Customers Drawn to Michigan Metalformer

By: Louis A. Kren

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Envision Engineering co-owners Mike VanderWilp, left, and Scott Roerig hold a deep-drawn fender, produced on one of the company’s hydraulic presses.
Incorporated in 1999, Envision Engineering cut its teeth in the motorcycle industry, bringing to bear its original expertise in tool design and simulation, which paved the way for supply of deep-drawn fenders, fuel-tank shells and other parts. Today, the Lowell, MI, manufacturer still supplies motorcycle OEMs and after-market part providers, and has leveraged its tool and deep-draw capabilities to branch out into other markets, including lower-volume automotive (i.e. electric vehicles) and marine. It also provides bridge builds and prototypes for various OEMs.

With all draw-form simulation, tool design and build inhouse, along with laser-cutting, welding, inspection and grinding capabilities, Envision Engineering has the expertise and tools to support industries beyond the motorcycle market. Chief among these tools is the stable of stamping presses, including two hydraulic models from Macrodyne. Envision Engineering purchased a new 500-ton Macrodyne in 2014, and recently purchased a used 400-ton machine. In December, the company will install its third Macrodyne, a large-bed 500-ton unit. The presses allow the company to successfully produce flawless difficult-to-form deep-drawn parts such as the aforementioned fenders and fuel tanks.

From Humble Beginnings

With a 60,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing plant and 55 employees, Envision Engineering has come a long way—its journey beginning in a pole barn, and quite by accident.

Back then, co-owners Scott Roerig and Mike VanderWilp, working together in tool design, began tinkering with a concept Roerig had patented for a motorcycle front suspension.

“Tool-and-die design is an up-and-down industry—you’ll work 70 hrs./wk. then have three weeks off,” VanderWilp explains. “During down time, to stay busy we built a prototype suspension system developed by Scott.”

The two purchased a CNC mill to make suspension parts, built a prototype, and traveled to Big Dog, then an original-equipment builder of radical, high-end motorcycles. The plan was to license/sell the design.

Envision Engineering co-owner Roerig’s custom bike shows off the company’s capabilities in producing deep-drawn fuel-tank shells, fenders and more.
“While the Big Dog team reviewed the concept, its engineering team described numerous issues with the company’s overseas fuel-tank producers, who were supplying wavy and leaky tanks. The wavy surfaces were expensive to smooth out and the leaks ruined expensive paint jobs,” says VanderWilp. “As a result, Big Dog was on the hook for warranty work. Learning that we could fabricate sheetmetal, Big Dog took a big risk and gave us a purchase order for the fuel tanks. We made our first dies and pumped out fuel tanks in that pole barn. We never did sell the suspension, but without it we wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”

To this day, Roerig finds that experience surreal.

“We did make one stamping and we didn’t have time to include it with the prototype,” he recalls. “But we showed the stamping to the Big Dog engineering manager. His jaw dropped, as he didn’t believe we could produce such a part. A Big Dog team flew down in a corporate jet to our pole barn to check us out, and ultimately gave us the business…pretty exciting times.”

With Big Dog onboard, other motorcycle manufacturers quickly followed.

Capacity Needs Drove Press Purchases

Today, Envision Engineering boasts eight stamping presses—including the December arrival—in capacities to 500 tons along with one three-axis and two five-axis laser-cutting machines and backed by other equipment that allows the company to perform all needed processes inhouse. The exceptions are e-coat and powder coating. Those are performed by Grand Rapids-area partners.

“With our unique skill set and the equipment at our disposal, we not only design and build dies and produce parts, but we also can work with larger OEMs and their tier suppliers on bridge builds and prototypes,” offers Roerig.

Expanding its hydraulic-press capabilities grew out of Envision Engineering’s need to boost capacity.

This fender, along with fuel-tank-shell halves stacked to the left, are formed on a new hydraulic press. Envision Engineering draws parts to as deep as 13 in.
“We were worried about our older presses breaking down and we could not afford downtime, so we began looking at new presses,” Roerig recalls. “Four years ago, we purchased a new Macrodyne 500-ton hydraulic press. Because it would be built nearby (in Concord, Ontario, Canada), we were comfortable with our selection, and Macrodyne has followed through with collaboration and customer service to ensure that the press could do what we needed it to do.”

Adds VanderWilp: “We can program the 500-ton press for needed tonnage and store recipes, and receive feedback from the press as to tonnage and shut-height needs based on the tooling. It is a huge upgrade to our older presses and is extremely safe to operate. The same holds true for the current 400-ton press and the 500-ton press to be installed later this year.”

The new deep-draw presses at Envision Engineering provide optimal control of force distribution and material flow, resulting in structurally superior finished parts while eliminating wrinkling or tearing of the material, according to Macrodyne officials.

Envision Engineering stamps mild and stainless steels as well as aluminum alloys in thicknesses to 1⁄8 in., according to Pat McGill, general manager. Annual volumes run the gamut from 100 to 80,000 parts, with runs to 50,000 parts identified as the company’s forte, according to Roerig.

Some draws at Envision Engineering reach 13 in., according to VanderWilp, and the 500-ton Macrodyne press can produce a flawless drawn part in less than 60 sec. For shallow draws or forms, it can deliver as many as 20 parts/min. Again, tonnage control combined with recipe storage enables precise press tuning across the variety of parts produced.

Pressed for Growth

With Envision Engineering’s added deep-draw capacity courtesy of its hydraulic-press investment, the company has ramped up its services to customers looking for tooling expertise and low-volume production, as well as help with bridge projects and prototyping. The company has designed and built two unique robotic-welding cells, and Envision also uses two robotic-grinding cells to finish cosmetic parts efficiently and accurately. Its laser-cutting roster provides precise laser trimming and prototype fabrication. In addition, a fully outfitted inspection department measures inhouse quality and also can certify outside jigs and fixtures.

“Lower-volume companies come to us because they can procure production-grade tooling for a reasonable cost, and we are flexible and can meet demanding schedules,” says McGill, describing Envision Engineering’s sweet spot in the industry.

In fact, McGill at one time worked for a customer that chose Envision Engineering precisely because it could supply tooling economically and deliver parts on tight schedules.

“One of our competitive strengths is our tooling process for lower-volume applications, McGill reiterates. “Another is our time to market, from the time we receive a purchase order to when we deliver first parts. That is why many larger companies choose us for bridge builds before their production suppliers can get up and running. In one case, for an electric-vehicle OEM, we met the demand for first parts out within three weeks and ended up supplying 9000 sets of parts before the production supplier was ready.”

That’s a long way from Envision Engineering’s pole-barn roots, and an excellent example of its successful path forward. MF


See also: Macrodyne Technologies, Inc.

Related Enterprise Zones: Presses

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