Modern craftsmen

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

By using the latest technology and old-school knowledge, Menomonee Falls-based Reich Tool & Design Inc. (RTD) is keeping the Milwaukee region’s tool-and-die making traditions alive. RTD creates the tools and dies used in the metal stamping process. Its dies are placed inside large metal stamping machines, and sheet metal is placed over the tools. The machines then hammer the metal over the dies, forming pieces in shapes depicted on the dies.

RTD’s dies and tools are made by craftsmen with extensive hands-on experience and programmers using state-of-the-art computer numeric control (CNC) machines.

The mix of skills gives the company the capability to make dies as large as 30,000 to 40,000 pounds and to drill holes smaller than one millimeter in aluminum blocks.

RTD works in four categories – automotive, appliances, medical and aerospace. Currently, most of the company’s work is in automotive and appliances.

“Ninety percent of washers and dryers are made of metal-stamped parts,” said Fritz Reich, president of RTD. “And 70 percent of cars are, too.”

Reich has worked as a subcontractor for all of the major automotive companies with facilities based in the United States, including the Big Three and Japanese-owned firms, said Fritz Reich said.

When RTD creates dies for the auto industry, it works as second-tier, essentially a subcontractor to a company hired by the automaker.

“They usually send us a model or a drawing so we can simulate their process and see if it works out,” Reich said. “We design it, try it out and then ship it.”

RTD’s products are then used to manufacture parts and components for the auto industry.

The company also does prototyping work for the automotive industry, working directly for auto companies such as General Motors.

For example, RTD helped design the new oil pan used in the Chevrolet Z06 Corvette. For that project, RTD designed and built several different prototypes, based on GM’s design specifications. The prototypes were sent to GM, and they were installed in cars for testing.

RTD was then hired by GM to create the dies to manufacture the oil pans.

“We understand the part when we do the prototyping here,” he said.

RTD’s prototyping work is not limited to the auto industry.

RTD has prototyped and designed tools and dies used to create heat sinks for CT scan and MRI machines for the health care industry, said Brett Reich, the company’s vice president who oversees CNC production.

RTD was founded by Arthur “Fred” Reich, father of Fritz and Brett, in 1965. The company has grown to 52 employees.

Much of the company’s growth has been because of its approach to technology. RTD bought its first CNC machine in 1992, when Fred Reich was nearing retirement.

“We wrestled with dad on that one,” Fritz Reich said. “We told him we would have to get on the technology train. And once we got that CNC machine on the floor, he liked it.”

Although buying that first machine was a struggle, the company has since added many more. Currently, CNC machines take up about 4,000 square feet of the company’s 27,000-square-foot facility.

The company’s work to get lean and stay at the forefront of technology has led it to new high-tech fields.

“As we got pressure from the world, the only way to stay in business was to get lean,” Fritz Reich said. “So we got into a lot of high-tech equipment. And once we got the software and equipment, we got to the level (of sophistication) that the aerospace equippers were at.”

Medical devices and aerospace make up a small amount of the company’s clients now. However, the firm is planning on significant future growth in those industries.

The company recently helped develop a 12-axis welding machine for KT Engineering, based in New Lisbon. KT Engineering is primarily known for making stainless steel tankers for shipping milk, but it is now working with NASA to create fuel tanks for rockets.

Although RTD’s work in the medical and aerospace fields has been limited to date, the company is planning to do much more after May 2007, when it moves into a new 52,000-square-foot facility currently under construction on Technology Drive in Menomonee Falls.

By contrast, the company’s current building is only about 27,000 square feet.

“We said, ‘As we grow and as we get into the new facility, we’ll get more into the medical and aerospace (industries)’” Fritz Reich said.

RTD also will pursue work in government contracting, after it is settled into its new facility.

“We’ve got a lot of contacts,” he said. “We want to find the right time to pull the trigger. We’re getting close.”

RTD will hire about 15 employees within the next three to five years, Fritz Reich said.

On Oct. 1, Brett and Fritz Reich created a subsidiary of RTD, named Wood & Laminate Creations. The custom cabinet and countertop company will market itself primarily to commercial clients. However, it is capable of serving residential clients, as well.

The Reichs hired craftsman Scott Fredricks to be president of the new subsidiary.

“He (Fredricks) wanted to go into business at some time, but he didn’t have the (business) knowledge or the resources. We saw his talent, and we didn’t want to see it wasted.”

Wood & Laminate Creations, located in a 4,000-square-foot facility in Butler, recently hired its first employees to assist Fredricks. While the company has its own machinery, it also is able to make use of machines at RTD.

“They’re making all of the countertops and cabinets for our new building,” Fritz Reich said. “They’re plenty busy.”

Eric Decker is a reporter for Small Business Times. Send news about manufacturing to eric.decker@biztimes.com or by calling him at (414) 277-8181, ext. 144. News can also be sent to Eric Decker, Small Business Times, 1123 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI, 53202.

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