California-headquartered Haas Automation Inc is a modern day machine tool manufacturing phenomenon. With its roots in 1983 and the design and manufacture of rotary tables, the company's first machine tool, a vertical machining centre, was exhibited at the biennial Chicago IMTS exhibition in 1988.

Called VF-1 (very first one) and with the company's own Haas CNC, it was priced at under $50,000 – a price breakthrough at that time. The VF-1 is still sold today, much updated and uprated, but still at less than $50,000. And Haas Automation Inc has since gone on to sell more than 165,000 CNC machine tools. Well established in the machining centre arena, the company's lathe range is expanding and is, in fact, the fastest growing area for Haas Automation UK.

The UK operation was the US company's first overseas distributor, in 1987, initially for rotary tables. It sold its first Haas CNC machine tool on Christmas Eve 1991. Managing director Nick Remington picks up the story: "Since then, we have averaged 295 machines every year for 22 years. We installed 505 machines last year and now have more than 6,500 installed and running in the UK – and that doesn't include rotary tables."

Testament to the UK operation's performance across the years is a wall full of supplier awards at its Whetstone, Leicester site. They number in excess of 30 and mark the company's various achievements, such as International Distributor of the Year, or beating turnover milestones, for example.

Of course, the range of machine tools made and offered by Haas Automation Inc has mushroomed since the early days; indeed, the offering takes in some 200+ machine permutations – models plus variations. But in the UK, the makeup of machines sold has changed significantly over the past five years, too, stresses Remington.

"We are selling more sophisticated, higher value machines. Our market has moved on significantly, but, importantly, this is a reflection of how we are now perceived in the UK market-place. From a position of perhaps being viewed as the 'Ford' of the machine tool industry – good value machines from which you get your money's worth – we are now seen as, say, in the 'VW-Audi' area.
"I also don't see any single machine tool supplier as our number one direct competitor, while, based on our product range and our volume, we are a significant competitor to pretty much everybody. We are in every single industry sector. Given the growth that we have had, it's inevitable, when you see what's going on in the market-place."

A factor in this altered perception was the recession. Companies that maybe would not have considered Haas prior to the downturn now do. Recessions, observes the managing director, cause companies to look around for more competitive equipment.

"Haas Automation UK built up significant market share during the recession, while our customer retention rate is very, very good. Very few Haas customers have a single machine; the average is around 2.6, in fact. Now, conversely, there aren't that many companies with 40-50 machines, because there aren't many of those companies around anymore – people don't need to employ hundreds of people now.

"Over the last 25 years, the UK landscape has moved away from large PLCs towards smaller, more adaptable subcontractors. At the same time, we have expanded our offering to encompass broader and more sophisticated needs, giving us the flexibility to satisfy the ever-changing requirements of the industry." The recently launched 5-axis UMC-750 currently represents the pinnacle of its technology and is being eagerly snapped up.

Haas Automation's UMC-750 has seen early success (see end of main feature)

To read that last statement as code for 'Haas Automation UK has been lucky', would be to ignore the continued great effort that the company puts in to make sure that it does grow its market share. And that is Remington's stated focus – offering support and services that keep customers coming back and recommending the brand to others. "I ask myself: 'What is it that I can offer that is different to everybody else?' I believe that we offer something that no other machine tool supplier does: a completely unique back-up service. We are still the only company that supplies parts at the point that they are needed. There is not one company out there that turns up with spares on a van to the level that we do.

"We have a fleet of 32 Mercedes Vito vans, each currently carrying parts worth in excess of £38,000. Van stock is continuously monitored and replenished, as necessary, from a £3.6 million stockholding in Norwich. Our machines are built using many common parts, which means fewer spares are needed to cover the range. And as we measure every aspect of our business, we know that our service guys turn up with the right parts and fix any issues first time over 95% of the time. And I can supply any part for any machine that has been delivered in the UK since 1991, because the factory supports every machine ever built.

"And because my customers are used to that level of service, they are unhappy if a machine is not fixed in 48 hours. Nobody else offers that and nobody invests to the extent we do. We spend, I would say, a minimum of £350,000/year, every year, on our service offer. Why? Because that is where I believe I will get the growth; doors open when other suppliers 'drop the ball', while good service will retain our customers. And whether a customer spends £15,000 or £200,000, he gets the same level of service."

That service is delivered by factory-trained individuals who, incidentally, must take and pass online exams. Here again the UK excels. Service engineers have just taken the online Training Module 6 and passed with an average of 96.5%, Remington is keen to point out. This training and expertise is also formalised within a skills matrix, which works hand-in-hand with a recent service embellishment, that of van location tracking and a live connection to the Haas Management System (HMS) via iPads for techs in the field. This alone has seen a £50,000 investment over the past two years.

In-the-field access to HMS allows service engineers to review customer and machine history, and check out bar-coded spares. Doing so updates van stock and builds customer, machine and part history, as well as automatically generates an invoice. So, location tracking, up-to-date van-held parts stock inventory and knowledge about service engineers' skills means that the most appropriate individual can be despatched to a customer and so maintain that 95%+ first-time fix rate.

