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Haas Installations Work for DesignWerkes

Haas Installations Work for DesignWerkes

Added to MTDCNC by HAAS Automation on 21 September 2012

On the face of it, DesignWerkes appears to be a regular, run-of-the-mill subcontract machining business, no different than thousands of other Haas-equipped shops around the world. But what sets DesignWerkes apart, is that 95 percent of what it creates, the company has also designed.

“So, we’re not a typical job shop,” emphasizes founder and owner Steve Kille. “Before I bought my first Haas VF-3 in 2002, I didn’t, in fact, build anything. I was a plain-paper designer of mechanical products.”

Specifically, Mr. Kille was designing electro-mechanical automotive systems such as switch assemblies, the likes of which are tested rigorously. If an auto company has to recall a product due to a premature failure, the potential costs can be very high. “As the product designer,” he says, “I found myself explaining to job shops how to build this test equipment. Then, one day, it just occurred to me that this was kind of foolish: We’re a mechanical design firm, and we’re giving away the design to other people to make the products and the test rigs.” He figured he could add considerable value by not just designing the product, but also designing and building the test equipment, and qualifying the end product for the customer.

Steve Kille had previously managed large CNC machine shops, so he wasn’t short of hands-on machining experience. “Once we’d made the decision to cut metal, we went looking for machines,” Mr. Kille explains, “and we realised quickly that Haas was absolutely the best value for the money. I began by looking at both used and new equipment, and I saw that Haas machines hold their value, so I decided to look at a few different models. I took all the guys who worked here at the time and we agreed we should buy the VF-3.”

About a year later, Mr. Kille also bought a VF-2 and an SL-10 turning centre centre. “I bought another VF-3, too; then the economy tanked, so we slowed down for a while. As things began to pick up again, I bought an SL-20 and a VF-5, then another VF-3. Two years ago, I bought a VF-6 and my first VF-5SS. Then, in December, I bought another VF-5SS.” Mr. Kille claims that buying the high-speed Haas machines was a turning point. “I don’t think we’ll ever buy anything but Haas Super Speed machines from now on,” he says. “I believe we are seeing about a 20 percent productivity improvement over standard-speed machines. Plus, ninety percent of what we make is in aluminium, so the 12,000-rpm spindle is very important for us.”

The cell of high-speed Haas machines constitutes what could be regarded as the machining heart of DesignWerkes: a finely tuned, integrated manufacturing process of which Steve Kille is particularly proud. “We run 19 operations on 4 parts in this cell,” he says. “It’s a permanent setup, so we can run it extremely lean.

“I’ve integrated my supply base right into my production schedule, so that I run the cell five times a day. The supplier brings material every Tuesday and Thursday, and every morning the plating company comes in and picks up five sets of parts and delivers them back the next day. Organizing in this way means we run with low overheads.”

Mr. Kille is adamant that cost-effective CNC machining isn’t about where a company is located, or about simply achieving low labour costs. “Of course, there are some things you cannot make in this country anymore,” he says, “like circuit boards. However, if you machine parts on a CNC machine, I don’t believe it makes any difference where you are based. The trick is to take the labour out, economically. You can’t spend millions on automation, because there’s not enough payback. But if you buy the right equipment and you run a lean operation, there is no advantage in having your machine in India or China. If the production cost were comparable to what it would be here, you’d still have to add shipping costs. Anyway, in the automotive world, time is key. You don’t want parts held up during export or shipping. We’re making components that will be shipped and assembled two weeks from now, so we simply cannot have delays.”

DesignWerkes’ Haas machines run two shifts a day, totalling 20 hours. “Last November and December, we were running 24 hours a day, to meet our customers’ deadlines. We didn’t lock the doors for eight weeks!”

Steve Kille is always keen to reiterate why his company is not just a run-of-the-mill machine shop. “None of the large design firms in Boston do what we do,” he states. “We design things, but we also know all the engineering processes, like plastic injection molding, for example. So we can design, prototype, produce, and test the products we’re making.

You can’t be a good design engineer if you don’t understand how the products go together. If we have any failure at testing, I’ll go in and do the analysis to determine why it failed, and I’ll make the change in conjunction with the customer. Really, we’re a ‘super consultancy.’ But whereas the business was once 60 percent design, 40 percent manufacturing. It has now inverted.”

Mr. Kille claims that the big opportunity for his business in the future is green technology. The final product may be new, but the challenge, he says, is always the same. “The power transfer unit we’re making is for a hybrid train system for city transit buses. The customer hired me as a consultant, as they were having problems. I analysed their designs, and highlighted three major issues, which, fortunately, they had also identified. This created a great deal of credibility for me. I also identified three more problems that they hadn’t seen yet, and assured them that they would cause complications if they were not corrected. Things went quiet, and then a couple of weeks later, they called and asked me what I would do if I were going to design the system from scratch. So, we built a few prototypes of this system to see how ours tested compared to theirs. We solved all their problems, and took so much cost out of the product that they funded my redesign from the savings we made.”

This is the order that convinced the company to invest in the Haas Super Speed cell. “I’d rather not be specific about production numbers, but we built hundreds of systems for this particular customer last year. Our plan this year was to double that production, but we are actually going to do almost three times the volume! I’m negotiating volumes for next year, and I’ve just bought two more Haas VF-2SS machines. We have plans to add a VF-6 and a VF-3SS, which will bring us to a total of 14 machines by year’s end.”

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