In 2011, Hoosier Pattern Owner Keith Gerber – seeing a potential growth area – purchased a small 3-D printer for the company. The company, founded by Gerber in 1997, had grown its reputation as a custom pattern and tooling shop using traditional machining methods, so the addition of the new technology brought it into new territory.
After using the machine and seeing its advantages for his business, it didn’t take long before Gerber purchased an even larger 3-D printer. “He saw the opportunities that could be there by going with a larger printer, so he took a big leap of faith in 2013 and purchased one, because he wanted to diversify our customer base,” says Dave Rittmeyer, customer care and additive manufacturing manager for the Decatur, Ind.-based company.
Above and Beyond
Hoosier Pattern is a rarity in the manufacturing world because it offers 3-D printing methods, also known as additive manufacturing, in addition to traditional machining, often referred to as subtractive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is most often used to produce prototype parts as well as fixtures. Hoosier Pattern uses subtractive methods to produce tooling and patterns used to manufacture parts for the automotive, consumer appliance, agricultural and industrial markets.
“Our flexibility and ability to produce tooling of different shapes and sizes allows us to serve a wide range of industries,” Rittmeyer says. “Having this diversity allows us to maintain our business even as one market is down, as we hope the others will help carry us.”
The company prides itself on its technical knowledge and customer service, and does not rest on its laurels when it comes to customer retention. “Even if we already have a company as a customer, we’re always acting as though we don’t,” Rittmeyer says. “We’re always trying to earn our customers’ work and don’t expect them to just give it to us, even if we’ve been working with them for decades.”
Hoosier Pattern considers itself a solutions provider to its customers’ casting needs, even if that occasionally means recommending that a customer use another company’s services. “If we can’t offer a solution, we will tell people what that solution is and where they can find it,” he adds. “Even if it’s another company providing that solution, our customers will still come back to us in the future.”
The company often goes out of its way when it comes to serving customers. Last fall, a customer called Rittmeyer on a Saturday morning while he was on a hunting excursion. The customer needed a printed core for a 42-inch open-faced impeller as soon as possible because it had a facility shut down.
“We started printing on Saturday afternoon, and by Sunday morning we cleaned the core, packaged it and sent it to the customer, who received it early Monday morning. The end customer took receipt of their casting on Wednesday,” Rittmeyer says. “When you get a call to come off a deer [hunting] stand on a Saturday and work all Saturday and Sunday, that’s going above and beyond.”
Finding Better Ways
Hoosier Pattern’s 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility includes 3-D printers as well as 25 machining centers. The company regularly updates its equipment and processes to make them more efficient. “We’re constantly evaluating if there’s a different and better way to do things, and examine different machines, software and technologies,” Rittmeyer says. “We’re not opposed to trying a new method to make ourselves more efficient.”
Most of the patterns, tools and parts produced by the company are one-off custom jobs, though it also performs some production work. The company plans its raw material inventory around its customers’ production schedules and needs, and works closely with vendors and suppliers to ensure it is able to meet demands.
The company in June enhanced its additive manufacturing capabilities when it installed a Voxeljet VX1000 printer that prints consumable patterns composed of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). These patterns are utilized in investment casting – a technique that involves forming a mold around a pattern of material that is then removed. The patterns are used by the aerospace and other industries to produce small castings to high tolerances.
The printer will be used to perform low-volume production work. “This is typically not done in our industry and is an untapped income opportunity no one else is really taking advantage of,” Rittmeyer says.
The company promoted the acquisition of the new printer to prospective customers during the RAPID Conference and Expo in early May. The event spotlights companies using additive manufacturing.
The Voxeljet is the company’s second major 3-D printer purchase this year. Hoosier Pattern in January installed a Stratasys Fortus 450 mc printer, which allows it to print sample prototype parts, supports to assist in machining patterns and CMM and machining supports, as well as to produce patterns for low-volume runs.
“The ways to benefit customers with this printer are endless. It will speed up processes and products to our customers for quicker turnaround times,” the company says, noting the printer has a one-week lead time. “This is just one more tool in our toolbox to offer solutions to our customers.”