Kato Seiko, headquartered in Nagoya, Japan, is a group of metalworking professionals who focus on press dies. The company's main products are automotive press brake tooling and dies, but it's also renowned for its versatile processing technology for everything from steel to resin that can be machined, or lathe-turned. In recent years, the company has turned its focus to reverse engineering, using a 3D scanner and Geomagic Design X, and made it its new core business.
Why has Kato Seiko embraced reverse engineering and how does the process work? We asked Fumiya Ishiguro, who leads these activities at Kato Seiko.
"A car part manufacturer that needs a part with a groove at a specific angle will create 3D data of such a shape at the design stage. However, as the samples made in this way are manually shaved to meet the need for a smaller radius, the finished product will have a free-form shape that cannot be quantified. As a result, when the same part is needed later, we have no choice but to precisely measure and quantify the part itself and make a new one with the same shape," Fumiya says.
In response to this challenge, Kato Seiko started exploring reverse engineering nearly 15 years ago. However, quality results overnight didn't come overnight.
"We started with profile machining,” Fumiya explains. “When I joined the company, we got a 3D scanner and began a new approach. In the first few years, the process was difficult because of poor accuracy. The mesh data we got from the 3D scanner was not accurate enough, and the surfaces of the machined parts exhibited mottled patterns, so we had to polish the surfaces of every single part by hand."
Manual polishing was the biggest bottleneck in the company's reverse engineering process, and Fumiya focused on improving the accuracy and eliminating this task. After much research, he discovered Geomagic Design X. He got a demonstration of the software, but he wasn’t immediately convinced the results were accurate enough yet. However, he kept a close eye on this product, and, 10 years later, Design X became part of Kato Seko’s reverse engineering workflow
"Design X itself is much improved and the response from Oqton’s representative is completely different. I didn’t know how to describe what I wanted to do, but they understood immediately and suggested a solution. This was very important. Even if a software has the feature you need, but you don't know it exists, it is as good as nothing," says Fumiya.
Design X enables Fumiya to edit the 3D scanning mesh data quickly, which is a huge efficiency boost to reverse engineering workflows. In addition to better data accuracy, the "polishing" that had plagued Fumiya for many years is no longer necessary. Machining and machine tool operations became even more efficient, and machining is overall drastically faster.
The Tokai area where Kato Seiko is located is home to many metal processing companies that serve major automobile companies. Competition is fierce and clients have the highest demands in Japan. "A margin of error of one millimetre was acceptable in the past, but gradually tolerances became three-tenths, then one-tenth of a millimetre, and now we are competing with a margin of 5/100,” Fumiya adds. “This is the level of accuracy that major manufacturers can achieve with their top-of-the-line machines. Our machines are no match for them... We have to keep polishing our skills not to lose."
With his experience and unique know-how, Fumiya can now deliver consistent accuracy. With the added efficiency of Design X, he landed on a reverse engineering process that can meet the most demanding accuracy requirements in Japan.
Business at Kato Seiko is also growing with new orders for 3D reverse engineering measurement-related products. "We have gained the trust of our customers, work has started to flow in. If automobile production recovers, we will be able to expand further. It really starts from here," Fumiya enthuses.