Don’t let the address fool you…Down Town Kustoms might be based at Taree on the mid North Coast of New South Wales but it is also one of the most advanced custom hot rod building shops in the world.
This state of the art workshop is the creation of founder Graeme Brewer and its equipment inventory includes a CNC plasma table, lathe, mill, bandsaw, guillotine, power hammers, metal shaping tools, hoists, chassis tables, 3D printer, state of the art spray painting booth, surfacing room for body work…as well as the design office using SolidWorks where cars are brought to life.
Graeme didn’t have an automotive background – he was an air conditioning technician – but he developed an interest in building hot rods and mini trucks which led to after hours projects in his backyard. After six years of working from home he decided to make it his full-time career, “In 2007 I took the plunge and turned my hobby into a business. I began with a four inch grinder, a welder, tube bender and benches made out of pallets. Now, in 2017, in our tenth year in business, we have become Australia’s most equipped and most capable custom vehicle building shop. Instead of pallets I have a world-class workshop, and I have six of the most talented guys around.”
Today, he is recognised as an expert in his field and people come from across Australia as well as overseas to ask him to design and build stunningly beautiful, award-winning show cars which can also be driven on the road every day.
Graeme was recommended to contact CADspace, the Sydney based SolidWorks reseller which has more than 25 years experience in design and manufacturing.
“Without CADspace there is no way I would be able to do things as quickly as I do. I found it was hard to get to Sydney for training so they helped me a lot over the phone. They are always happy to help. They even work out solutions for me in their own time at home. I can tell that they are really keen in the work we are doing. Thanks to them I was doing advanced modeling after a few months.
“CADspace has given me the best service I have received from any company.”
The introduction of SolidWorks has dramatically changed the way that Graeme approaches each car. Before CAD, he was hands-on and manually constructing life-size templates of each car. Top and side views were drawn on paper in what was a very time consuming process. Timber and steel bucks are created for making body panels and other sheet metal. Before SolidWorks this was done by hand. Now, the process is completely different. Graeme can 3D scan surfaces and create the bucks in CAD. The files are sent to the CNC router and laser cutter to produce the various parts. Not only has production time been cut in half, the bucks are more dimensionally accurate.
“It used to take forever to build an independent front end from scratch but now the process is so much quicker thanks to SolidWorks. All of the hard work is done in the computer. It can be assembled in just three days because the machining and laser cutting is much more precise.”
Graeme spends most of his time a day modeling parts on SolidWorks to keep the team busy preparing and building the hot rods in the workshop,”I draw everything in 3D, the chassis design, control arms, cross members, steering rack, brakes, calipers, coil over suspension and brackets. The entire car comes to life before you and I want to make certain that every part is 100 per cent accurate.”
The introduction of SolidWorks has led Graeme to introduce another piece of technology: 3D printing.
“We make everything in-house. The steering rack mounts, control arms and so on are all machined from billet. Before we go to the CNC machine I design each part in SolidWorks, print it out using the 3D printer in a variety of materials, and make sure the fit is right before we go to making the final part. Whereas before I was waiting for the machine shop to produce the parts, now I can go ahead and make my own prototypes a lot quicker. The practical side of this is that we are no longer using shiny metal parts for mock up which can get scratched as they are put in and taken out. The plastic parts stay in there while we wait for the machined parts to come.”
Graeme uses 3D printing to make interior parts such as brackets, indicator stalks, switches, switch surrounds, knobs and latches.”Even if I break a part I can print another one straight away. I save so much time and, of course, there isn’t any wastage because each part is correct.”
Graeme is a perfectionist and worries over every part right down to the Engine Start button,”I was working on an HT Holden. I like to have a mix of the old and the new so I designed an aluminium centre console for it. I modeled everything right down to the latch which was 3D printed. The demister vents weren’t quite what I needed so I re-designed them in SolidWorks and printed them in ABS plastic to replace the vintage ones. I came up with a new curved part and installed it as one piece which meant there were no air leaks.”
Graeme will sometimes change a dashboard cluster by keeping the original styling of the car but using modern gauges. In each case, he relies on SolidWorks to start the design-to-manufacture process.
To keep his customers up to date with progress, Graeme sends them screenshots and videos of the SolidWorks 3D files.
A hot rod project can take up to and above 8,000 hours. To begin with, the original car is weighed to see how balanced it is. Data is entered into a suspension analysis program. Camber gain, roll centres, weight distribution and centre of gravity are all critical to the new car design even as far as re-locating the fuel tank, engine and gearbox to get correct weight distribution . The car is stripped and catalogued. Panels are examined for straightness. This is when the surfacing room is used to body work the car to give it perfect reflections once it is painted.
Each part is designed, manufactured, metal finished and coated and placed into the new car. New panels – which are more perfect than when the car was originally made – are formed and attached. The partially built car is sent to the painting booth and then the interior and engine are completed. Graeme says since introducing SolidWorks he has seen a dramatic decrease in build time.
“SolidWorks is the preferred CAD tool for the top hot rod shops in the United States. We all talk to each other and show what we’re working on and I like the fact that we all have something in common. It feels like you’re in the same crew.”
Get more information at the DTK website http://www.downtownkustoms.com.au/
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