Ringbrothers Uses CAD/CAM to Bring Classic Cars into the 21st Century
Some auto aficionados may love tinkering with their vehicles and adding aftermarket parts for a personalized flair, but Ringbrothers gives a whole new meaning to custom cars.
This brother-run auto shop not only provides aftermarket components for your average motorhead, but Jim and Mike Ring’s small team of professionals also completely restores and revolutionizes history’s favorite classic cars.
To learn more, we spoke to Ringbrothers engineer Matt Moseman, who gave us a look under the hood of the Wisconsin operation and, in particular, let us in on how Ringbrothers uses modern machine tools and advanced CAD software to pull off some of the most exciting car mods on the road today.
Redesigning Classics from the Ground Up
For CAD enthusiasts who may not be familiar with the latest trends in custom cars, Ringbrothers has made a name for itself in recent years by overhauling such vehicles as 1965 Mustangs and 1970s Camaros.
The 15-person team both restores old cars and redesigns them, installing new, top-of-the-line components bought off-the-shelf or produced by Ringbrothers itself. By the end of a build, Ringbrothers will give its customers something that maintains the original spirit of the car while also adding a new dimension of performance and customization, with a touch of modern flair.
Ringbrothers takes on such a build every six to 18 months, giving the small team a few big projects per year. Creating dream cars for their customers obviously provides the satisfaction and income associated with such exciting projects, but it’s the parts that Ringbrothers makes along the way that really help fuel the business.
Moseman explained that making custom auto parts is “an extremely SKU [stock keeping unit] heavy and low volume” industry, so the amount of research and development required to make aftermarket parts is difficult to justify. However, when Ringbrothers completely redesigns a custom car, it is able to develop new components that it can then sell aftermarket.
Bring Engineering and Manufacturing In-House
While Ringbrothers has been in business since 1989, Moseman joined the team just a few years ago. Previously, he had worked for the crew as a third-party engineer, providing engineering services for the company.
He was then brought on fulltime about two years ago, along with machinists and CNC mills, to establish Ringbrothers engineering and manufacturing in-house.
“Prior to that, a lot of the engineering was contract and would end up being manufactured elsewhere,” Moseman recalled. “What we found was a massive issue with maintaining quality control timelines, and what we needed to do was vertically integrate. Having all of these outsourced components really created a bottleneck and an energy drain for Ringbrothers. We were spending all of this time trying to control the product line that we had already created, while failing to innovate new products as quickly.”
Ringbrothers now has three vertical CNC machines on the floor, and will be bringing another vertical and a five-axis mill online as well. This vertical integration means less time spent on communication and quality control and more time innovating and manufacturing.
However, to make the design-to-manufacture process as effective and streamlined as possible, Ringbrothers uses software tools that work seamlessly together.
From CAD to CAM
Moseman’s CAD package of choice is SOLIDWORKS. In part, this is because it is the software that he was trained on at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, but, more importantly, it connects seamlessly with accompanying CAM packages, such as CAMWorks—now SOLIDWORKS CAM for SOLIDWORKS 2018.
Using the two tools together, Moseman explained, provides a much more efficient workflow between the engineer and the machining crew. As Moseman works on a design, there’s no need to import and export files into separate CAD and CAM packages. Due to the tight link between SOLIDWORKS and CAMWorks/SOLIDWORKS 2018, it’s possible to make a design change and simply update the file for CAM.
Once the model has been made, it’s possible for Moseman to assign dimensions using SOLIDWORKS MBD to the part along the way so that drawings can be made from that information. Ringbrothers still uses third-party services for some parts. “I can just send them a drawing, and there’s little to no communication necessary anymore. They can just create it and ship it,” Moseman said.
“This mitigates the human error that might come up in translating a document to a separate CAM package or dictating changes to the machinist. That’s where most of the scrap metal comes from,” Moseman said.
SOLIDWORKS, in particular, helps Moseman in the design initiation process, as well. It’s no longer necessary for the engineer to sketch ideas on paper, though he still does so digitally with the Microsoft Surface Studio. However, once he creates a model in 3D, he can create the necessary 2D technical drawings from that model in SOLIDWORKS MBD.
“I hate 2D technical drawing,” Moseman emphasized. “I refuse to create a drawing for a product or part that is already modeled in 3D. I’m going to take it back, dumb it down, and make it 2D so it can be printed out as a PDF? That makes no sense to me.”
