How to buy an electronic bar tack machine pt 1

Graham (aka Cracker in the forum) is writing a multi-part series on how he went through the process of buying an electronic bar tack machine for his business. He graciously agreed to share the results of the process with you.
This is a description of my experience purchasing an electronic bar tack machine for my business.

A brief word or two about the business, which I’m not going to name or link to in this discussion for various (google stalking) reasons. I manufacture technical backpacks out of synthetic materials for mountaineering. [With those who have access to the forum], you can poke around my website to learn all you’d like to know.

Right now, I’d like to remind those who haven’t read my bio that I totally backed into this business and have been picking up knowledge and nomenclature in fits and starts. As somebody involved with direct sales, and as required by the fabric side of this business, my company must make several hundred items per production run. I fully intend to move towards a lean production facility here in the states, but the initial costs involved price me out of it for right now.

Anyway, due to the 8 months that I waited to get some parts from one supplier, I was not able to make the sternum straps for my last production run in Turkey. The sternum strap connects the shoulder straps to each other and consists of five bartacks, two of these hard to get plastic parts and about 18 inches of 3/4 webbing with a side release buckle. The general rule of thumb on bartacks is $0.20 to $0.25 per bartack. The quotes that I received from people around New York City were about $0.35 per bartack. That’s $1.75 per strap, or $875 for the lot.

A used electronic bar tack machine was $2450. Shipping it was $500. Installing 220v 3 phase power was another $400. Basically, the machine cost $2450 more than it would have cost to have a contracter take care of the bartacks. So why did I make the economic decision to buy the darn thing?

Well, here’s a quick list of what I can now do that I was not able to do before hand:

  • make real production prototypes
  • repair customer packs
  • make custom modifications
  • design, build, test and destroy prototypes
  • move towards limited lean production (maybe)

Here’s the thing: my nasty little secret in my business has been that I don’t know my tail from my nose in how machines work, how specifications work, and how to improve the specified design of my products. I designed my packs, I’ve even sat behind a series of machines making one pack in an effort to learn how it works, but I didn’t know a darn thing about what is possible, what is a good idea and what’s a terrible idea…One of the real dangers of learning from experts is that you don’t necessarily know if your cool new idea really is bad or if it’s actually only bad because of their experience.

Now I can experiment to my hearts content, destroying whatever I want to, in jigs and in the real world, and learning what our inputs are capable of and where they’ll really fail. And I fix customer’s packs in house.

For example, if I make a prototype and send it into the field with somebody else, it can not fail. If it failed, if the stitching blew or something similar, it would be very bad. Imagine, if you will, being someplace like this…

… and your backpack splits open, casting your food, stove, water and warm clothing thousands of feet down onto the glacier below you. That’s what I would call a negative testing experience.

Hmm. Actually, I’d probably swear a lot more than that…

With that in mind, I knew that I needed to purchase a machine with an extremely reliable and reproducible stitch pattern. The machine needs to make the same stitch every time, with the same strength. That might sound normal for a bar tack machine, but it really isn’t…as I would learn. I also needed a machine that could do a variety of stitches for the different weight and strength materials from which I build these bags. The warp tear strength of my materials ranges from 5 pounds to 150 pounds. Obviously, the machine would need to deal with some significantly different threads.

I now had more questions than I knew what to do with, so I decided I needed to talk to actual practitioners and see what they recommended. I went down the block, and asked the guys at Atair Aerospace what they used. They use Camatron and Singer cammed machines, but they have a bunch of them for the different settings. They chose those machines because they have a limited number of stitch patterns and they can get three dedicated machines for the cost of one machine that can do it all. For their lean production line, the dedicated, cheaper machines are the way to go.

I don’t have the money to buy X number of dedicated machines, especially when a lot of what I’ll be doing in the second stage of using this machine is experimental prototyping.

I then called one of the most knowledgeable people within the climbing industry, cold, and picked his brain for a few minutes. The owner of Yates Gear immediately said “Brother B430e or B432ex”. He gave me a laundry list of reasons, but rather than recap them right now, let me say that he was convincing. Then he said, call Robeson Sew and buy it from them. It’ll be as cheap or cheaper as you can get it anywhere else, and the quality of the machine will be better.

To be continued…

[Notes from Kathleen]:

  1. The link above will not be live until the second part is posted tomorrow. Until then, it will return an error.
  2. I want you to notice something about the way Cracker has gotten his most useful information. Specifically, he’s gotten his information from what many of you could would describe as his “competitors”. One of these days I need to write a post about “competition” because many of you fear the very people you should be working with. “Competition” in the industry has rarely been the situation as imagined by neophytes and these changes have only attenuated over the past several years. The very picture of competition is changing. You can’t let fear drive you; if you make it in this business, sooner rather than later, you’ll be cooperating in certain respects with your peers and colleagues. I’m proud that this is one of the things we’re accomplishing in the forum.

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  1. colleen says:

    I don’t imagine I’ll ever need an electronic bar tack machine, but enjoyed reading this article. The picture is great! Also, I like that the author acknowledges he has had a steep learning curve. For me, this has been the key difference between being an employee and working for myself. As an employee one has to be “perceived” as knowing all vs. being self-employed where it’s imperative to truly understand what you’re doing and why. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

  2. Jim Kevers says:

    Thanks for the article. I’m searching for a bar tacker for some critical duty sewing and was given the same advice: Brother430 models. I called Robeson and they were largely put out by my single order. He said that they mainly deal with large factory orders and couldn’t let me know what kind of shape any bar tacker was in, just that it had passed their inspection. A lot of these tackers get run hard in factories and I wanted to see pain and general wear to see if it was one of those. I’ve heard to try Miami sewing or Atlas Levy>

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