As with any industry evolving through the decades, there’s always room for improvement, and gear manufacturing is no exception.
To that end, REGO-FIX, a toolholding manufacturer based in Switzerland, has been making precision products such as its ER collets for holding drills and mills since the 1950s. However, the company is looking to take a deeper dive into the gear industry with its innovative technology.
“For gear manufacturing, the area that we have the potential to really help improve and support more, as well as help grow our business, is with 5-axis gear milling,” said Bryan Bannister, OEM manager for REGO-FIX for the Americas. “That’s an area that actually I’m very familiar with. I was at Caterpillar as a gear engineer where they were implementing 5-axis gear milling to replace some old shaping technologies. That’s an area where we haven’t had a lot of implementation of our powRgrip System just yet, but once we do, the customers are going to see a lot of success there with an opportunity for improvement.”
Advantages of the powRgrip System
Bannister considers REGO-FIX’s powRgrip tool holding system as its flagship system.
“We hold the patent on it still, so no one else can make it besides us,” he said. “That limits how many people are aware of it, but it also controls the quality of it. Unlike all the other tooling systems out there, anybody can make a holder, so quality is up to each individual company. With powRgrip, because we’re the only ones that can make it, we keep that Swiss top quality just like our ER collets that we make.”
REGO-FIX’s powRgrip System is a press-fit tooling system that has 1 to 100 taper between the holder and collet, according to Bannister. The machine presses the collet and the holder together with the tool inside of it, causing a clamping force with a press fit.
With traditional 5-axis gear milling, most shops are using milling chucks, hydraulic holders, or shrink fit — holding systems that REGO-FIX is competing against with its powRgrip System.
“In fact, before I was aware of powRgrip and before I joined REGO, I actually used to recommend shrink fit as a tooling system for 5-axis gear milling,” Bannister said. “And that’s a good system, but powRgrip is even better than that because of the vibration damping and 3 µm TIR capabilities that it offers.”
Even though 5-axis gear milling is a process that’s been available for about 20 years, there were only a few machine tool builders that offered the capabilities, but now all the major machine tool builders are doing it. Whereas before, many companies weren’t offering gear teeth cutting, Bannister pointed out they are now with the development of hobbing or 5-axis gear milling.
“On a 5-axis gear milling, you’re taking a standard off the shelf end mill, and you’re machining the gear profile on your gear tooth,” he said. “Traditionally, with gear milling or gear machining, you’d have to either have a dedicated hob or a shaping cutting or a grinding wheel that’s designed to the profile or module. You had special tooling or tooling that was to that type of DP or module that you’re manufacturing. With 5-axis gear milling, your tooling no longer has to be specialized. You can take standard endmills off the shelf, and it’s the software and accuracy of the machine that allows you to mill the profile with any tooth modifications required. And now, the key thing in 5-axis gear milling is good tool holding, not only clamping, but also vibration damping and clearance.”
The perfect system
Bannister emphasized REGO-FIX’s powRgrip System is the perfect system to help with that.
“We offer some of the best tool clamping capabilities on the market,” he said. “On top of that, we have better vibration and harmonic damping than other rigid systems because of how ours is assembled. With the powRgrip System, the tool goes into a sleeve, and the sleeve gets pressed into the holder. When your harmonics are coming through in your milling process, those harmonics are being broken down when they go through each material. There are three different materials in that tool clamp setup.”
That transfer of harmonics through each material is what helps breaks down the harmonics and reduces vibration, which gives a better surface finish, according to Bannister.
“In gear manufacturing, that’s very critical, especially when you want to get above an 8 AGMA or better than 10 DIN for your quality — with the powRgrip System, we provide that,” he said. “And then, on top of that, the big key to why we designed the system was our TIR, our runout. And with our holders, we have a 3-micron or better runout.”
And Bannister is quick to point out that is a true 3-micron runout through the entire tool setup, and it’s repeatable.
“That’s obviously huge because, with a 5-axis gear machine, one, like any machining, that runout will affect your tool life, and with 5-axis gear machining, you want to reduce your tool changes as much as possible because it reduces variation,” he said. “The other thing is that a 3-micron or better runout will give you a better-quality gear. It won’t affect your profile. It’ll have less effect on your profile and your involute and your lead when you’re machining your gear teeth. Our system has the best TIR than any other system on the market that guarantees repeatability. You can get good runout like that with other clamping systems, but it’s just not as easy to do and usually it’ll take a lot more setup work, where ours is you press the tool together, and you’re good to go.”
