What Are the Types of Parts Feeder Systems for Automation?

Vibcon designs and manufactures custom parts feeder equipment and systems for a range of automated industrial applications. From feeder bowls to hoppers to inline vibratory tracks, each solution is tailored to customer specifications and optimized for seamless integration. Our parts feeder systems allow manufacturers to increase throughput while minimizing faulty assemblies and parts damage. 

Types of Parts Feeder Systems

Automated production lines rely on various types of parts feeder systems to move parts efficiently throughout the manufacturing process. When comparing feeder system options, manufacturers should consider the overall scope of the operation as well as the shape, size, and weight of the components being handled by the feeder system.

At Vibcon, we provide the following types of parts feeder systems to satisfy a range of automation system requirements.

Vibratory Bowl Feeders

Vibratory bowl feeders are the most cost-effective and widely used type of feeder system in automated processes. Using vibration-generating electromagnetic coils, these self-contained devices allow parts to be oriented in specific directions and fed into subsequent operations or workstations. Their benefits include:

  • Flexibility: Vibratory bowl feeders can be adapted to meet various parts feeding requirements, providing manufacturers with more flexibility regarding automation system design. Configuration options are available for both single and multiple line applications, and the bowl’s versatile design allows it to handle a wide range of part geometries.
  • Speed: Vibratory bowl feeders can feed and orient parts quickly while accommodating slight variances in part profiles.
  • Durability: The robust construction of vibratory bowls allows them to withstand harsh industrial environments and heavy-use applications. They also require minimal maintenance across their long lifespan.

Centrifugal Bowl Feeders

While vibratory bowl feeders use vibration to generate movement, centrifugal bowl feeders rely on centrifugal force to drive parts toward the perimeter of the conical disc located within the bowl. A separate tool can then be used to position or orient the parts as needed. Centrifugal bowl feeders are generally more complex in design than vibratory bowls and are best suited for high-throughput applications with geometrically simple parts. Their benefits include:

  • Minimal noise: Centrifugal bowl feeders can achieve higher speeds than vibrating bowl feeders while keeping noise levels to a minimum.
  • Gentle handling: By replacing vibration with centrifugal force, centrifugal bowl feeders provide much gentler part handling. This makes them ideal for feeding applications involving small or delicate parts.

Linear Feeders

Linear feeders are responsible for accumulating and conveying parts on a track once they have been properly oriented by the vibratory or centrifugal feeders. Depending on the weight, size, and shape of the parts being handled, linear feeders can use different conveying methods to transport the parts from the bowl feeder to the downstream equipment. Examples of linear feeders are:

  • Inline vibratory horizontal tracks
  • Air pressure systems
  • Gravity-based systems
  • Conveyor belts

Hopper Vibratory Feeders

Selecting and implementing the right hopper design is key to ensuring a consistent feeding operation. Hopper vibratory feeders help regulate the number of parts being delivered to the bowl feeder while protecting the feeder itself from damage. Specific designs include:

  • Straight front: Straight front hoppers feature straight sides and an expanded front opening, allowing them to handle larger parts or parts that are prone to tangling.
  • Belt: Instead of utilizing a vibratory tray, belt hoppers use a conveyor belt. 
  • Floor feeder elevator: Floor feeder elevators use a floor-mounted tub with a cleated upfeed belt to handle large parts or large volumes.
  • Bin shaker: Bin shakers are designed to forcefully shake parts to keep them separated. These vibratory hopper systems are best suited for feeding parts that are susceptible to tangling or interlocking.  

Floor Feeders

Floor feeders feature a floor-mounted tub attached to a cleated belt, chain, or magnetic upfeed conveyor. These units are available in hopper-only, gravity-oriented, or belt-oriented configurations. These automated systems can be further customized to meet specific client needs. For example, we can make food-grade conveyor belts for facilities that process consumables.

How do Parts Feeders Function?

Whether they rely on mechanical vibrations, centrifugal force, or gravity, all parts feeders provide the important functions of positioning parts and regulating flow rate. Vibratory feeders are generally best suited for assembly operations, whereas centrifugal feeders are preferred for packaging applications or handling delicate parts. The two main functions provided by feeder systems include:

  • Feeding. Parts feeders use vibrations or centrifugal force to move parts through the system to their appropriate destinations. This includes:
    • Moving raw materials to subsequent processing areas
    • Moving unassembled components to an assembly station
    • Moving completed products to inspection or shipping areas
  • Orienting. Automated processes rely on feeder bowls and other feeder systems to orient high volumes of parts for subsequent assembly operations. This cuts costs by significantly reducing manual labor.

Common parts fed and oriented by parts feeder systems include:

  • Bolts
  • Nuts
  • Rivets
  • Screws
  • Springs
  • Bearing components
  • Metal press-fittings
  • Electrical connectors and housings
  • Bottle caps and plastic lids
  • Bottles
  • Baked goods
  • Makeup applicators

Industries that Rely on Feeder Systems for Automation

Feeder systems can be adapted and optimized for a range of feeding and assembly applications in the following industries.

  • Automotive: In the vehicle manufacturing industry, automated production lines are used for everything from welding and fabrication to assembly and painting. Bowl feeders and other parts feeder systems are important for orienting parts and feeding them into downstream equipment for subsequent processing, assembly, or packaging.
  • Electronics: Electronic devices consist of small, delicate parts that require careful handling and accurate positioning during the assembly process. Feeder systems are essential for efficiently sorting and positioning these parts during automated manufacturing or assembly operations. Feeders also help support electronic device miniaturization, since they can handle tiny components with much greater accuracy and speed than manual methods.
  • Food processing: The food processing industry is one of the most highly automated manufacturing sectors. Washdown-tolerant vibratory feeders and conveyors are essential for efficiently moving, sorting, and orienting raw materials and products without contamination. These systems can be designed to handle everything from fine powders to bulk products.
  • Military: In the military, precise and consistent production lines are critical to the construction of safe and reliable products for mission-critical applications. For example, feeder systems safely and quickly handle explosives such as artillery shells and bullet casings. These systems can also be used to position and feed parts during the assembly of tactical vehicles.
  • Packaging: Feeder systems are essential for the automated packaging of everything from consumer goods to food items. For example, vibratory bowls and inline tracks can be used to orient and convey lids for downstream capping processes.

Other industries that rely on parts feeder systems include:

  • Medical
  • Dental
  • Semiconductor
  • Plumbing
  • Lawn & garden
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Hardware
  • Chemical processing
  • Ceramics/textiles
  • Agriculture
  • Warehousing
  • Metal manufacturing

Parts Feeder Solutions from Vibcon

By automatically feeding and orienting parts in large-scale manufacturing operations, parts feeders allow companies to achieve higher production volumes while maintaining low costs. At Vibcon, we leverage nearly 40 years of experience to provide clients with efficient and affordable parts feeder solutions for demanding, high-volume production applications. Our innovative and customer-focused approach allows us to continually improve our products to fit the needs of modern automation processes.

To learn more about our parts feeder equipment and systems, please contact us today.