A lot goes into being on the cutting edge of something. Here’s how a leading machine-tool manufacturer got there and stays there.
By Jane Alexander, Editor
Since its founding in 1983, Haas Automation, Inc. has grown into one of the largest machine-tool builders in the world, producing industry-leading products at consistently affordable prices. As it celebrates its 30th anniversary, the Oxnard, CA-based company’s commitment to innovation and proactive equipment maintenance remain essential core values. To learn more about the company’s recent accomplishments and the keys to its ongoing success, Maintenance Technology caught up with Haas veteran, Thomas Velasquez, Manager, Rotary Products Engineering.
LMT: Haas Automation recently celebrated a major milestone with production of the 125,000th Haas CNC machine tool. Can you tell us more about that?
Velasquez: It certainly was a big milestone. Since 1988, when we introduced the industry’s first American-built vertical machining center (VMC) priced less than $50,000, our Haas VF-1 (like the unit shown in Fig. 1) has been the industry standard for affordable CNC technology.
The 125,000th Haas CNC machine tool was a 2012 VF-1 vertical machining center (like the one shown in Fig. 2). This product is a perfect representation for how we have continued to enhance the performance of our machines over the years. Its many advanced features include the ability to operate at speeds as high as 8100 rpm standard, brushless servos on all axes, 1000-ipm rapids and a 20-tool ATC.
So, that milestone was a great way for us to reflect on our history, legacy of innovation and commitment to delivering the best machines to our customers.
LMT: Why do you think Haas Automation products remain so popular with customers?
Velasquez: We cater to many industries, like aerospace, automotive, mining, appliances, electronics and, especially, the “Mom & Pop” shop. In the process, we’ve always focused on delivering innovative products that help our customers address the challenges they face on a daily basis.
We never lose sight of the fact that, at the end of the day, our success stems from the performance of our machines. Frankly, our customers don’t have time to deal with maintenance issues and have their equipment be down, so we develop our products to be as durable and reliable as possible.
We focus on manufacturing four major product lines: vertical machining centers (VMCs), horizontal machining centers (HMCs), CNC lathes and rotary tables, as well as a number of large five-axis and specialty machines. We make them easy to operate and maintain. We also ensure that our equipment has more standard features, high-tech innovations and rock-solid engineering than the many other CNC machines in the world.
Moreover, the support we provide customers through our network of Haas Factory Outlets (HFOs) is another major advantage. Today we have more than 170 HFOs across more than 50 countries. Each one combines the convenience and security of a local dealer with the strengths of an international organization.
Every HFO has complete showroom facilities, factory-trained service personnel, extensive spare-parts inventories and fully stocked service vehicles to provide the industry’s best service and support. Each HFO employee is dedicated to helping our customers succeed. This local approach is the best way to provide our customers with superior sales, service and applications assistance.
LMT:How is the company the same since its founding nearly 30 years ago?
Velasquez: The company’s approach to developing products and serving customers has remained exactly the same. Haas machine tools and rotary products are built to the specifications that (company founder) Gene Haas has set forth to ensure exceptional accuracy and durability. We produce all critical components for our machinery in-house, using dedicated state-of-the-art CNC machine tools—of which more than 70% are Haas machines. And, before leaving the plant, the typical Haas CNC machine is subjected to more than 300 quality-control tests.
We always try to find new ways to do things better. To that end, we never overlook anything or dismiss something as “too minor.” We constantly challenge ourselves to keep improving—and we’re constantly asking questions of ourselves. For example, can we find a new part to make our machines go faster and be more efficient? What kind of lubricants do we need to make our equipment as durable as possible? How can we make the operation of our machines even easier for our customers?
We never stop asking questions and never stop looking for new and potentially better solutions.
LMT: You mentioned lubricant selection. You have played a key role in the decision to factory-fill equipment with synthetic lubricants and to put them in the equipment used at the company’s production facilities. Can you tell us why?
Velasquez: In the age-old equipment maintenance debate over conventional oils vs. synthetic oils, we are big proponents of synthetics.
Today, we fill synthetic lubricants in much of the equipment that we sell and the equipment we use in our facilities. The move toward synthetics started nearly 18 years ago when, working with Gene Haas and other members of the engineering team, we sought to enhance the performance of our rotaries.
We now factory-fill our rotaries, gearboxes and spindles, as well as some of our tool-changer gearboxes, with Mobil SHC™ 600 oils. Since we made the switch, we’ve seen gearbox life increase two-to-three times based on backlash measurements.
We also use Mobil SHC synthetic greases (Mobilith SHC™ 007) in our linear guides and ball-screw grease systems, and we’ve recently switched to Mobil SHC 500 synthetic hydraulic oils for our hydraulic power units and rotary hydraulic brakes.
For our customers, the performance that synthetics offer, as compared to conventional oils, can help deliver financial and operational benefits, like improved equipment performance and durability and longer oil drain intervals.
The longer oil drain intervals you can obtain through the use of synthetics translates into less time that personnel need to spend on oil change-outs and less exposure to equipment, both of which are definite safety benefits.
In addition, from an environmental-care perspective, using certain synthetics, like Mobil SHC 600, can help reduce oil consumption and minimize oil disposal costs.
LMT: As the company approaches its 30th anniversary, what do you think the future holds for Haas Automation?
Velasquez: From a manufacturing standpoint, the trend toward faster, leaner and more efficient equipment will increase. I can also see that more equipment in the future will incorporate advanced diagnostic electronics like on-board maintenance alerts.
That said, we think the competition will evolve and become even more global than it is today. In addition, our customers will be challenged to find new ways to improve productivity and minimize their environmental impact.
But as we have over the past 30 years, we remain very confident that Haas Automation will continue to thrive and be seen as an industry leader for high-quality machine tools at affordable prices. LMT