But what next? Improving service further, of course. Haas Automation UK took on an additional seven service/application engineers last year, for example, with yet more planned for this year. Such people are employed, trained and brought up through the ranks, rather than taken on from other machine tool suppliers, because the Haas way is very different to how others operate, assures the company's managing director.

An initiative for the near future is to help customers get more out if their machines, boosting their skills through additional training that is delivered by on-site, face-to-face discussions between application engineers and machine tool users (see extended article).

And to make sure that Haas Automation UK is getting it right, the managing director and business development manager Tim Hately each spend some 80% of their week in front of customers, listening to them. "That way, I find out why they bought Haas machines and can make sure we continue doing what is valued," concludes Remington.

Extended article from here: UMC-750 early success and getting the most out of Haas CNC

Haas UMC-750 early success

With limited availability due to global demand, the Haas UMC-750 full 5-axis machining centre was soft-launched in the UK market in December of last year. The machine has axis dimensions of 762 by 508 by 508 mm and an integrated dual-axis trunnion table that supports +110/-35° tilt and 360° of rotation. The 40-taper machine is equipped with an inline spindle (8,100 or 12,000 rpm) and comes standard with a 40+1 tool side-mount tool changer. A 'Super-Speed' version is already offered, too, which features a 15,000 rpm spindle.

As at Machinery's January visit, eight UMC-750 models had been sold. Indeed, the first unit was snapped up prior to the December Open House event at which it was to be the star attraction for an extended period.A two-week affair became a two-day one, as the customer was eager to take delivery prior to Christmas. But even in two days, five were sold. "I have no doubt that it is going to be very successful," says Remington. The UK company is still playing it low-key as it waits for stock machines to arrive, but in any event, deliveries will not be longer than 12 weeks, should local stock be exhausted.

Amongst the early customers is one already with multiple well-known brand 5-axis machines in his factory, having moved away from Haas machines as its machining needs grew more sophisticated. At £150,000, the company opted for a UMC-750SS – its existing machines were another £200,000 or so more. Although Remington does not suggest it will be equivalent in all respects, he does know their performance will be close, based on experience in other UK companies in demanding sectors. And its performance will certainly not be in ratio to the price difference – almost 60% less - he assures.

And as Tim Hately points out, the vast majority of parts in the machine are Haas standard machine parts, while the company already has an established history with rotary axes tables, the essence of which make up the UMC-750's A and C axes, so reliability is high. Beta installations at customers in the UK are testament to that, he offers.

One of the first UK users willing to go public is Pembroke Engineering, based near Basildon and a supplier to the aerospace, medical and motorsport industries. Already a Haas machine user, the 16-employee company already has 10 units, company owner Allan Brodie knew what he wanted and explains the benefits of the universal machine versus an existing VF-4SS vertical with rotary table (4-axis) for aluminium parts for Swing Plane Perfectors, used by golf pros to dial in an accurate and repeatable swing. "The cycle time for the Perfector part was a respectable 13 minutes on our VF-4SS with rotary table. However, we've managed to reduce the cycle time down to 11 minutes, thanks to the new UMC-750 5-axis. Across a batch of 1,000 parts, those two minutes per part add up to approaching a week in total time saved.

With more such examples in the field and more people seeing them, Haas Automation UK's Remington says he believes this machine will be a "game changer".

Pembroke Engineering is one of the first UK users for the UMC-750

Getting the best out of Haas controls

It's the same for any technology with broad capabilities; the learning curve can be steep, while people tend to settle into a habitual way of doing things that may be perfectly okay, yet not be the most efficient nor make full use of machine capabilities. Haas aims to improve this by setting its expanded team of application engineers to the task of educating users. In fact, the company is already proactive in helping Haas machine users, issuing its regular 'Tips and Tricks' emails, showing them, for example, the benefits of various Haas CNC commands.

A recent example concerns how companies can save time in toolchanging by adopting a particular coding sequence. A saving of three seconds is available, if Haas machine tool users adopt certain program coding.

Before a toolchange, a machine must perform these steps: stop the spindle; stop the coolant; orientate the spindle to the radial tool change position; move the spindle to the toolchange position; stop the through spindle coolant (TSC).

Most CAM post-processors make a sequence of codes for these steps, with the program including: M09, coolant off; M05, spindle stop; M19, orientate spindle; G91 G28 Z0, move spindle to toolchange position.

Each code must complete before the next can start. This adds a time interval to the toolchange, with the largest time interval coming from M05, spindle stop. The machine must wait for the spindle to stop before the next program function and the higher the spindle speed, the longer the interval before the spindle stops.

The Haas M06 command makes all of these codes unnecessary and, by doing so, can subtract three seconds from each toolchange. Of course, if a CAM system is employed, the post-processor must be modified to use this code.

First published in Machinery, March 2015