Many companies specialize in design but not manufacturing of a product or vice versa, but few offer both capabilities. Providing that dual skill set through its Design-ufacturing process sets Fond du Lac’s RB Royal Industries apart.
Design-ufacturing, a trademarked process the company launched in 2017, allows RB Royal to work from “cocktail napkin idea to custom parts shipped,” says David Neumann, brand manager for the company. “It differentiates us from our competition in that we are able to work with our customers from concept to completion, utilizing our experience and knowledge throughout the company.”
RB Royal was established in 1942 with a focus on producing stock fittings for hoses. It’s evolved into a custom manufacturer that specializes in fluid transfer and assembly applications and acts as a supplier and partner to original equipment manufacturers.
The manufacturer’s facility includes a product development center that allows it to prototype and create parts on its own machines. It also provides the opportunity for RB Royal, which employs about 100, to work directly with customers to develop parts.
Since its inception, the company has worked closely with Mercury Marine, which has often turned to RB Royal for custom solutions to its engineering issues. While the company still does a lot of work for Mercury Marine, it’s also sought to diversify. About 10 years ago, work for Mercury Marine made up about 75 to 80 percent of its business. Today, that figure is down to less than 40 percent.
Frank Sonderer, chief financial officer for RB Royal, says when the company moved into a new facility in 2002, it looked at how it could broaden its brand to increase sales and get people in the engineering community to better understand what the company did.
“What we thought of when we came up with Design-ufacturing is we really wanted to grow the business,” Sonderer says. “We’ve done a really good job of expanding the customer base we have.”
Harley-Davidson turned to RB Royal and its Design-ufacturing process to help it prepare for the debut of its Milwaukee 88 engine about three years ago. A few years prior to that, Harley engineers called on an RB Royal engineer to help develop parts for Milwaukee 88’s liquid-cooled engine.
Harley wanted a way to cool the heads of the engine and knew that with RB Royal’s expertise in hose and tube assembly, the company would be able to help it develop needed parts, Sonderer says. The process began with Harley engineers sending an RB Royal team a sheet of paper detailing what they wanted the company to create.
RB Royal produced a prototype and over the course of three to four years began producing parts for the motorcycle maker. Prior to COVID-19, RB Royal was shipping parts to Harley every day. It now sends them about twice a week.
In addition to developing Design-ufacturing, about five years ago, RB Royal invested in switching to SolidWorks as its computer-aided design software. While it’s costlier than alternatives, most large OEMs such as Oshkosh Corp. and John Deere use SolidWorks, so now RB Royal files are 100 percent compatible with most others’.
The move has boosted RB Royal’s reputation among engineering recruits and improved processes. When engineers need to look at something or share information, using the SolidWorks software means they can all look at the same screen.
“It’s made us easier to work with, and I think that’s one of the reasons our sales are going up,” Sonderer says. F