Monday, November 23, 2015
The Roar of a V-Twin CNC machine tools
Orange Country Choppers (OCC) is a hugely popular American reality TV programme about a family-run business that designs and builds exotic, custom-made motorcycles with glistening chrome, super-extended front forks, and six-figure price tags. Incidental to the drama – the family disputes and the pressing deadlines – are the unsung heroes of the show: several Haas machine tools, cast in supporting roles and usually referred to by the vociferous protagonists as simply, “the CNCs.”
With a global audience, the show typically appeals to “small boys of all ages,” many of whom also work in precision engineering or manufacturing. It’s where Stuttgart-based Dirk Rothweiler first saw Haas CNC machine tools – before he bought one of the company’s mills and one of its lathes and cast them as stars in his small subcontract engineering business. Entertained by the show’s on-screen shenanigans, and inspired by OCC’s creations, Dirk Rothweiler formed a sister company, Bullwy-Cycles, to create his own Haas-made motorcycles of similar, theatrical proportions and price. On a recent visit, CNC Machining went behind the scenes to meet the talent, and enjoy a sneak preview of Bullwy’s debut production.
CNC: How and why did you come to start your company?
Dirk Rothweiler: I trained initially as a car mechanic, and then as a lathe operator, before I rounded out my qualifications by completing a Master’s degree in precision mechanics. I did this vocationally while working for an employer; but in 2004, I wanted to set myself an occupational challenge by forming my own precision machining company, Rothweiler Feinmechanik, based at Pfintzal near Karlsruhe. My expectation was that it would allow me to turn my ideas into reality, using my own manufacturing strategies and approaches. In 2009, I had the idea of creating a sister company, Bullwy-Cycles. Motorcycles have always been a fascination of mine, and I’ve rebuilt and modified many bikes in the past. It’s a dream come true to develop and manufacture my own motorcycles for a living. My professional engineering experience, as well as my personal enthusiasm, helps create motorcyles that are unique in both design and workmanship.
CNC: Did you have any major challenges to overcome to make your business successful?
DR: The biggest challenge in setting up any new company lies in the fact that you must be in control of all manufacturing processes. At Bullwy-Cycles, I conceptualize each step – from the design to the finished part, ready for installation. It’s true that not all parts are manufactured here at Bullwy, but I retain full control over everything.
CNC: Are there many chopper enthusiasts in Germany? Is the market good for bikes like this? .
DR: There is a continuously expanding market in Germany for high-quality, custom motorcycles and parts. This industry is big business, particularly if you have a unique offer, something that sets you apart from others in the marketplace.
CNC: So, what makes your products unique? How are your motorcycles designed and built?
DR: I conceive the entire construction, down to the smallest detail. Each and every part is made to measure, which I see as a personal challenge. My design of the motorcycle frames became a reality in co-operation with a well-known frame manufacturer. In addition, all commercial frame components can be modified in accordance with customer wishes, and in full compliance with regulation and testing requirements. The special engines are supplied by a high-end, U.S. motorcycle manufacturer. As an example of the bespoke nature of our work, the gears have been developed to accommodate very high forces, while a special drive unit allows a wide drive belt to be utilised. As for the wheels, the spoke rims are custom-made by a well-known manufacturer specializing in this area. There is also a double-six piston brake unit that is developed specifically for these high-powered motorcycles. I build a custom bike that is singular in form and function.
CNC: Do you export your motorcycles?
DR: At the moment, only one prototype has been built. However, the amount of interest generated has been nothing short of amazing. We’ve even been featured in a hip-hop music video. When it comes to custom motorcycles, word soon spreads. We already have enquiries from all over the world.
CNC: How did you first hear about Haas CNC machine tools?
DR: I saw them on OCC, broadcast on DMAX, a lifestyle television channel operated by Discovery Networks, Deutschland. I could see on the show that, with this technology, it is possible to manufacture all kinds of special parts in-house. It seemed, no matter how extraordinary the design, the Haas machines could handle it. I also saw Haas machines in 2006, at the AMB manufacturing technology exhibition in Stuttgart.
CNC: What Haas machines do you have?
DR: Currently, I have a Haas SL-20 CNC turning centre and a Super Mini Mill CNC vertical machining centre with fourth axis. For the future, I am already looking to expand my manufacturing capacity by adding a Haas five-axis VMC to produce different parts more effectively. Along with new staff and a new workshop, this will help improve further my efficiency and production.
CNC: Specifically, how are the machines used? What parts are you making?
DR: All my Haas machines work hard, machining a wide range of motorcycle parts, including fork crowns, the complete belt drive, the pulley set, the brake adapter and the footrest equipment. A big benefit of the Haas machines is that I quickly achieve my objectives, turning the part requested by the customer into reality in only a few steps. I bought the SL-20 for manufacturing turned parts with diameters between 10 mm and 200 mm, and the Mini Mill mainly for producing spacers and miscellaneous parts that demand four-axis machining.
CNC: How do you programme the Haas machines?
DR: We programme directly at the machine control, although for difficult and complex geometries and processes, we use a CAM system.
CNC: Can you summarise your experiences with the Haas machines?
DR: We are very happy with our Haas machines. The price-performance ratio is right, the stability and dimensional accuracy are excellent, and there is no doubting their reliability. We haven’t had any machine failures or breakdowns, and the applications support provided by the local Haas Factory Outlet, Katzenmeier, is superb. I would recommend Haas machines to any company, whether they are making prototypes or involved in serial production. The machines are well-designed and -made, and optional equipment and features can be easily added at any time. With regard to accuracy, repeatability, and durability, Haas machines will match any competitor models. The control is also very easy to learn and use. There are common multi-step functions, such as tool offsets, work offsets, “homing” the machine, and selecting the next tool during set-up, that can be executed at the push of a button.
CNC: And the future?
DR: Our business is based on craftsmanship, flexibility, creativity, and the best technology. On this last point, the performance and reliability of the Haas machines made a big difference when setting up and establishing a successful machine shop. They will also underpin our growth as we move forward, so I’m sure it won’t be long before we invest in more Haas CNC machine tools.