows through the body.
“About 60 percent of our business right now is in medical devices,” Bannayan says, adding that it ships 40 percent of its equipment to clients in across the globe, including Japan, Switzerland and Germany. “We actually take pride [in the fact that] they use our technologies to make these precision components.”
Weathering the Storms
Bannayan is a 25-year veteran of Glebar and an electrical engineer by trade. He had a connection to Glebar through owner Fred Schumacher. After joining the company, he worked his way up and won his first patent on a control system for the medical device market in 1996. The system tracks a wire as it is fed through a centerless grinder to produce a programmable shape on demand. Using a touch screen in the early ’90s, the machine was simple to operate.
“We earned another two patents following that, involving a continuous feed mechanism for a grinding machine,” he recalls. “It’s been a long experience. I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry here.”
For instance, he’s watched Glebar overcome market shifts. “We’ve weathered a lot of storms between 9/11 and the financial crisis,” he states. “I think we remain innovative, particularly in the medical world.
“We’ve come up with several pieces of equipment that have given our customers [an edge],” he continues, noting that Glebar also will make custom machines for such industries as oil and gas. “We grind PCD diamonds on our small machine by using software controls to continually monitor grinding pressures. Our process results in a more efficient method of grinding in comparison to larger machines.”
Glebar maintains a strong focus on quality, Bannayan says. “[We’ve been] an ISO 9001 company since 1999,” he says. “We use an advanced ERP system to manage production and engineering processes. Our machinists are also very talented.”
The company also has a stringent design process, where both the engineer or tech and manufacturers work closely together to ensure the product can be built efficiently. Often, Bannayan explains, designers will create something with computer-aided design tools that look good on the screen, but cannot actually be manufactured. Print tolerances are often tighter than functionally required.
“Our engineering team is encouraged to design, assist in fabrication and build the prototypes,” he says. “They work directly with customers and in most cases are involved in support and installation. This closed loop sharpens their skills and allows them to grow with tangible experience.”
Glebar also plans to implement lean manufacturing. “We’re not [ready] at this point,” he says. “We’re in the process of optimizing our manufacturing capability.”
Another challenge for Glebar is to find qualified people. Some workers, he notes, have little expertise for using the equipment, including CNC machines. “We’re trying to find people [who] have that experience,” he says, adding that Glebar is working with vocational schools.
Glebar also is striving to serve its customers faster with machines that can be remotely managed. “We are in an Internet age, and things have to be responded to very quickly,” he says.
Despite its challenges, the future continues to look promising for Glebar, Bannayan believes. “We’re looking at significant growth for the next three to five years,” he states.
“We’re in a fortunate position right now,” he says. “We have invested in the development of equipment that can increase throughput in some cases up to 10 times.
“We plan to highlight our GT-610-CNC machine at IMTS, a centerless grinder built with the precision experience we gained from our medical work,” he adds. “The machine features a CNC wheel dresser, a 6-inch diameter regulating wheel and 10-inch wide twin grip regulating and work wheel. We are able to process multiple parts per cycle on small (under 1-inch diameter) high precision metal components. The machine also conforms to strict CE standards. Coupled with automation and our ability to design for a particular application, the savings for our customers will be great.”