With his background in gear manufacturing, Bannister said, although the industry isn’t using REGO-FIX’s powRgrip System just yet, he expects its use to grow as more customers test it and see the advantages it has over traditional clamping systems.
REGO-FIX’s powRgrip System is just part of what has made the company a profitable entity, and it is a small testament to its quality products.
“We still manufacture everything in our factory in Switzerland,” Bannister said. “We do not sub anything out to a low-cost provider, and we control that. That’s why, to this day, our ER collets are still the best in the market because we manufacture them to full quality capability. You can take our collets and a cheaper collet, assemble them, and do runout tests and clamping capabilities, and you’ll see why ours clamps stronger and have better runout. It’s because we keep that same precision quality from Day 1.”
That precision is why Bannister feels REGO-FIX’s powRgrip System will be a huge advantage to the gear industry, allowing companies to make top quality gears quickly and cost effectively.
“Our powRgrip System is a fast system for assembling tools,” he said. “Unlike other systems, like heat shrink, there is no heat involved. You don’t have to wait for your tool to cool down before you grab it and use it. You press it together, and you’re good to go.”
Another aspect of REGO-FIX’s quality is the company’s ability for fast delivery, according to Bannister.
“We stock 98 percent of everything we make in our U.S. warehouse, and everything is also backed up in our Switzerland warehouse,” he said. “Usually, when you order something, it gets shipped the same day. For example, especially this last year with COVID, we’ve had a lot of competitors and other tooling companies that had a lot of supply chain issues, and they’ve been out of stock for weeks on some products, and it’s been a huge benefit for us that we don’t have that. We’ve had a lot of customers that we’ve really helped because we saved them out of a bind because we were able to ship them a needed product the same day.”
REGO-FIX has been a family-owned company since it was started in 1950 by Fritz Weber. Throughout its history, the company has maintained its place in many industries with a somewhat unique philosophy, according to Bannister.
“What I love about this company and part of the reason why I joined this company is the ethics; it’s a very ethical company,” he said. “Everything we do in operations — how we treat our customers, how we treat our vendors — is very ethical. And it’s always with the same intentions, and we will make decisions that might hurt our profitability, but it’s the right decision for how to treat people.”
Within the gear industry, the needs run the gamut from large gears used in the oil and gas industry, to smaller gears used in the automotive, aerospace, and medical industries. And even though global challenges have slowed gear manufacturing a bit over the last two years, Bannister believes it remains a good, profitable industry.
“Obviously, there are some segments, like automotive, with the advent of EV vehicles coming, that are going to reduce the amount of gears that are needed in a car, and so that will have an effect on the industry,” he said. “But there are a lot of applications that, as of right now, you still cannot replace it without the power transfer that a gear set offers.”
Growing with the industry
With that need, Bannister sees REGO-FIX’s powRgrip System as an opportunity for the company to really grow in the industry.
“Our powRgrip System is a system that most of the gear-machine industry is not familiar with, especially the 5-axis,” he said. “The 5-axis gear machining segment is growing big time every year because companies are able to see the benefit, especially for high-mix production. That’s where 5-axis gear milling is very lucrative because you don’t need dedicated tooling in order to machine these gear teeth. With our powRgrip System, we’re the perfect solution for it.”
But to make other companies realize the advantages REGO-FIX has to offer, Bannister said it’s important to get in front of the customers and convince them to use its lucrative products.
“As I said, the people who know our power system love it; they’re huge fans of it, but it’s getting the word out there, and with us being the only company that can make it as its proprietary,” he said. “I see it as an avenue for us to start putting more resources and focus on, and we’ve pretty much had zero focus on it before. Also, with my background in gear manufacturing and gear engineering and knowing that industry and what it takes to make a good quality gear, it helps us better.”
With that in mind, Bannister emphasized suppliers and vendors need to understand the nomenclature and understand what a customer is doing and what it takes to make a quality gear.
“If you’re not from this industry, it’s harder to understand that,” he said. “With REGO-FIX and my background, it helps to be able to talk the lingo and understand what it takes, so when people want to use our system, they can have that confidence in what we can offer.”
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