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Grinding wheels and cheese fondue:

an interview with Peter Haefeli

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Grinding wheel expert and hobby blacksmith Peter Haefeli.

Grinding wheel expert and hobby blacksmith Peter Haefeli.

The Haefeli grinding wheel experts visit Haas. Foto: Haas.A few weeks ago we were lucky enough to receive a visit from the grinding wheel experts at Haefeli. The Haefeli Diamantwerkzeugfabrik AG, is a traditional family business based in Zurich that has earned an excellent reputation for diamond and CBN grinding tools. Like ourselves, brothers Rainer and Peter Haefeli are busy finding for ideal solutions for their customers’ grinding requirements. Read on to find out what makes Haefeli tools unique, and what a long cheese fondue session has to do with the political culture in Switzerland.

Schleifblog: Mr Haefeli, you own Haefeli Diamantwerkzeugfabrik AG together with your brother Rainer. The company was founded in 1919 and has been producing diamond and CBN grinding tools at your Riedenhaldenstraße address in Zurich since the 1950s. Recently, you and your employees visited Haas Schleifmaschinen GmbH – what expectations did you have when you came to Trossingen?
Peter Haefeli: The aim of the trip was for the employees from both companies to get to know each other. It’s important for us to have good working relations with all our business partners, so that together we can develop individual grinding solutions for all our various customers. It’s also very important for our employees to see how their intricate grinding tools are actually being used. What needs special attention with regard to the production? How can they improve the tools even further?

Haefeli grinding wheel in action on a Multigrind® CA.Schleifblog: What did you find most impressive at Haas?
Haefeli: First of all, the high level of vertical production. All the key parts of the manufacturing take place in-house at Haas, from the grinding spindle to the grinding software. Secondly, the “Haas spirit”. That is, the cooperative, goal-oriented way that Haas employees go about their work.

Schleifblog: As a specialist for grinding wheels, what would you say is the biggest difference between today’s grinding machines and those that were available when you starting working for your father’s company?
Haefeli: When I started working for the business it was a time of great change. The first electronic machine control units were being introduced, but they were incredibly complicated. They kick-started the really big developments. Progress has since taken place in various stages, driven by new machines, additional axes, controllers, robot technology, materials and grinding tools. Today, there are grinding machines with up to 6 axes. We’ve reached a point where the individual processes are almost beyond belief. These kinds of complex grinding applications are only possible thanks to the grinding software that’s always running in the background, with its user-friendly interface.

Peter Haefeli talking shop with Haas sales engineer Cornelius Wecht at the 2012 AMB.Schleifblog: What makes Haefeli tools so special? And what do you think will be the next big challenge for you and your 20 employees?
Haefeli: Our tools are produced according to the requirements of individual customers. Of course we also have lots of standard tools on offer, which are suitable for many of our customers’ applications. Our extensive experience and range of different binding materials mean that our flexible team can quickly construct tools customized for specific processes. Our products have an incredibly long service life and we’ve maintained the same high standard of quality throughout the years, which gives our customers real value as well as peace of mind. For us, upcoming challenges include the increasing speed of innovation and the extensive markets.

Schleifblog: Have you ever had customer requests that have pushed you and your team to your technological limits?
Haefeli: We create customized solutions every day, so we are regularly faced with new kinds of problems that force us to push the boundaries of what’s possible. The latest example of this is our sintered diamond grinding pin, which is the smallest in the world with a diameter of just 0.2 mm. And recently we even managed to make it 10% smaller – down to just ø 0.18 mm – and still in the same sintered quality!

Schleifblog: Are there any brand-name products that are well-known outside the industry that were produced using a Haefeli grinding wheel?
Haefeli: Every day tens of thousands of diesel nozzles are ground using our tools, so there are plenty of motorists out there driving around with us on board. You may also encounter our technology when you open a PET bottle, check the time on your premium Swiss watch, or if you have a broken leg that has been treated using medical screws.

Peter Haefeli (far right) with Gérard Molar (Curtil SA, France) at the grinding machine. In the foreground: Frédéric Brenat and Tim Kern from Haas. Schleifblog: Do you think that grinding machine manufacturers and producers of grinding wheels should work together more closely in future to meet customer demands? And how would this kind of collaboration work?
Haefeli: Innovations are being developed at an incredible rate and machine manufacturers are required to provide their customers with comprehensive grinding solutions, so both parties need to be able to share their experience and knowledge faster and more effectively. This open approach is the best way to come up with the solutions required by the market.

Schleifblog: Does your company have a motto?
Haefeli: Always one step ahead! A votre service!

Schleifblog: The Swiss are slow. At least, they are according to the stereotype. Emil Steinberger, the Swiss cabaret artist who is also very popular in Germany, once remarked: “No, we’re not slow, we just enjoy taking our time – whether it’s a drawn-out cheese fondue (our national dish), or a refreshing glass of Rivella (our national drink). But I do admit that we look at each problem from every possible angle before making a decision.” Are the Swiss really slow, Mr Haefeli?
Haefeli: With a cheese fondue, 4 to 6 people from different positions and with different views share the same dish and are all jointly responsible for its outcome. This characterizes our consensus-oriented approach to politics and life. Just because the Swiss speak German more slowly and are perhaps a bit harder to understand doesn’t mean that Switzerland is not a rapidly developing country. I mean, just take a look at all the patents and innovations, as well as our flexible job market that attracts people from all over the world. Something that dynamic can’t possibly be described as slow. But it is true that we tend to consider things in the long-term, ensuring the utmost quality and precision, rather than pursuing short-term solutions.

Original Haefeli grinding wheel, true to scale with a 35 mm diameter.Schleifblog: What do you enjoy doing most when you’re not working on grinding wheels?
Haefeli: Traveling, catching up with friends, sport, a bit of metal forging perhaps and enjoying the countryside in my sleek old roadster.
Schleifblog: Mr Haefeli, thanks so much for your time.

 

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