The Reil Story

Diversify! That’s the key to survival in the metalworking business these days. It’s a very cyclical industry, with highs and lows much like the crests and troughs of a rough sea. Putting all your resources into a single industry is like navigating that sea in a rowboat: You ride the face of each wave to its highest peaks, then plunge into the deepest troughs.

Diversify into many industries, however, and it’s like sailing that same sea in a cruise ship (or at least a large yacht): You don’t so much ride the face of the waves as pass through them, avoiding both the high peaks and the low valleys. Although the rewards may not be as great during high times, the advantages during low times more than make up for it.

Reil Industrial Enterprises Ltd., of Mississauga, Ontario, started out as an aerospace shop – and that’s still their primary business. Certified to ISO standards and a Gold Supplier for Boeing, Reil decided a few years ago to broaden its horizons. The company celebrated its 35th year back in 1999 by purchasing a couple of Haas machines, in order to get into tool and die work. They’ve also recently added repair and overhaul work on aircraft undercarriage and airframe components to their list of services.

“We used to make all similar parts,” said general manager William L. Reil. “Not a family of parts, but similar sizes. And you knew there would be a certain amount of work out there. Not now, though – now, you have no idea from day to day.

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Definitely all different types of work now, so we have to have different capabilities to be able to take on work from all these sources.”

Adds his father, owner William H. Reil, “If you’re going to survive, you have to be flexible.” The company’s customer base waxes and wanes with the economy. “There’s been a lot of consolidation at the top levels. You may have had three customers, and they consolidated and now they’re all the same one. Right now our customer base is probably 12 to 15 companies. That’s not a tremendously large number, but the companies tend to be quite large.”

As do some of the parts the Reils cut: “We just finished some parts for the transporter that takes the components up to the space station,” reports the senior Reil. “It’s wonderful stuff, but how many of those do you need? You know, we’re making something that’s a hundred thousand dollars, but they only need one. So the element of risk is high, and we need to have good equipment and diligent people.”

When William H. Reil founded Reil Industrial Enterprises, it was a manual shop in a two-unit rental space in Weston. The company grew into a four-unit rental, moving to Rexdale, and then in 1987 bought the building that currently houses them. Reil’s priorities are clear: The machine shop takes up 22,500 square feet of the 25,000-square-foot total.

Their aerospace production work includes airframes, undercarriage systems and avionics. “We do a lot of electronics work for heads-up displays and radar systems, and we also do structural things, wings and so forth,” notes general manager Reil. The parts are cut from titanium, steel, aluminum, alloyed steels – “nothing intimidates us.”

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Reil is very much a hands-on general manager. “I started working here when I was probably three. To me it’s fun, I’ve always liked machining. For a while I went out and did some things of my own, and one of them was selling software. Then I got to see so many shops, because I was doing demos and stuff, and I just had such a hankering to come back. It gets in your blood, I guess. To me it’s not work; it’s fun.”

Reil Industries got into CNC in 1978, and still has some of its vintage machines. “We’ve got about eighteen CNC machines, and they go from American to German to Japanese back to made in the USA, depending on where our [Canadian] dollar was and the economy when we bought them. And delivery; availability was important. My feeling for Haas machines is they’re the best dollar value around,” says the senior Reil. His son echoes this sentiment.

“We decided to buy the Haas VF-8 because it’s a good dollar value, and because of the size of the table. We were turning down work because we just couldn’t cut it in the envelope we had. The Haas was the only one of that size that was reasonably priced. We bought based on capability, too, not just capacity. That goes for both the VF-8 and the SL-30 – there’s good power behind it.”

Reil’s new machines were put to work post-haste, notes the general manager. “They [the local Haas Factory Outlet, a division of Sirco Machinery Company] delivered them on a Friday, they came in on Monday to set them up, and on Wednesday we were cutting. Your service is excellent.

“Some plastics guys walked in the door on Tuesday and said ‘I need this as soon as possible,’ so the first job we cut was a bunch of plastic dies. We were up and rolling within four or five days – including training; that’s from out of the crate to the first part produced. And it was a whole new part!”

One item the Reil shop now has the capacity for is a cylindrical part for the Canada Arm (a manipulation system that is a component of the space shuttle). Cut on the SL-30 from 7076 aluminum, “It’s at least 12 or 13 inches long. It starts out as a three-inch plate that we saw into pieces three inches wide.

“We start with square stock because we have to leave a square flange near one end of the finished part. We turn the OD, then bore out the center. The wall thickness goes down to 0.070 inch – that’s a lot for that material – and it’s parallel within one tenth over the whole thing.”

General manager Reil appreciates how much easier job changeovers are. “On some of the older machines, something as simple as changing a zed height could take 20 minutes. You have to home the machine, shut it down, restart it, and then come back to do it. It’s a big thing just to drop it five thou, and then you’ve got to resend the program. On the Haas, it’s just that fixture offset. What I like about it is even if you’re not sure exactly where you want to be, you can just bring it down, touch off, home it – and you’re done. Away you go.

“I took the training for the mill,” he continues, “and it was so simple, moreuser-friendly than other machines.

It’s all conversational, you don’t even have to know what you’re doing. If I was going to start my own shop today, I would probably buy Haas for that reason alone – it’s one training for both lathes and mills.”

One of the Haas options Reil likes is through-spindle coolant. “It’s great – we used to get chips built up inside some of those pockets and recut the chips. Now it just shoots them right out. Some of the stainless dies we’ve made, with 1/4"-20 holes, we used solid carbide drills and just blasted through them, no pecking. That was exciting, the first time we did that. If you can get excited about drilling!”

The Reils have also used their Haas machines to cut dies from beryllium copper, an alloy valued by aircraft manufacturers not only for its strength and corrosion resistance but also its nonmagnetic and nonsparking characteristics. With machining properties similar to various bronze and nickel alloys, “It’s tough to machine and tough to hold close tolerances on, besides the fact that it has to be vented because it gives off a little gas,” notes the senior Reil. “And we held the tolerance.”

“We do a lot of stainless, and loads of titanium,” reports the younger Reil. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t put on [a Haas], and we cut it all. I know I can hold the tolerances, and I know I can hold the accuracy. And with coolant through, there’s no chips and a perfect finish. We just load it up and let it rip.”

The next step for the Reil shop will be a couple of Haas Toolroom Mills. Touted for prototyping and one-off parts, the Reils plan to use them for the repair and overhaul work they’ve undertaken. When the economy improves again and their production work increases, they will no doubt find more uses for the smaller machines. “The success of a country depends on what it produces,” says William H. “There aren’t a lot of people in the world who know how to make things. They know how to look after it, how to inventory it, how to ship it, but not many people know how to make something.” The Reils know how – which is why their ship keeps sailing the manufacturing seas.