Leading the industry in the manufacture of fractional-horsepower electric motors, Bodine Electric Company has its sights set on the next hundred years of providing quality motors, gear motors and motion controls to worldwide industries. April Terreri powers the story.
Think about how motorized products work. Then think Bodine. Because, more than likely, the working parts of these everyday products could be powered by a Bodine fractional horsepower electric motor used in applications including medical devices, labeling and packaging equipment, conveyors, printing presses, photocopiers, scientific laboratory devices and factory automation machinery.
Bodine’s rich 95-year heritage is intrinsically linked to our nation’s technological evolution. From one of the first fractional horsepower motors used in a dentist’s drill at the turn of the last century, to the motors allowing Seeburg jukeboxes to play our favorite selections, Bodine was behind the scenes, making it all happen. Bodine motors powered the first Sunbeam mixers and other labor-saving appliances, early phonographs and magnetic tape recorders, duplicating machines and calculators, movie projection equipment, and medical and scientific laboratory equipment. Bodine gear motors were used in the first radioisotope “body-scanning machines” (now known as MRIs, CAT scans and X-rays). Bodine motors were also used in early kidney dialysis machines and blood pumps. And during World War II, the renowned B-29 “Enola Gay” (the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima) used more than 300 fractional-horsepower motors to power its controls and accessories.
Today, the spirits of brothers Carl and Paul Bodine live in the flourishing company that calls Chicago its home. Bodine is a world leader in the manufacture of fractional-horsepower (less than one horsepower in rating) electric motors, gear motors and motion controls.
Genesis in Quality
Bodine Electric Company was founded on the philosophy shared by the Bodine brothers nearly one century ago: to produce superior-quality products to make machines work optimally – and for the longest possible time. The Bodine brothers were pioneers in developing high-performance fractional-horsepower motors for industrial applications. “Back in 1905, there were no sources of small motors,” explains John Morehead, vice president of marketing. “People would pull the motors they needed from fans. But those were built inexpensively and were not produced to meet demanding requirements.” These fan motors were used in machinery, but they produced lots of problems, including running very hot, making a lot of noise and quickly failing. “Bodine motors distinguish themselves in the industry because they are the quietest and the coolest-running motors producing the highest output power for their size,” says Morehead. “They don’t leak, they are compact and they don’t vibrate. Most importantly, they’re known for having the longest life in the industry.”
Quality is known by the company it keeps, and so it is with Bodine. During the 1950s, Bodine had an excellent reputation for providing quality motors for the burgeoning office equipment industry. “One of the customers that came to us for custom-designed Bodine motors was Haloid Corporation, which was just getting ready to produce a new kind of duplicating machine,” says Morehead. That early company is now known as Xerox Corporation, and that “new kind of duplicating machine” is…well, you know. “We were right there before Xerox became Xerox and they are still our customer today.” Bodine markets its products through an extensive North American network of more than 600 motion control and power transmission distributors, as well as through a network of sales engineers.
Lean, Mean Manufacturing Scheme
Bodine uses the principles of lean manufacturing with cellular manufacturing in a paperless environment. “We don’t have blueprints lying around,” explains Morehead. “We have computers in all of the manufacturing cells, and all of the necessary information is documented within the computer network.”
The company discovered immediate success five years ago, when it began employing kaisen concepts borrowed from Japanese factory culture. Kaisen embraces the worth of each employee within a company culture. Kaisen teams comprise six to eight individuals from different disciplines, from shipping clerks to office personnel to sales people to executives. “Each individual brings a different perspective to the table on how to improve a process so that our customers are served in the most effective way possible,” says Morehead. Sessions are called “kaisen events,” and take about a week to conduct. “We’ve had over 80 events throughout the last several years. We examine processes from how to enter customers’ orders and ship more quickly, to how to rearrange a manufacturing cell to how to cut down production time. Each individual brings a fresh approach to each process.”
Kaisen techniques enable Bodine to reduce significantly the amount of manufacturing space it requires. “We don’t need to keep a warehouse full of finished parts or components,” says Morehead. Components are kept within a “kanban,” which is a kind of visual inventory system. “As soon as there is a visual signal that components are running low, it triggers an order that puts more components into the system.”
Another benefit the company found in using kaisen is a healthy environment of involvement for Bodine’s 500 employees. “Our employees have a greater understanding of our customers’ needs and they understand who our customers are and what it is we as a company are trying to do for our customers,” says Morehead. “Since our products work inside other machines and are not really visible, it’s kind of abstract until they know that the motor they are working on will help a kidney dialysis machine work better. So there’s real commitment there that improves employee morale.”
Bodine continues its commitment to invest heavily in equipment in its 200,000 square feet of facilities in Chicago and Peosta, Iowa. Using the latest CNC gear hobbing machinery coupled with its expertise in skiving gears, Bodine now also produces fine-pitch open gearing for contract customers that expect and receive superior quality.
Dedicated to Advancing Technology
“We have an exciting new product called e-TORQ™, which is a direct-drive, brushless servo motor,” says Morehead. “The e-TORQ™ is based on a patented design and has extremely high torque output for its size.” The e-TORQ™ offers superior high-quality motion without any cogging, lending itself to precision-machining spindle drives and high-torque output production machinery for positioning and rotary tables. This new system revolutionizes rotary-motion technology. With high-torque density and brushless operation, it yields ideal direct-drive motor energy efficiency to 98 percent, and eliminates the need for gear boxes, hydraulics and larger and less efficient motors.
Bodine’s other new contender is its Pacesetter™ line of inverter-duty AC motors and system-matched, adjustable-speed drives. “These motors are specially designed for long life when driven by inverters, because unless motors are specially designed, they can have premature bearing failures,” says Morehead.
When customers present challenges to the company, it responds with a solution. A customer that is a specialty machine manufacturer needed a motor whose shaft had to work in a very hot environment of more than 400 degrees Centigrade. “The other motors they were using had problems with bearing failures and motor failures,” says Morehead. “Our engineers worked with them to develop a technique for blocking the heat from getting through the shaft into the motor, and the lifetime increased from weeks to years.
Bodine plans to continue to grow its electronic controls business and is developing new generations of digital signal processor-based (DSP) motion controls. “DSP controls are electronic controls with special algorithms that allow you to adapt the control to the application by means of software rather than by rearranged or differently designed hardware,” explains Morehead.
A New Century of Quality
With the average life expectancy for companies, regardless of size, of only 12.5 years, Bodine’s continued success for nearly one century is even that much more remarkable. The company’s philosophy of keeping quality foremost and working closely and early with customers worldwide to design the exact solution has continued to bring the company success; and it works hard every day to maintain that success.
Customer-focused, Bodine plans to continue to lead in the manufacture of high-quality motion control solutions in order to help customers avoid costly down time and excessive maintenance and repair. “The electric motor industry can sometimes be considered to be one that’s slow to adapt to new technology. However, we know that we have to be proactive in developing and acquiring new motor and control technologies to keep pace with the growing requirements of our customers,” concludes Morehead.