Zeiger Industries has entered the screw-making market with a roar, cranking up a big purple and yellow screw-grinding machine powered by a gas turbine.
Zeiger employees affectionately call the machine Barney. But the children's television star never made a sound like this Barney does when you fire it up - a jet-enginelike roar that turns the room into Canton's version of O'Hare Airport.
The machine's operator wears heavy ear protection and closes the door, keeping the sound inside. Soon, out pops a screw ready for injection molding or extrusion.
Zeiger is best known for its screw components - Mallard nonreturn valves, end caps and nozzles. But Barney, a machine developed in-house by Zeiger engineers, gives the Canton-based company an advantage in making screws as well. Barney can cut hardened steel very quickly, and a highly polished screw emerges, complete. No need for a separate step to harden the screw. No need for finishing.
``We can cut a screw in minutes,'' said James Allen, product and engineering manager.
Zeiger began making screws in late 2001, after five years of development. The metalworking company also can make screws the more traditional way - by milling the screw, then sending it for hardening by heat treating. But Allen said that, because already-cut screws have different cross-sections that expand at different rates, the screws have to be straightened in yet another step.
Barney's gas turbine may be unique. ``I'd venture to guess that there are not that many machine shops that have gas-powered anything,'' Allen said during an Aug. 14 interview at Zeiger Industries.
The turbine pumps out upwards of 200 horsepower. But the real secret to the high-speed machining is, well - a secret. Allen said Zeiger officials would not spell out details of the actual grinding mechanism. He did say that it is not a whirling machine.
The company is planning to build Barney II, but that machine may use electric power, not a turbine, Allen said.
With the screw business in a slump, some competitors are wondering why Zeiger, a solid maker of screw tips and other components, is jumping into a crowded market. But Allen stresses the company planned the move for years, and brings something new to customers.
Donald Zeiger founded the company 12 years ago.
As production manager for plastics molding at Hoover Co. in nearby North Canton, he was looking for a better screw tip, so he began working at night to develop it. He started Mallard Machine, which became Zeiger Industries in 1990.
In 1996 company officials began developing the high-speed screw-grinding concept, creating blueprints and tinkering with the design. Barney is the result, built over a four-year period.
Allen insists Zeiger is not a ``me-too'' screw supplier: ``We could've bought all the machinery and put the facilities together and hired people, and started making screws. But that's not how we do things.'' Manufacturing screws offers the company and its 28 employees a way to grow, he said.
Mallard screw tips and nonreturn valves account for 95 percent of Zeiger's business. The firm does not release sales numbers.
Zeiger Industries hired Christopher Locke as technical sales manager earlier this year. Locke has 23 years of experience in the screw, barrel and nonreturn-valve business. He has worked at New Castle Industries Inc., Inductametals Corp. and Dray Manufacturing.
So far, the firm has added four employees, including Locke, because of its new screw business.
Mike Durina, a screw designer who runs MD Plastics in Columbiana, Ohio, is designing specialty screws for Zeiger, dubbed ZMD screws.
The firm also offers general-purpose screws. It also distributes bimetallic barrels from Wexco Corp.