Despite what the text books and business magazines might say, there’s no “right” way to start a company. Some of those that eventually turn out to be successful have very humble beginnings, and no particular business plans to speak of. Take Haas Automation customer Lange CNC, for example. Founded and owned by Jens Lange and his wife, Steffi, the Stuttgart-based company wasn’t exactly an accident, but it started off as little more than a pastime, albeit a very time-consuming one.
Lange CNC – Albstadt – Germany
Mr. Jens Lange: I was working for a local manufacturing company. At that time, some friends and I were racing RC cars – in our spare time, as a hobby. One of my friends – a very serious RC car racer – asked me to make him some aluminium axles for his car, which I did. He was so pleased with the axles – and others were, likewise, very interested in the product – that I decided to buy an old knee-type milling machine to see what else I could make. Pretty soon, local companies began to find out I was machining in my spare time, and a few orders came my way.
After 3 to 4 months, I would finish my job at the end of each day, and spend another 8 hours a day working in my own machine shop! It was crazy, but I loved it. After a year or so – around 2008 – I decided it was time to buy a milling machine with a tool changer, which is when I went to AMB, the manufacturing show in Stuttgart, and discovered Haas. Immediately, I could see they were the right CNC machines for me. They were relatively low cost, very well equipped and, overall, great value for money. My first Haas was a VF-1 vertical machining center, which is still running as hard today as it was the day it arrived.
I continued in my day job, while running the Haas in the evenings. This went on for 7 years, until we had a daughter, and my wife, Steffi, said: You need to decide whether you are going to carry on like this, or take the risk to run your own business full-time.
A semi-retired gentleman called Mr. Straub, with a background in machining, said he’d come and work for me, so immediately, I had employee number one.
We already had some new business, once customers knew we were full-time, so the fact that the Haas machines were ordered and arrived within three weeks was perfect.
We make quite a few parts for local manufacturer SMS Maschinenbau – parts for special machines. Our volumes are low – typically 1 to10 pieces – such as machine control pedals or turning handles. We make a lot of bearing flanges – programmes run to 100,000 lines and tolerance are 0.02 mm – but that’s no problem for the Haas ST-10Y. We often use it to make parts with tolerances of 0.008 mm.
Florian is our machine operator running the ST-10Y. He’s currently making 250 little spindles for a miniature vise, used in dental applications and metrology.
At the most, we make batches of, say, 500 small prismatic parts for customers like VW. But small batches are our specialty, which is why we are about to merge with another local machining business that is set up for larger batches: 2000+ off.
The Haas machines are so easy to run. One of our operators, Hans Maier, spent 20 years out of machining before he joined us. We put him on a Haas VF-1 and he was running it within a couple of days, no problem. We also have a trainee, Bahadir Deniz, a student from a local college, running our other VF-1. He’s doing a great job, and I know he’s very comfortable operating the Haas.
All of our Haas machines run from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., every day. Before we moved to these premises, my workshop was a garage, without heating or insulation, and the Haas VF-1 would be running in temperatures of zero degrees. But, despite the demands we place on them, we’ve had no serious issues, and the Haas machines never lose accuracy. If ever we do need support, the local Haas Factory Outlet can send us a replacement part or a service engineer within 24 hours. For a young, growing company like us, that sort of peace of mind is very valuable. I have no doubt we’ll buy more Haas machine tools.