Peter Zelinski has been a writer and editor for Modern Machine Shop for more than a decade. One of the aspects of this work that he enjoys the most is visiting machining facilities to learn about the manufacturing technology, systems and strategies they have adopted, and the successes they’ve realized as a result. Pete earned his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Cincinnati, and he first learned about machining by running and programming machine tools in a metalworking laboratory within GE Aircraft Engines. Follow Pete on Twitter at Z_Axis_MMS.
An example of a Haas customer overseas: The Eric Company of Suzhou, China has 16 Haas CNC machine tools, including the VF-2SS machines seen in this image. The small manufacturer splits its production between making parts for aerospace, medical and precision equipment applications.
(Read more about this shop.)
Is Haas Automation’s strategy for serving the CNC machine tool market the right choice for America, or is it more of a global strategy that also provides the right framework for serving other countries’ markets? I recently had the chance to spend time with Haas Automation General Manager Robert Murray. He says this is an important question, and the company has given it serious thought.
Haas’s success is hard to dispute. If there is a ubiquitous machine tool brand in the United States, this is it. I visit a lot of shops. Routinely, I find at least one Haas machine in a facility, while many shops are essentially Haas-only sites that see no reason to switch to a different brand. While the company does not win every sale, the company does get serious consideration from many or most machine tool buyers. It makes the short list more often than not.
Mr. Murray says the company still has ample room to grow its market in North America, but the even better opportunities for Haas to grow its business are in Europe and Asia, where its current market share is much smaller. The question then becomes: Is the formula that has succeeded so far reproducible and exportable? Does it work in other cultures?
Mr. Murray says he is convinced the answer is yes, and here is why:
He says there could not be a more universal experience than that of making machined parts. In every case, in every country, the manufacturer wants to make the part to specification as consistently as possible, as quickly as possible and for the lowest cost possible. Culture is important, and culture colors the way customers are served and the way customer relationships are sought and developed. However, in manufacturing, the most important factors are physical and economic considerations that are independent of nationality.
Even the pain points are universal, he says. The difficulty with finding skilled labor is a problem that seems to beset every manufacturer in every country. The company’s efforts to engineer machine tools with this limitation in mind are relevant to every market.
To be sure, certain machine types are representative of the needs of particular markets, he says. Haas’s VF-2SS is a production-oriented vertical machining center with 30 inches of X-axis travel. This machine makes sense for a lot of the machining done in China. Meanwhile, the UMC-750 is a full five-axis vertical machining center with a price point that is low relative to other five-axis machines. The machine is popular in Western Europe, where five-face machining is common as a means of reducing setup time.
Still, across all of these markets, he says that what machine tool users want is reliability, speed, economy, ease of use, ease of service and responsiveness when there is a service need. The company’s products, along with its “Haas Factory Outlet” service model, have been developed and refined with these priorities in mind, he says, and when the company looks for further ways to improve its product or its organization, it focuses on these areas. As long as these priorities continue to be paramount, he says the result will be a company and a product line suited not just to the home market but to international markets as well.
Haas Factory Outlets look the same in any country. The company aims for them to operate the same in any country as well. Here are views inside the showrooms of HFOs in China and Germany.
Seen here is the raw stock for a cylindrical part that would typically be machined on a lathe. Vanderhorst Brothers runs it on a machining center so that the job can be queued within the pallet system for lights-out machining. The part is held by a dovetail fixture that this shop helped to invent.
Brian O’Rell, president of Vanderhorst Brothers Inc. of Simi Valley, Calif., says one of the keys to his shop’s success can be expressed in three letters: LTA.
LTAs—long term agreements—are so valuable to this machine shop that he is willing to invest considerable time and care in looking for cost reductions he can justify for the sake of quoting attractive prices to customers seeking to enter into an LTA contract.
The value of a contractual agreement to keep on supplying the same part number to a customer is even greater than many shops realize, he says. True, the programming and process engineering all can be performed just one time, and amortized over the cost of the job. That is a real source of savings. But it is also true that the amount of quoting and prospecting that Mr. O’Rell has to do is reduced as long as he has enough LTA work to keep the shop busy. He is happy to pass along this source of savings as well.
Another benefit is this: After the term of an LTA ends, the shop that has been doing the work for all of that time is in the best position to win the work again when a new LTA is signed. Today’s contractual customers will be the shop’s best prospects tomorrow.
Vanderhorst Brothers has invested significantly in lights-out machining using machining centers fed by pallet systems. The shop has realized unattended production to an extent that now goes beyond even what we reported on in this article. The shop runs just one staffed shift, routinely using most of the remaining hours in the day to run jobs that were queued up while employees were in the building.
Lights-out machining and LTAs go together, says Mr. O’Rell, because the evening hours are cheaper than the hours when employees are present. He therefore gives the benefit of this economy to his contractual customers by running LTA jobs through the night.
Jeremy Bout of the Edge Factor created this short video exploring the question of who is to blame for the current lack of skilled talent in manufacturing. The point of the video: Maybe who is to blame is now beside the point.
The Edge Factor’s latest project is “LaunchPoint,” a TV series telling stories of men and women who work in manufacturing.
Apprenticeship 2000 is a program in which several North Carolina manufacturers cooperate to fund college instruction and provide paid on-the-job training for students pursuing careers in manufacturing. In this video, Ralph Daetwyler, president of the Max Daetwyler Corporation in Huntersville, North Carolina, points out that his company and other partners in the program spend up to $150,000 per student to provide that opportunity, without requiring students to sign any agreement to stay. What if the students take the training and leave? Mr. Daetwyler’s response is, “Then we weren’t a good employer.” A response I would add is that the shared effort of various companies adding talent to a common local labor pool makes the overall region healthier for manufacturing, so the investment still delivers value. I believe regional alliances such as this one (here is another) are the best means of addressing the current lack of skilled manufacturing employees.
This video shows NASA’s test of a rocket engine fuel injector made through selective laser melting, an additive manufacturing process. The part in this test withstood 1,400 pounds per square inch of pressure at nearly 6,000°F, and performed "flawlessly," according to NASA. Because of additive manufacturing’s freedom to produce complex geometries, the injector was made in just two pieces, where a previous injector design was an assembly consisting of 115 pieces. The additively produced injector in this test was made by Directed Manufacturing, a Texas additive manufacturing specialist we’ve written about.