11 June 2014

Mastery of any terrain! Be it sand, rock, ice, marshland or even a flight of steps, the Steyr-Puch Haflinger, originally designed mainly for military use, can take any kind of terrain in its stride. It can really move. Its two separate differential locks, independent suspension and all-wheel drive make it extremely versatile, whatever the terrain.

The same might be said of TopSolid’Cam. This software can also handle all kinds of different circumstances. In the manufacturing of a remote-controlled mini-model version of the Puch Haflinger, this CAD/CAM solution showed itself to be just as versatile as the legendary vehicle it was used to reproduce.

The spirit of invention and a love of the Puch Haflinger have run in the blood of the Kretz family for three generations. First there was the grandfather, the beer-brewer, who in 1959 became the first private individual who could call one of these cult vehicles from Steyr-Puch his own. Then there is the father, inventor of the ultrasound device, and now the grandson, manufacturing in his workshop both spare parts for the original and a 1:1 miniaturized scale model. "I've always wanted to have a model like this, and this now offers a striking demonstration of what my colleague, Bernhard Degelsegger, and myself are capable of," says Paul Kretz, eponymous Managing Director and proprietor of a small yet distinguished company which specializes in bringing innovative single parts through to series production maturity. Pure subcontracting is a thing of the past: today, in the company workshop in the Upper Austrian town of Schörfling, manufacturing is predominantly concentrated on small series runs and prototypes. The more demanding a job, the more clearly the true strengths of Paul Kretz come to the fore: long years of experience in metalworking, immense pleasure in experimenting with the selection of materials and planning for a part and, last but not least, an extreme passion for detail, such as is probably invested in every keen model-maker. The prime example of this is the 1:5 scale model of the Puch Haflinger. It matches the original down to the slightest detail. "Even the number of tire-treads is identical," Paul Kretz points out.

Perfectionism born of passion

More and more people nowadays are seeking to combine hobby, profession and passion in what they do. Paul Kretz and Bernhard Degelsegger have already managed this.  Both of them are able to make a living out of putting their true talents and interests to work. As enthusiastic model-makers, they know precisely what needs to go into designing a special part, and they are pleased to be able to bring this knowledge to bear in their job. Customers can sense the difference. They can see that behind the development and design proposals of the Paul Kretz company there is far more than just the notion of getting a job done. Regardless of whether it's someone ordering a bespoke table bracket for a million-euro private jet, or a surgeon friend desperately calling on a Friday afternoon for a blank template for a thigh operation he's conducting the following Monday, or a neighboring company on the lookout for new nozzle variants for their 3-D printer, they know they can always turn to Paul Kretz. "Many customers do not know what kind of material or what kind of machining method is most appropriate for a given part. We have enormous experience in this regard, and we're happy to give our advice," Paul Kretz explains. With the Mini Puch Haflinger alone, he and his colleague had to work with aluminum, plastic, steel, stainless steel and brass. "We know the parameters for the milling and turning, and thanks to TopSolid’Cam we are able to design completely free of inhibition. Previously, I had to make do with the easiest geometries and forms possible, because I always had in the back of my mind just how long the manual programming would take," acknowledges Bernhard Degelsegger. He is delighted that, through the introduction of TopSolid’Cam into the manufacturing process at Paul Kretz, so many limitations are eliminated. It has even been possible to expand the customer portfolio, just as Daniel Plos, the Techsoft employee assigned to the Schörfling business, had promised.

Big advantages for small businesses too

Paul Kretz reflected long and hard, and slept more than once, on the question of whether or not he, as boss of a small two-man company, should take the plunge for TopSolid’Cam. Initially, this software seemed simply too powerful for his CNC machining workshop, configured just for producing prototypes or, at most, small serial runs. However, he ended up by being won over. Daniel Plos had THE perfect bait for him. He quite simply predicted the following: "Mr. Kretz, you will see that, with this software, you will secure a whole new range of customers." He was to be proved right. Now, in Schörfling, much has been made possible which was not even contemplated in the times of purely manual programming, since it was far too complicated.  The bodywork of the Puch Haflinger model, for example, could now be milled for the entire planned 50-unit production run out of solid aluminum blocks, and not "simply" pressed out of sheet metal as was originally planned. "Otherwise we would not have been able to achieve the degree of perfection that we were looking for in this scale model of the Puch Haflinger," says Bernhard Degelsegger in praise of a CAD/CAM solution that offers him all kinds of room for maneuver. "It would never have been possible to produce the engine housing in the rear section of the vehicle, with its complicated curves and contours, without TopSolid’Cam," he goes on to say. In the light of this praise, it is hardly surprising that the initial cautious approach of Paul Kretz to TopSolid’Cam should quickly develop from an introductory package into a number of extensions. First came a 3-axis postprocessor for one machine, followed by a postprocessor for a 5-axis machine, along with multiple simulation possibilities. Right now, the installation of improved 3D machining is underway.

"My favorite features at the moment are the handling of contours and the 3D roughing, since this allows you to carry out many machining steps with very little effort. What's also really great is the entire drilling process. The program automatically recognizes all the identical drill holes. This means that I no longer have to worry about the individual coordinates or positions," says Bernhard Degelsegger. TopSolid’Cam also helps him to save valuable programming time thanks to countless other useful functions. The result of this technical software support, which can be measured in encouraging concrete statistics, enables Paul Kretz to exclaim triumphantly: "We can now develop or design a new part at least three or four times more quickly than before."

Keeping promises

Despite only being in business since early 2010 in CNC machining, Paul Kretz can already boast a loyal and significant customer base, not least because his business partners know that he always keeps his word. He delivers punctually and to high quality standards. And any new order is only taken on with maximum commitment: "We are not a traditional subcontractor, since we tend to work more on development projects. For 99% of all parts that we manufacture, we know precisely how these are to be installed. We visit customers, inspect their machines and take all this on board when determining a solution," says Paul Kretz, describing just what makes his company so special. TECHSOFT acts in similar fashion. The Linz-based IT experts have a reputation for tailor-made software packages which help to leverage considerable productivity increases throughout the complete product generation process, from design through to NC programming and manufacturing organization. These are certainly no empty promises, as Paul Kretz confirms: "I spent almost 3 years on intensive calculation and reflection before I decided, as boss of an SME, to opt for TopSolid’Cam. But I've never regretted it for one moment. On the contrary, I'd like to say to anyone considering it: just do it! Invest in the basic package, find yourself a colleague who will share the workload of the initial learning phase, and you're sure to enjoy success!" A hot tip in a high-wage economy such as Austria, where traditional mass production without the development of special technology that is not so easy to copy, working in the background, is scarcely competitive.

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