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Vibratory bowl feeders aren't magic
(They only look that way

By John R Henry
Courtesy Service Engineering Inc. (Click Image)
This article provides a brief introduction to the principles of operation of vibratory bowl feeders as well as vibratory conveyors.

John Henry has over 35 years experience with feeders. His Secrets of Vibratory Feeder workshop provides in-depth training in theory of operation, design principles, tuning, maintenance and troubleshooting. Contact John at for more information.

Vibratory bowl feeders, often called vibratory feeders, are are the workhorse of assembly automation. Vibratory feeders are used to feed and orient a variety of parts ranging from tiny electronic components to large automotive parts. Inline vibratory feeders can be used in large scale operations to convey bulk products such as grains or wood chips. They have only been around a bit over 50 years but the assembly process without one, or dozens, of them is rare. Unfortunately, in most plants today, feeder performance is frequently below what it should be.

The problem is that, simple as they are, most people do not understand them. The easiest way to understand them is to realize that the base, springs and bowl form a pendulum system. It is usually an upside down pendulum but a pendulum nonetheless.

For an example of a pendulum, push a child on a swing.

The first thing to know about pendulums and vibratory bowl feeders is that a given pendulum will always cycle at the same frequency, regardless of distance traveled. A child on a swing might take 1 second to complete a cycle from 1' behind the centerpoint to 1' in front and return to the starting point. If the swing is pushed harder so that it moves 6' instead of 1', it will move faster but will still take 1 second to complete the cycle. This cycle time is the natural period or frequency of the pendulum. It can be changed only by changing the weight or length of the pendulum.

The second thing to know about pendulums is when to push. Once the child is swinging steadily, a small amount of energy must be added on each cycle to overcome friction from air and bearings. If the push is timed properly, it can be done with a fingertip. The properly timed push will occur exactly at the top of the cycle, just as the swing changes direction. That means that there will be a push every 1 second.

If the push is made early, before the top of the cycle, significant force must be expended to stop the backwards motion before any forward motion can be imparted. If the push is made late, the swing is already moving forward again and energy is wasted catching up before any pushing can take place.

So how does this apply to feeders? In the case of the child’s swing, the push is timed to the match the natural frequency of the pendulum. For most feeders, the cycle is fixed. Most feeders are driven by AC electromagnets or solenoids which pull the springs back and release them 120 times per second. This frequency is determined by the frequency supplied by the power company. (60hz US, 50hz in Europe and elsewhere) If the natural frequency of the feeder is 120 cycles/minute, this will be fine. If the pulses and the frequency don’t match, this will not be fine. The feeder will not work properly, if at all. Feed rates will be slow. It will be noisy. Power consumption will be high. The solenoid can overheat and burn out. Parts may bounce around more than they should and may not orient properly.

When the feeder frequency and the line frequency do not match, the feeder is said to be out of tune. A feeder may be brought into tune by adding or removing springs or by adding or removing weight. Alternately, a variable frequency controller such as Service Engineering’s AccuTune may be used to provide the proper frequency to the solenoid.

Whichever means are chosen, the feeder and line frequency must match for good performance.

Properly tuned, a feeder will vibrate properly but, by itself, vibration will do little more than make the parts bounce around. In order to make the parts move, the vibration must be focused in the desired direction. This is done by mounting the springs on an angle rather than vertically. As the feeder bowl rotates back and forth on its springs the angle causes it to move vertically as well. As it moves forward and up, friction pushes the part forward. As it moves back and down, the part falls vertically. This sawtooth motion can move parts gently at astonishing speeds.

That’s really all there is to it.When you have parts to orient or feed, vibratory feeders are often the best way to do it.

That is the fundamental principle of operation of vibratory feeding equipment. There are a lot more details but once the basic principles of frequency and directed vibration are understood, the rest is much easier to understand.

I hope that this brief primer can serve as a helpful starting point. For those wanting to learn more, offers training workshops in your plant covering feeders in depth. For more information, please fill the form below or call 787-550-9650 during eastern business hours.

The above article is copyright by John R Henry. Permission is freely granted to circulate or republish it provided that it is circulated or republished in its entirety including this notice. If republished, we would appreciate a copy of the publication.