Machine Users Make Better Builders

Haas Automation's User Background, Performance Measuring and Customer Collaboration Help It Innovate and Simplify

By Jim Montague

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Only one group knows more than machine builders about the ever-changing tasks required of their equipment, and that's the end users who operate them every day. So, the few builders that deal with continually shifting product designs and specs are the most conscious of matching an application's needs with a machine's capabilities — and can get out in front of both.

Such is the case with Haas Automation in Oxnard, Calif., which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Starting in a 5,000-ft² shop in Sun Valley, Calif., in 1983, the company was founded by Gene Haas to manufacture the first, fully programmable 5C collet indexer, which he created to increase production in his own machine shop. The Haas 5C indexer was an immediate success, and the company expanded to include indexers, rotary tables and machine-tool accessories.

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By Users, For Users
"Because Gene Haas was a machinist, the initial philosophy at Haas Automation was to build machine tools that he, himself, would buy and use," says Peter Zierhut, vice president of European operations and special projects at Haas. "They were designed from the operators' and programmers' points of view, rather than that of the engineers, with emphasis on simplicity and ease-of-use."

For example, Haas began to develop its first vertical machining center (VMC) in 1987 to provide a full-featured, U.S.-made, CNC that could compete on price with machine tools from international builders. "The first VF-1 prototypes were completed in 1988, and introduced at the International Machine Tool Show (IMTS) in Chicago for the then-unheard-of price of $49,900," Zierhut says. "As with the original 5C, the VF-1 also succeeded quickly because, not only was it affordable, but Haas could build and deliver it quickly. Haas introduced its first horizontal machining center (HMC) in 1994 and its first CNC lathe in 1995."

Zierhut adds that making its machines affordable was also a big factor in Haas' history and development. "Gene insisted on publishing the prices for his machines, so customers would know up front what they were going to pay," Zierhut explains. "Haas still publishes prices for all to see for every one of its products. That's something no other machine tool builder does even now. Gene's philosophy continues to drive the company today, with the goal of providing machine tools that are reliable, easy to use, and easy to service."

Joel Weiss, Haas' tradeshow manager, adds, "What's unique about Haas is that it's all about what can be accomplished, setting goals that make sense, and progressing on a scale we're able to support. This takes a lot of faith and involvement among our staff, but our managers encourage everyone to innovate. As a company, we constantly look at ourselves, measure our performance, innovate and move forward, and reduce the complexity and cost of our machines."

Seek, Serve Global Customers
Today, located on an 86-acre campus with more than 1 million ft² of manufacturing space, Haas manufactures more than 100 different products across four main lines — VMCs, HMCs, CNC lathes, and CNC rotary tables and indexers. Its customers are small to medium job shops and contract manufacturers from garage shops to full-scale production machining houses. These users provide machining services to nearly every industry, including aerospace, automotive, mold and die, electronics, medical, telecom, motor sports, electronics, oil and gas, and defense.

Haas' machines and related equipment are distributed worldwide via a network of more than 170 Haas Factory Outlets (HFOs) in more than 50 countries. The HFOs are supported by Haas' two regional headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and Shanghai, China. 

To reach more new users, Haas also exhibits at many international tradeshows, including EMO Hannover 2013, which will run Sept. 16-21. The biennial event is the largest machine-tool-specific tradeshow in Europe.

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