A comprehensive product portfolio, market expansion and customization add up to make Bunting Bearings a leader in its field.
Just over a century ago in Alliance, Ohio, Bunting Brass and Bronze was founded in 1907. After some mergers and acquisitions, the company became Bunting Bearings, LLC, with headquarters including a machine shop in Holland, Ohio, and two in-state casting facilities at Mansfield and Delta. It also has a powdered metal facility in Portage, Michigan, and two distribution centers, in Houston, Texas, and Cerritos, California.
The company’s general product categories include: cast bronze bearings; continuous-cast solid and cored bars and wearplate, and centrifugal-cast bronze bars; custom machined products; powdered metal bearings and thrust washers; powdered metal bars, discs and plates; powdered metal structural products; lube-align mounted bearings; engineered plastic bearings; and permanent mold products.
Vice president of sales and marketing Alistair Brixey has been with Bunting for less than two years but brings 30 years of industry experience, mainly in the UK and Europe. What attracted him, he says, was the company’s wide-ranging portfolio, its versatility in customization of products and its quality standards. “All our plants are ISO 9000:2008 certified,” says Brixey, “and we’re also starting six sigma training. We’re always looking at continuous improvement of our processes, and increasing our productivity is a natural result of that.” The company has invested heavily at its Portage facility, installing a variety of presses for manufacturing parts.
“Among the reasons I wanted to join this company were its range of products and its vertical integration,” Brixey explains. “We actually have full control of the raw material, from the ingots coming in, making the bronze, then producing the bronze bearings from our own bronze bar and selling bronze bar materials. The materials we work with are mainly leaded tin bronzes and aluminum bronzes, but we also produce a whole range of ‘greener’ no-lead and low-lead bronzes. We have a large machine shop, so we can produce custom-machined bronze bearings and complex-shaped bronze components. And if someone needs a standard bearing modified, we can do that too.”
Bunting manufactures a vast array of bearings from one-eighth of an inch to 20 inches, in materials from plastic to aluminum bronze, to market sectors including oil and gas pump manufacturers, agricultural and construction part makers, the military, aerospace, heavy machinery, material handling equipment, medical equipment, utilities and shipbuilding. It makes a lot of OEM parts, mainly for two of its largest customers, John Deere and Caterpillar. Bunting has all bases covered, in terms of sales: it sells directly to customers through its own sales reps, as well as through its distribution network, and it also has arrangements with sales rep companies.
Joining the company in 2008, the beginning of the global economic crisis, was a positive factor for Brixey. “The recession was a good time for us to look at how we were supplying customers and what extra value we could offer them, and also how to improve our portfolio. We introduced some new products that are variations of our standard products. For example, we have self-lubricating bearings that are normally filled with standard oil, and we came up with bearings that are fully impregnated with synthetic oil and can be used in the food industry, which hasn’t been hit by the recession as hard as other industries. We also saw a gap in the market where bearings are used in start/stop applications, and we introduced PTFE additives to bearing oils that vastly improved bearings in those high-stress situations. We also introduced two other full bearing ranges, one for high-load applications and one for high temperature.”
Bunting discovered that in a recession, its customers’ purchasing departments were looking to reduce their supply base, “and that suited us fine,” says Brixey. “We could offer them a one-stop shop where they could buy bearings made of nylon to cast bronze and so on. Most of our customers have expressed to us that they wanted their supplies simplified to the point where they would have one company do it all for them if possible, and I love to hear that.”
One of Brixey’s intentions was to make it easier for customers to do business with Bunting 24/7, especially with customers in different time zones, so Bunting improved itscompany website. He wanted it to be more than just an online catalogue. “I wanted an actual sales tool where we could provide customers with specifications and drawings that they could download and save their engineers time and effort; they could download our bearing and insert it into their product, or download a sales drawing and send it directly to their purchasing department. They could also easily send us a request for a quote.”
It’s working, and already Bunting is picking up inquiries from around the globe and supplying companies in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, power station companies in China, and entities in the Middle East and other parts of the Far East. In fact, business has grown considerably this year, necessitating adding staff in the past few months and opening up distribution into Europe—France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK.
One product that Bunting offers exclusively is the Dri-Plane range of powdered-metal bearings that can be used at high temperatures and in vacuums, because of a dry lubricant in the material. “Some customers wanted a bearing that was self-lubricating, but using a standard oil-impregnated bearing in a vacuum isn’t possible, since the oil would be sucked out and at too high a temperature the oil would burn off. So we solved their dilemma for them. We also have bearings made of exotic materials that are more expensive than some of our standard products, but these can work up to 900° Fahrenheit and have a very long life.”
Brixey feels that the company’s bearing portfolio is now about 90 percent of the way to the place he’d like it to be. “It took 103 years to accomplish that first 90 percent of the journey, so the final 10 percent is more of a challenge. At the moment we’re looking at all the bearings offered by our various competitors so that we can offer our OEM and distribution customers a complete portfolio of products. I want to be in the position where we can take any bearing or bronze bar order from any customer anywhere and offer them complete service.” www.buntingbearings.com