Right at Home – Haas Customer Success Story
Story by Brad Branham
Photos by Scott Rathburn & Brad Branham
For the last four decades, American and European countries have nervously watched their manufactured-goods industry shrink, as inexpensive products from technologically emerging nations increasingly dominated the market. Low-wage workforces in countries like India and China provided a substantial, difficult-to overcome cost advantage, and those countries literally flooded world markets with low-priced manufactured goods.
Many American firms adopted an “if you can’t lick ’em, join ’em” philosophy, fueling a steady exodus of manufacturers who transferred some, if not all, of their operations overseas to remain competitive. Economies staggered as jobs left with the manufacturers. Recently, however, I visited a Ventura, California, company that found a way to thrive in a tough economy, using efficient, timesaving technology to increase production, lower costs, and become very competitive.
“NASO Corporation started out 21 years ago as a small electronic assembly manufacturer, making circuit boards, cable assemblies, and small box builds,” explains NASO’s Vice President of Operations, Bryan Howe. “About 14 years ago, the company grew to include machining. In 2009, we decided to update our machining operations with the latest technology, to pursue a growth strategy.
“This is a job shop, so everything we produce is for someone else’s product,” Howe continues. “The majority of our work is aerospace, military, and sub-space applications. Many parts we make ultimately end up with Boeing, Northrop, and other large aerospace manufacturers, but we also do jobs for local businesses. We make parts for companies ranging from small startups to the largest first-tier and prime contractors.”
Howe credits the impressive list of customers to NASO’s reputation for quality, on time delivery, and competitive prices – despite challenges from low-wage countries. A quick look through an open shop door gives some insight into their success. The NASO machine shop is an “all Haas CNC” shop, and each machine was carefully selected and customized to reduce cycle times, simplify operation, and increase production.
The shop’s arsenal of Haas machines includes a wide selection of turning centers: a DS-30SSY, an ST-20SSY, two ST-10s with live tooling, an SL-10, and an SL-30. NASO’s vertical machining centers include twoVF-3SS machines, two VF-5SS machines, a VF-3YT 50-taper, and two DT-1 Drill/Tap machines. All machines are equipped with high-productivity options to reduce cycle times, including Servo Bar 300 bar feeders on the lathes, and 4th- and 5th-axis Haas rotary tables on the mills.
“Growing the machine shop to become more competitive is a direct focus of NASO,” Howe comments. “The Haas CNC machines are key to our success. We bought the most machine for the fewest dollars – and with the Haas support and service, it was a no-brainer. The main reason for buying was to machine faster and more efficiently to support our existing contracts, so we decided to go with 4th- and 5th-axis rotaries and trunnions. With the high-speed Haas equipment, especially the DS-30SSY turning center, we are much more competitive. Ideally, we want to close the manufacturing-costs gap between America and China.”
“We are doing pretty well at it, too,” states NASO’s General Manager, Ric McCants. “We just brought a product back from China, and we are working on a few more.
“We made a conscious decision to use only Haas machine tools,” McCants explains. “It gives us standardization. The operators are all familiar with the control, and we can go from machine to machine, program to program, without problems. The machines we selected are very fast, and equipped with options to reduce setup times. That expedites getting parts through the machine, and getting products out the door very conveniently, very efficiently.”
Thanks to an aggressive growth plan, NASO doubled its business in less than a year. Supporting that kind of growth requires increased machine shop production, and using technology to increase efficiency and speed helps level the playing field against countries with low-cost labor. With CNC technology, each worker can operate several machines simultaneously, increasing productivity, and effectively reducing labor costs. But the machines must be optimized with the right accessories and options for the types of jobs they perform. They must be user-friendly, rugged, capable of high precision, and fast.
“We have a couple of Haas VF-3SSs with 5-axis rotaries on them,” McCants notes. “The work envelope is large enough to run multiple parts – or different parts – on the table in a single setup, so we can knock the run times down. That saves us production time in the shop, and also delivery time, so it works out very well. With the 5th axis, there is obviously less setup time, and less load time. You not only gain ‘one process/one-piece’ flow, but also the time the operator has to load the piece for each surface operation.”
The workpiece on the TR210 trunnion in the VF-3SS was a good example of his point. It was a 4-inch cube, with each of four sides bearing a system of elaborate grooves, while the top received a series of irregular, curved-surface features. Using a combination of 5-sided (3+2) machining and simultaneous 5-axis motion, the machine produces very precise finished parts with remarkable speed.
NASO makes extensive use of Haas rotary tables and indexers on their other machines, as well. Their inventory includes two HRT210 4th-axis rotary tables and a HA5CS high-speed indexer. Also included are three trunnions: a TR210, a compact TR160Y, and a double-platter TR160-2. Two T5C2 dual-spindle 5-axis indexers add even more capacity. “We can move the rotaries around to wherever we need them,” McCants explains. “With that kind of flexibility, we can handle any job we want.”
