Hoosier Pattern is a leading pattern shop, with 25 employees and a 42,000-sq.-ft. facility in Decatur, Ind. Founded in 1997, Hoosier has developed a reputation of being the preferred pattern provider for local foundries serving the automotive, agriculture, marine and consumer products industries.
Keith Gerber, one of the original company founders and its current owner and president, explains the philosophy that guides the business: "We are a pattern shop, but first and foremost we provide service. We used to work in a pattern shop that had a foundry attached to it, so we have that close understanding of how foundries operate and what their needs are–for example, being able to get a job on a Friday afternoon and have it back to the customer Saturday morning. It doesn’t happen a lot, but knowing they can get this kind of response from us, coupled with high quality and competitive prices, are the things that keep our customers coming back to us."
Staying a Step ahead
Hoosier has developed close relationships with the foundries it serves, but that doesn’t mean it can rest on its laurels, Gerber says.
"It boils down to timing, quality, and cost," he adds. "It can get very competitive. If you don’t produce a quality tool in a timely manner at a very reasonable price, there are many other shops that are more than willing to step up and do that job."
Responding to numerous quotes a day is a matter of routine for Gerber.
"Cimatron is very helpful in the quoting process," he notes. "I use it to do a quick split, direction analysis, figure out a parting line."
The streamlined process and collaboration combine to keep customers happy, Gerber says.
Dave Rittmeyer, CAD specialist/supervisor for Hoosier, explains that process: "Once we get the job, we rely on Cimatron to figure out the best way to manufacture the part, make sure the parts are dimensionally accurate, split correctly, and with the proper draft. From that point, we’ll use Cimatron NC to machine all the tooling."
If the engineers need to modify something, Rittmeyer says, the team can make the changes in the CAD side and have Cimatron incorporate the change in NC, "instead of losing all of the tool paths and having to start over like you would with separate CAD and CAM packages. This not only saves us time, but also eliminates the possibility of inaccurate parts due to engineering changes."
When changes are required, Hoosier puts the tools in place to facilitate tight collaboration with the customer, Rittmeyer says.
"We use GoToMeeting web conferencing to show them how we make the changes in Cimatron, and they can react and approve or request additional changes in real time," he continues. "Customers are always amazed at how quickly we can make changes in Cimatron. We’ve done things in minutes that they said would have taken them an hour to do. One customer was so impressed, they purchased a seat of Cimatron for their own use so we can go back and forth with ideas and changes."
Cultivating New Engineers
Since Day One, Gerber has emphasized the use of technology to differentiate Hoosier and better serve its customers. But he is also the first to tell you that at the end of the day, it’s the people that make the difference.
"Talking to our customers about Cimatron, we always tell them about the people we work with," says Rittmeyer. "We use a lot of software in our shop. Cimatron’s technical support team is by far the best of any of the software vendors we use."
When it comes to its own employees, Gerber encourages them to keep their skills up to date, be innovative, and think about new ways to use technology for the benefit of their customers.
But finding skilled employees is a growing challenge. "There is a bad perception about manufacturing jobs," says Gerber. "People think a machine shop means a dirty environment and low pay. It’s quite the opposite. The shops are clean and equipped with the latest technology. Employees are highly trained, highly skilled, and well paid. I’m trying to set up meetings with the local high schools to bring the counselors and teachers out here so they can see it with their own eyes."
Hoosier has set up an apprenticeship program that brings in high school graduates to teach them the trade. After five years on the program, apprentices have 10,000 hours of on-the-job training, while also getting 36 credit hours at a technical school. "Rather than finish college with a huge debt and no occupational skills, our apprentices get a raise every quarter and graduate with no debt and highly sought-after technical skills. We currently have five active apprentices, and one is about ready to graduate," says Gerber.