Regal Prototypes, Inc., is located in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and owned by the Schaller Group. The company has been a tooling supplier for over six decades, specializing in sheet metal stampings, production tool and die, and assembly/welding.
The sheet metal manufacturing plant serves the big three automotive manufacturers, as well as a number of aerospace and marine customers. Regal provides these customers with solutions ranging from prototypes through production tool tryouts and short-run production.
In order to deliver the highest quality product, Regal never hesitates to invest in the latest technology. As Steve Hamrick, Tooling Manager at Regal’s sheet metal facility, notes: “The company is always ready to step up and invest in the technology we need to get the job done. This is one of the reasons I have been working here for over ten years. I know that the best machines and software are going to be made available to do the best job.”
Challenge: Developing a new product for a new market
Given the recent challenges faced by the local automotive industry, Regal was looking to diversify its business and enter new markets. Since the Schaller family has been involved in boat racing for over 40 years, the company recognized an opportunity to step into a new market producing racing boat propellers.
At the beginning of 2006, Regal initiated this new venture. To build the propellers effectively and to the standards Regal is accustomed to delivering, it realized it would have to utilize 5-Axis production and quickly acquire the technology and the knowledge to master this process. Hamrick explains: “To get a true concentric blade, we needed to move to 5-Axis which requires just a single setup, compared to multiple setups of 3-Axis.”
Solution: CimatronE's NC 5-Axis makes learning and production easier
To build racing propellers, Regal needed 5-axis capabilities that enable accurate production of complex propeller shapes with high efficiency and short delivery times.
Regal went on to evaluate a number of software solutions to support the transition to 5-axis. “We asked the vendors to demonstrate their capabilities using our part (a propeller) which we gave them at the time of the demo. Cimatron met the challenge very effectively by creating the required tool path from our data during the demo. The other vendors failed to complete this task. It was clear to us that CimatronE could create efficient tool paths in real time.”
Once the CimatronE 5-Axis software was installed, Hamrick began the learning process which was vital to moving forward with the project. He notes: “With one setup machine such as 5-Axis, the difficulty is making sure that you are set up right, your origins are there, and your safety clings are at the right spot. I never had a problem seeing 3D, so walking around this propeller was not an issue for me, but working from that one single (model) origin was a new thing I had to learn. It took me about two weeks to get used to it. After I got the process down and understood the way the post and software works, I was ready to move forward.”
The next level included learning a new style of cutting. Hamrick says, “I couldn’t go in with my usual style of cutting, but had to learn what the software was going to do first and then convert based on what the software required. CimatronE's NC 5-Axis offered a whole new gamut of options, enabling me to ultimately choose the best style for my work. The CimatronE software facilitated a manageable learning process that helped me meet my timeline.”
“Another aspect of the transition to 5-Axis was getting the post processor to work properly right from the get go. We heard from other toolmakers about the difficulties of developing 5-Axis post processors. With CimatronE, the post processor has worked right from the first time we used the software and was very easy to learn.”
Hamrick immediately began to see the benefits of working with the CimatronE 5-Axis software. For example, the simulation option has helped with collision avoidance. As Hamrick points out, “We run the program through the CimatronE verifier and we can see if the holder or the spindle will get hit. Working with tight tolerances, there are times when the holder looks like it is going to hit, but using the verifier confirms it is not going to. The verifier double checks everything before I send a program out.”
Regal is making good use of the library of machining strategies offered with the CimatronE 5-Axis package. Hamrick says, “Our machine holds 32 tools and they all have been programmed into the library.”
Results: New prototype, new market, high demand
The CimatronE solution enabled Regal to get up-to-speed quickly on 5-Axis production. In addition, Cimatron has provided a high level of customer support to get Regal up and running. Hamrick says, “Cimatron has been very helpful, holding our hands and offering some procedures for us to follow. I have been able to use their examples and apply them to my application.”
The decision to follow a family passion and embark on a new market has proven more than satisfactory for Regal. There is a high demand for the racing boat propeller, and in just three months the NC experts are ready to go with 5-Axis. Using CimatronE's NC 5-Axis has helped Regal launch into a new market with a new product, both cost-effectively and quickly. Hamrick says, “Things are going so well that we are looking at bringing another 5-Axis machine on board to fill the demand for the propellers. Other people at Regal are watching and learning the CimatronE package to see how it works. Most likely within a year there will be two more people running with this software and we will be producing even more prototypes.”