The 1972 AMC Javelin
Ringbrothers’ latest masterpiece, the 1972 AMC Javelin, is a great case study in Ringbrothers’ overall business model. Debuted at Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show 2017, the Javelin began as a 100 percent clean vehicle, in storage with all of its original parts since 1977. In fact, Mike Ring was the last person to give the car an oil change before it was protected and hidden from the harsh outside world.
Due to its pristine condition, the Ringbrothers team was able to first 3D scan the entire vehicle and bring it into CAD, where all of the surfaces were reversed so that Ringbrothers designer Gary Ragle could begin working on designing other parts of the car. This included overlaying surfaces to fit the wheels they’d chosen into the wells of the Javelin and modifying the hood to fit the Hellcat engine with the 4.5-liter Whipple supercharger that was used to replace the Javelin’s original 390-cubic-inch V8. Moseman then worked with Ragle on manufacturability, translating those designs into reality and ensuring that they would work with the other mechanical parts. Once the design was complete, they worked alongside a talented team of fabricators, manufacturing experts, and painters to bring everything together.
It’s updates like these that make acar like the AMC Javelin a prize for the car collector who already has everything. Along with the new drivetrain and engine, Ringbrothers brought in new materials made with the latest technologies.
“Those 3D scans then aided in designing the machining molds to create all of the fenders, bumpers, diffusers, spoilers and other parts, which we then turned into carbon fiber and fiberglass pieces,” Moseman said. “The scans also helped to make the bumpers and taillights that were machined from aluminum.”
Throughout the restoration process, Ringbrothers is also able to leverage SOLIDWORKS to design prototype parts that are 3D printed on the company’s Form 2 3D printer. This enables first-time-right machining, but also helps Ringbrothers test out new products. For instance, on the Javelin, a key part to the mirror assembly was 3Dprinted and installed on the vehicle. At SEMA, the company can ask attendees if they would be interested in such a product as an aftermarket purchase.
As the car was redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up, Ringbrothers also created aftermarket parts, such as the hood pin and interior door handles. The hood pin doesn’t just fit the Javelin, but can fit all early model Chrysler, Ford and GM products. The interior door handles for the Javelin (different from what’s pictured above) have been, as a new launch, one of Ringbrothers’ highest movers so far. Launched about two months ago, the firm sold out of preorders for the handles in the first few weeks.
This entire process has been made more efficient with the release of SOLIDWORKS 2018, according to Moseman. Compatibility with the MicrosoftSurface Studio has helped to make Moseman a quicker designer, for instance.
“Currently, I have the 27-inch Surface Studio and then a Surface Book. The Surface Studio just changes the whole ergonomics of designing—the whole workflow, really,” Moseman said. “Being able to use both hands is what I’ve found really useful. You can actually be in the process of drawing or writing or clicking with your right hand, while you’re prepared to go onto the next step with your left hand using the Surface Dial, already clicking on the next icon.”
“When you have an idea, you might want to sketch it out on paper as quickly as possible before it escapes,” he continued. “Combining the Microsoft Surface Studio with SOLIDWORKS, I don’t need a sketchbook sitting next to my bed anymore. I have the Surface Book and Surface Studio, and I can open up SOLIDWORKS or the Sketch app and draw something really quickly.”
Ringbrothers has yet to implement the 2018 version of SOLIDWORKS CAM across the firm, but intends to do so. Meanwhile, Moseman has been working with the software on his own. With the new software, he sees a closer integration of SOLIDWORKS and SOLIDWORKS CAM.
“In the past, normally there’s still been a disconnect between engineering and machining because engineering would be working with parametric-based modeling within SOLIDWORKS, but then they’d have to output an STL to be imported into a lot of CAM packages,” Moseman said.“All of the toolpaths would be written around that, but as we all know, you never nail a prototype on the first pass. So, there was always this back and forth between these programs, which not only frustrates machining and engineering, but it creates a slower process and time to market.”
For a company like Ringbrothers, the use of CAD and CAM has made the design of custom cars and aftermarket parts as flexible as the team’s imagination. With the release of SOLIDWORKS 2018, that flexibility has only become greater so that, by next year’s SEMA event, the firm will have even more exciting projects to show off.