Delcam’s FeatureCAM helps turn a hobby into a business
Investing in Delcam’s FeatureCAM feature-based CAM software has helped Joey Klitzke turn his hobby of tractor-pulling into a successful business. Mr. Klitzke formed Jopen Machinery in Baraboo, Wisconsin, after struggling to find anyone else who could make the parts that he needed to increase the power in his tractors.
"I’ve been interested in all things mechanical for my whole life,” remembered Mr. Klitzke. "I started out in the printing business, where I got used to operating complex machinery and to working to thousandths of an inch at high speed. During my free time, I started a landscaping business. That expanded rapidly until it became my full-time job. After twelve years, I sold that business and reinvested the money into Jopen Machinery. I started out with a Bridgeport machine, making parts for the tractors I use for tractor-pulling competitions. I had some ideas about ways in which I could increase the horsepower of the engines, so I needed a way to make customised parts.”
A second strand to the business came from Mr. Klitzke’s related interest in restoring older tractors. "Of course, you can’t buy parts for these older models so I had to make them,” he explained. "One of my tractors was featured in a local charity calendar. People started calling me to ask where I bought my parts. When I said that I made them myself, they wanted me to help them with their tractors so I started a restoration business.”
The restoration work soon expanded beyond old tractors. "Shortly after the calendar appeared, a friend took me to visit a local railway museum where he did some volunteer work,” said Mr. Klitzke. "I was asked if I could make a replacement part for one of the engines. I finished the job in about three hours the following morning and shipped it to the museum that afternoon. The next day, a truck full of similar parts was in the yard for me to replace.”
With the demands for his machining skills growing rapidly, Mr. Klitzke knew that he needed to expand his capabilities. As his reputation increased, he was also being asked to make more complex parts, which meant he would need to move into five-axis machining. Together, these pressures necessitated a change from manual programming to using CAM software.
Mr. Klitzke admitted that FeatureCAM was not his first choice of software. "I did try another system before I moved to FeatureCAM,” he remembered, "but the programming was very complicated and I couldn’t get the results that I expected. The ease of use was the first thing that attracted me to FeatureCAM. I could work out how to program a small part in a few minutes.”
After this promising start, Mr. Klitzke was soon able to access the full power of the software. "As I became more familiar with FeatureCAM, I learnt how to customise the toolpaths to get tailor-made results,” he said, "for example, how to modify the step-over to get a better finish on a part.”
Mr. Klitzke emphasised the programming speed that is possible with the software as the main advantage over his traditional manual approach. "Simpler jobs can be programmed in as little as five minutes,” he claimed. "One complex part took me twenty minutes to prepare with FeatureCAM but it would have taken about eight hours on a manual control. One-off parts are now practical at a reasonable cost because the programming is so fast.”
The ability to test out programs on the computer is another important benefit. "FeatureCAM is very visual so you can see immediately if things look right or wrong,” explained Mr. Klitzke. "The simulations are very accurate – what FeatureCAM shows you on the screen is what you see on the machine. Any mistakes you have made in the programming can be resolved before you get anywhere near the machine.”
The other benefit of changing software has been the excellent support from the local Delcam reseller, Programming Plus. "My previous supplier claimed to have thirteen support staff but you could never get through to any of them,” reported Mr. Klitzke. "Perhaps the company didn’t really have that many people or perhaps it showed how many calls they were getting from customers having problems with the software.”
"Programming Plus is only two hours away so even the few problems that can’t be sorted out over the phone can be solved very quickly,” he added. "Plus, the people there have plenty of toolroom experience and they really understand machining.”
Mr. Klitzke believes that his change of software has guaranteed the future of his business. "There is no future in high-volume, low-tolerance work,” he claimed. "More complex, short-run parts are where the money is and you can do that work profitably with FeatureCAM.”