The aerospace industry is known for its appetite for a variety of materials. McCants points to a 60-pound stainless steel billet in process on a VF-3SS. “We machine everything,” he says. “Plastics, stainless steel, titanium, Inconel®, all the hard metals, many of the exotics, and a lot of aluminum. We cut it all. We have 50-taper as well as 40-taper machines, so we throw the hard stuff, and anything really heavy, on the 50-taper. Here on the VF-3YT, we have some 15-5 stainless, taking 1/4- to 1/2-inch cuts, and we’re pushing it pretty hard, with no problem.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Haas DT-1 drill/tap centers. “The DT-1 machines were a big surprise,” McCants notes. “They are very fast, and have full milling capabilities. The drill/tap operations are great, but we were not expecting much in milling mode. They are terrific! We’ve put a rotary on one of them, and they cut just about anything. We’ve used them with Inconel®, titanium, and stainless with excellent results.”
NASO is experiencing tremendous productivity gains with their turning operations, as well. “We’re increasing our use of the Y-axis turning centers,” McCants says, “and making parts that were never possible without the Y axis. The ST-10 turning centers with live tooling are great time savers, too, and the double-spindle pickoff on the DS-30SSY is trouble-free, and very precise. Its versatility allows us to think much more out-of-the-box.
“The DS-30SSY will bar-feed a workpiece, finish a turning process, and finish a milling process with driven tools on the part still in the chuck,” he explains. “It will then pass the part off to the second spindle and cut it off from the bar, then finish he part completely with a turning process on the other end of the part.
“We brought in the double-spindle turning center,” he says, “to allow us to not only take out extra setups, but also the operator input – taking parts in and out, clamping and unclamping. It allows us to engineer the part so that we can finish the whole front side, pick it off, and finish the backside in one process. Now we can do turning, milling, and drilling the whole part, and the finished part drops into the parts catcher without operator input. And it frees up the time that would normally be required on the mill.
“We calculated the time savings and knew that it would be good,” McCants recalls. “But we found out our projections were about 25 percent short. We did not calculate how much time is lost during clamping and unclamping a vise. Over a couple of hundred ops on the machine, that is a significant savings.”
“The bar feeders are great, too,” adds Howe. “Every lathe here has a Servo Bar 300, and they are worth their weight in gold. And the parts catchers are great time savers. One operator can run three or four machines with no problem.”
NASO employs other time-saving technologies, as well. “We also have probing on most of our machines,” says McCants. “It is very user-friendly, and we can use probing on forgings and castings that may not be very consistent. It is very easy for an operator to bring the specs from the probe into the program.
“Probing does away with the indicator,” he adds. “It improves accuracy and confidence in the machine, and makes set up and machining quite a bit easier. We frequently use probing to check parts. It is 70 to 80 percent quicker than using an indicator, and it eliminates human error, so accuracy is high and throughput is much faster.”
All the attention to speed and productivity, however, does not come at the expense of accuracy and precision. “The Haas machines are very accurate,” McCants asserts. “I was actually surprised by the accuracy, and how they blend. Sometimes we have to rotate the part for a cut, reposition it for another cut, then go back to the first surface for another cut. I was concerned about the repeatability, but it is great. We have had no problem at all. It is just like it ran on the same axis without the intervening re-position.”
NASO’s jobs run the gamut: from delicate thin-wall parts of aluminum and titanium, to hefty aircraft landing gear links, to intricate specialized antennas – and everything between. In addition to machining, the company also fabricates electrical components, and provides related assembly. With such a wide range of capabilities and capacity, NASO can accept jobs beyond the ability of other shops.
“Prior to moving to an ‘all-Haas shop,’ we had Fadals and a couple other machines – all with different controls,” Howe recalls. “By standardizing the shop, it has been much easier for the machinists to work with a common platform. We were never completely pleased with the different controls before we switched over to Haas, but the Haas control is easy to use, and essentially the same from machine to machine. With the software and features on the machines, life is certainly a lot easier. We also appreciate the fact that Haas makes all their products here in the U.S.A.
“In the future,” he continues, “we plan to bring in a couple of Haas EC-400PP pallet pool horizontal machining centers. With those, we can make parts at night, unattended – lights out. And we are considering getting a couple robots soon. We are really looking to push the limits to become even more competitive.
“Our machine shop is amazing,” Howe concludes. “We are really excited by where this is going. We will quadruple our income volume by this time next year. It has been an amazing growth, and we are becoming a benchmark manufacturing facility: a market leader in CNC machining, cycle time, and efficiency.”