Machine shops that are looking for a cost-effective solution to the challenge of cutting tough, difficult-to-machine materials around the clock are finding the answer in the UMC-750 universal machining centre. One company willing to testify to the Haas machine’s ruggedness and dependability is French aerospace contractor KMP, who runs an automated UMC-750 night and day machining complex components in titanium for Airbus.

The Airbus Group dominates the industrial landscape in south-west France. Along with an extensive supply chain in the Toulouse area, the European aerospace giant is single-handedly responsible for a good deal of the region’s economy. In fact, in 2011, when word got out that Airbus was planning a major manufacturing programme, husband and wife entrepreneurs Sébastien and Sonia Korczak decided to establish their own subcontract machining facility, KMP, with the intention of servicing the large number of tier-2 and tier-3 aerospace companies in the area.

“Before we opted for Haas, we were told by other machine tool suppliers that they weren’t up to the job of cutting hard materials,” says Sébastien. “In fact, it turns out they didn’t want us to know that Haas machines can be pushed day and night cutting tough materials, and will not let you down. What’s more, they’re so easy to use that one of my operators learnt the control in just a day; even my eleven-year-old son can run the machines!”

With no established contacts in the aerospace supply sector, KMP’s first six months were far from plain sailing. However, knocking on the doors of large aerospace supply chain companies eventually led to a handful of orders, which the company machined using a pre-owned Haas VF-2 vertical machining centre with a Haas TR160 two-axis (rotating/tilting) trunnion table.

“At the start, we wanted a five-axis machine to differentiate ourselves from three main competitors we had identified in the market,” says Sébastien. “But, we needed to find a good machine at a good price, and we couldn’t afford to buy a new one. The pre-owned Haas VF-2 proved to be the ideal solution. It has a very big program storage capacity, which allows us to use sophisticated machining strategies.”

Such was KMP’s initial success that within six months, the company had swapped the VF-2 for a Haas VM-2 vertical machining centre complete with a more powerful spindle, followed shortly by a Haas DT-1 drill/tap centre.

“Haas has a big brand presence in the market in Europe, and because we’d had a very good experience with our used VF-2, we felt compelled to find out more about their machines,” adds Sébastien. “Other machine tool suppliers said Haas machines were only good for aluminium and plastics, but to me, their derisory comments hinted that there was a hidden truth they didn’t want us to know about.”

The most recent purchases at KMP are two Haas UMC-750 five-axis machining centres, one of which is robot-loaded and typically runs all night. KMP was, in fact, the first company in France to install a UMC-750.

“We shopped around, but with a weight of eight tons, the UMC-750 appeared to us to have the mass we were going to need to cut tough materials,” states Sébastien. “We had the opportunity to see the UMC-750 without the cover and were reassured by the sturdy, rigid machine frame. Also, we have great confidence in the Haas control. In fact, the UMC-750 is supplied as standard with some essential macros for five-axis machining, specifically for the dynamic repositioning of parts.”

According to Sébastien, the machine’s precision is another differentiating feature that has helped overcome many component issues at KMP. For instance, one particular part required holes drilled to a tolerance of plus or minus 3µm. The holes were generated using helical interpolation on the UMC-750, and the customer approved the parts when they were delivered as “right first time.”

Around 80% of the components that KMP makes are produced from titanium – a notoriously tough and difficult-to-machine alloy – mostly for the aerospace industry, but also for motorsport. Many of the components are highly complex, featuring freeform surfaces, inclined faces, angled through-holes and irregularly shaped bosses. Sometimes between 80% and 90% of the original billet is machined away.

All-night automation

Titanium has proved to be no problem for the Haas machines. Indeed, thanks to automation, one of the UMC-750 machines runs around the clock cutting titanium workpieces.

The Eco-Tower 60 from Lang Technik offers a simple and advantageous introduction to automation, typically for batch sizes up to 60 off. An operator at KMP loads the tower with billets, presses the button, and walks away, returning to find a completed batch of precision parts.

“Communication with the UMC-750 is very straightforward, and was facilitated by a Haas technician in no time,” says Sébastien.

KMP aims to continue growing by finding customers who need precise parts made in tough materials and larger volumes. However, the company is operating in competition with local companies, as well as rivals operating in lower-cost economies such as Romania and Tunisia.

“We have to be well organised and structured, with an attractive hourly rate, in order to compete,” concludes Sébastien. “Which means the price and running costs of Haas machines are a huge advantage, and we can build on that.

“We now feel confident enough to hire more employees and buy more Haas machine tools, especially universal machines. I’m very glad we didn’t listen to the stories we were told by other machine tool companies. We wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s always worth finding out for yourself.”