Case study: business owner says “most of what I thought would work was way too slow”

Supply Chain Issues Are Forcing Us To Make New “Friends”

Linear Actuators Used In Agricultural Equipment

By Sandia Harrison, Director of Marketing, FPE Automation

A Story About How Supply Chain Headaches Actually Made Things Better

It took a few years for word to spread, but after 10 years in business in rural Eureka, Illinois, Advanced AG Concepts was in a good place as a company. A small, family-owned operation in the agriculture/farming sector, they call their product the BoxHog. It’s a seed lifter, attached to a forklift. Seed lifters do the job of unfastening the top portion of the box and flipping it over so it can neatly fold when it is empty. Manually, the process takes 2 people. It is physical, so it’s a safety risk, and it can also damage the seed box. The BoxHog does the job with just one person, who doesn’t even need to leave the forklift chair. The process is fully automated. 
Others on the market are not as robust. Even a slight tap with a forklift can damage them to the point where they are unusable. The innovative BoxHog lifters Advanced AG Concepts makes are faster, too. “Ours is much faster than the competition,” Ben tells me, “always looking for options to help things move along”.
Company founder and president, Ben Zimmermann, had devised a product that was both faster and safer than anything that was previously available. The future was looking good for Ben, his two sons who help him run the business, and their families. 

Ben Zimmerman, Owner, with his two sons.

Ben Zimmerman (right) with his two sons,
Eric (center) and Evan (left).
Together, they run Advanced AG Concepts

Supply Chain Constraints Severely Impact Production

Then came the global supply chain challenges. Suddenly, a key component, the electro-hydraulic actuators used in the lifters, was nowhere to be found. Lead time had jumped to five months. In a seasonal business, five months might as well be a year. 
Basically, this meant that production of the BoxHog was at a standstill. 
Here is where our story of pure happenstance begins. Ben Zimmerman can laugh about it now, although it wasn’t funny at the time. FPE Automation’s Steve Moore happened to be visiting Ben’s son Eric, to discuss a completely unrelated matter. He was welcomed into Ben’s office for a brief introduction. 
That’s when he saw it. There, on Ben’s desk, was one of the electro-hydraulic actuators. In dozens of pieces. In his frustration, Ben had disassembled the actuator, hoping he could rebuild it. He explained to Steve that, after five months, the order for new actuators was still late. The price kept going up, too. 
I reached Ben by phone. He’s a great guy, level-headed, but friendly at the same time. One of those all-too-rare individuals with both grounded Midwestern values and a sense of humor. I really enjoyed listening as he relayed his story to me. As he spoke, it was clear to me that he is passionate about what he does for the farming/agriculture industry. I can only imagine Ben’s frustration when he was unable to get answers about a key component in the products he produces. 
“I was willing to handle slight fluctuations in prices.” Ben told me. “The problem was, nobody could give me a straight answer on when the actuators would get there.”
So, here they were. Steve and Ben, in Ben’s office, looking at pieces of an actuator on Ben’s desk. Like an elephant in the room, it was hard for Steve to ignore. He had to know why all that was there, and why Ben hadn’t tried to source a different actuator for his BoxHogs.

Been There. Done That.

Ben’s answer was that he had. He told me, “You don’t see any, that are non-hydraulic, that are fast enough and powerful enough.” 
Ben hadn’t been able to find a suitable replacement. He liked the actuators he was using, despite the fact that the price kept going up. They worked. It was just impossible to get them. 
Determined, Steve gathered all the information, then set out to find Ben something he could use. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he believed he could come up with a suitable alternative. He worked with development engineers at one of our trusted, cost-effective actuator suppliers, to come up with something compatible. They needed an actuator that was robust and powerful, so it could handle the 45″x54″ seed box. It also needed to be fast. “It has to do the job within a reasonable amount of time”, Ben told me. The actuator also needed to operate using 12VDC, so it could be used on a forklift. Anyone in the business will recognize, a fast, heavy-duty DC actuator is a rare combination of specifications. 

When To Call The Experts

 linear actuator
 Not only did FPE Automation come up with an option for Ben, but delivery on the alternative is also 3-4 weeks. It is essentially a drop-in replacement for their old actuator.
A distributor with the right engineering team can often find products that are not readily available. This year, FPE Automation is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Founded in 1963, FPE Automation has longstanding, often exclusive, relationships with equipment suppliers, and a highly-skilled staff that can often accomplish things that others can’t.
“Ben chose the highest grip force model to test with”, Steve tells me. “They ordered one for testing and it worked great.”

New Possibilities

We are all creatures of habit. We like things that are familiar to us. Particularly when there is a lot at stake, it can be difficult, and risky, to change. The supply chain nightmares of the past couple of years have forced many out of their comfort zones. 
The thing is, often, if we do enough digging, we find more than just a suitable replacement. We find something better. 
That’s exactly what happened in Ben’s case. This new linear actuator will do more than just replace the previous one.  
With a minimum purchase, the supplier is willing to put a private label on the actuators, so that Ben can proudly display his company name on them, and come up with his own internal part number. “Makes them easier to replace,” Ben tells me, “and is a big plus for us”.
That’s not all. The new, robust actuators have adjustable limit switches and IP-65 protection is standard. They boast an impressive 1.5”/s max speed, 330 lbf max thrust, with a 153mm stroke. They’re protected from overload by mechanical ball clutches and from the environment by powder-coated and aluminum alloy parts, so they’ll do very well in the rugged environment, long-term.
Ben placed a blanket order for the actuators. From skeptical to impressed; “You don’t see many that are non-hydraulic that are fast enough and powerful enough”. The first ones are due to ship next week. 
Right on schedule. 

Comments are closed.