Echo Hill Automation Inc., a Beamsville, Ontario, Canada company founded by mechanical engineers and brothers Dan and Harry Schellenberg, has grown from a small two-man operation to a successful manufacturer of centerless grinding automation, with the help of servomotors and controllers from Yaskawa Electric of Waukegan, IL. Centerless grinding automation is used for high production grinding, where tight tolerances and good part roundness has to be achieved.
“Our machines, mostly grinders, take parts that are roughed out during a previous operation on a lathe or screw machine and grind the critical diameters to a much tighter tolerance than the previous operation could achieve,” H. Schellenberg said.
Life wasn’t always easy before Yaskawa came into the picture as it all began in 1994, when the Schellenberg’s started working out of their mom’s garage doing machining along with the design and assembly of the mechanical portion of automation projects. Four years later, they had expanded into an industrial unit in Beamsville, but it wasn’t until 2000 that they worked on their first motion control project. It consisted of a drive with a synchronizing card and a gearmotor with an encoder, due to the cost being much lower than a servo system.
By 2002 they had installed 12 two-axis pick and place units, before retrofitting their first centerless grinder in the Royal Master a year later, which included a servo with a ball screw to actuate the infeed unit. Continuing to move forward, 2004 saw them adding a servo to drive the regulating wheel on the grinder, followed by rebuilding six grinders and a gaging system in 2005.
This is when Echo Hill came to a crossroad, as the gaging system they produced worked well although it had some limitations. Echo Hill was also looking to add a CNC dress capability to the Royal Master grinder. In order to solve both of these problems, they would have to look into using linear motors instead of the traditional ball screw drive and possibly a different controller. Fortunately, Echo Hill stumbled into the break they were looking for as they ran into Yaskawa products and particularly senior regional manager Paul Lamarre during their search for linear motor manufacturers.
Their next task, just a year later in 2007, was to incorporate Yaskawa products in an order for eight gaging systems. After countless hours of testing and experimenting, Echo Hill was finally able to master the project to where they produced two multiple grinder lines with gaging units running in China and six more locally. The system not only was capable of saving four seconds of cycle time, but it also achieved more accurate gage data and it costs significantly less money.
“The reliability of Yaskawa’s products have helped build our reputation as a quality machine builder, which has led to more business and enabled us to keep our margins reasonable and not having to discount because of product problem issues,” said Harry Schellenberg. “Yaskawa is able to build quality and powerful all-around systems at a reasonable cost, which other manufacturers in the past haven’t been able to provide us with in one package deal.”
A typical line that Echo Hill builds uses seven amplifiers with five servo motors and two linear motors. The automation manufacturer now has 10 employees, who are responsible for shipping systems out every 12-16 weeks to customers mostly in southern Ontario and a few in China for annual sales around $2 million a year. The main systems that they build for the centerless grinding industry are part feeders, conveying systems, part orientators, gaging systems and grinder retrofits.
Later in 2007, Echo Hill was able to successfully build their first linear motor drive CNC grinder complete with a dressing unit. Last year, Echo Hill worked to complete a clean sheet design of a centerless grinder using mostly Yaskawa products.
“Yaskawa products were new to our business early on, but we were able to work closely with an excellent support team who helped us achieve our goal of building cutting edge technology while reducing our motion control costs,” H. Schellenberg said. “By doing so, we have been able to build a great relationship with our customers by providing them with answers and service in a timely fashion.”