Not All Haases are the Same
Have you ever googled with word “Haas”? If you do, you’ll get 61,900,000 results in an impressive 0.59 seconds. So at first glance, it’s fairly easy to see why we, Haas Schleifmaschinen GmbH, a German high-tech grinding machine manufacturer, are often mistaken for the American machine tool builder Haas Automation Inc. This happens particularly often in the US and Great Britain. But it’s really quite simple:
There’s More Than an Ocean Separating Trossingen from Oxnard
Haas Schleifmaschinen GmbH was founded by Adelbert Haas in Trossingen, a town in Southern Germany on the edge of the Black Forest, in 1934. Since then, we have built grinding machines for a wide variety of different industries and customers across the globe. Whenever someone around the world receives a prosthetic knee, there’s a 75 percent chance that it was manufactured on one of our Multigrind® grinding machines. And thanks to our high-precision Multigrind® grinding machines and our Multigrind® Horizon grinding software, we also have an excellent reputation in the aerospace industry and with manufacturers of precision machining tools.
On Haas Automation Inc.’s website, we read that Gene Haas founded his company in 1983, almost fifty years after us, in Oxnard, California. Today Haas Automation Inc. manufactures CNC tool machines as well as machining centers for lathing and milling.
So you can see that Haas Schleifmaschinen GmbH and Haas Automation Inc. are separated not only by an ocean, but also by an entire machining concept. Lathing, drilling, and milling are machining methods with geometrically defined cutting edges, with the number and shape of the cutting edges known, and the process generates swarf. Grinding, which is what you do with our machines, is machining at the micrometer scale with a geometrically undefined cutting edge. Neither the shape nor the number of cutting edges is known. The material that is removed during grinding is microscopic in size. As you probably know grinding machine manufacturers are fond of saying that they split the micrometer!
But who could tell the story of Haas better than Horst Bader, our firm’s former owner, who successfully led the company for many years, and unfortunately passed away much too early back in 2015? A few months before his death, we had an interesting conversation with him about the beginnings and the history of Haas Schleifmaschinen GmbH.The passionate qualified engineer and grinding machine builder successfully led Haas Schleifmaschinen GmbH between 1982 and 2000. Nearly 500 grinding machines were manufactured in Trossingen under his leadership, including the first CNC two-axis tool grinding machine in 1984, the first CNC HB 3045-5 grinding machine with five axes in 1989, and the successful Multigrind® HT grinding machine range in 1998.
Schleifblog: Mr. Bader, you knew Adelbert, the company founder of Haas personally and can probably tell us a few things you heard firsthand about the early days of Haas.
Horst Bader: Adelbert Haas opened his workshop on Neckarstrasse in Schwenningen (South Germany, very close to the Black Forest) in 1934 when he was 34 years old. Back then, the company was called Haas & Jauch Werkzeugbau. Haas became the sole owner in 1937 or 1938. Adelbert Haas was a mechanic with electrical training and was always demanding high technical standards. At the beginning, he even built motors himself for his machinery, which included lathes, because he was dissatisfied with the electric motors available. He told me that the vertical range of manufacture was impressive from the start.
Schleifblog: When did Haas introduce the first grinding machine?
Horst Bader: If memory serves, Adelbert Haas presented his first grinding machine at the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1938. Haas manufactured two grinding machine models up until the end of World War II, the HS 1 tool grinding machine and the FL 325 surface grinding machine.
They were the same machine in terms of basic design, except that the surface grinding machine featured a rigid spindle head and the tool grinding machine a swivelling head. Incidentally, at that time it wasn’t Baden-Württemberg that was the center of German engineering, but rather the region of Thuringia and Saxony. As the only engineering trade fair in Europe, the Leipzig Trade Fair was extremely important.
Schleifblog: Who were the first customers to work with Haas grinding machines?
Horst Bader: As far as I know, Haas supplied the company Nägele Feinwerkbau in Stuttgart with grinding machines both before and during World War II. Back then, Dr. Nägele built machinery and systems for manufacturing zippers for clothing. The tools used in these folding, compressing, and crimping machines had to be reground on a regular basis. And that was done on the small Haas grinding machine. Whenever the Dr. Nägele company supplied a new system for manufacturing zippers, it always came with a Haas grinding machine.
Schleifblog: How many people worked at Haas at that time?
Horst Bader: Haas employed about 120 people until 1945. The company headquarters were completely destroyed by an aerial bomb in the last year of the war, likely due to their location in direct vicinity to the Schwenningen train station. None of the systems and machines were left standing or could be used for rebuilding.
Schleifblog: But that didn’t stop Adelbert Haas from starting over again from scratch after the war.
Horst Bader: That’s right. One or two years after the war, Haas began rebuilding the company on the premises of a carpenter’s workshop located in the neighborhood of the old site. He was 46 or 47 years old at that time. While he didn’t have any more machines or tools, he did have a great deal of determination. He didn’t receive any support either. The only thing he was able to build on was a few business contacts from before.
Schleifblog: And the first machine he delivered after the war …
Horst Bader: … was a surface grinding machine, which went to a company in Sweden that manufactured zippers. I assume that Haas supplied the Nägele company with machines just as it did before the war. Between the war and the late 50s, Haas manufactured just one tool grinding machine, which was jokingly referred to as “Blechschüsselmaschine” (metal bowl machine) internally.
Schleifblog: Why metal bowl machine?
Horst Bader: High-quality materials, steel, iron, and things like that were very hard to come by after the war. So this machine featured a metal construction, referred to as a “Blechschüssel” (metal bowl) in Swabian dialect, designed to capture grinding dust and emulsion. Due to a lack of iron, a wooden frame below the metal bowl served as a machine stand.
Schleifblog: How long was the HS 1 produced that way?
Horst Bader: In the late 40s, the grinding spindle was relatively small, just 60 mm in diameter. The taper for the grinding wheel flanges had a diameter of 15 mm. In the late 50s/early 60s, the machine was equipped with a very sturdy machine stand made from casting, and the diameter of the grinding spindle was increased to 90 mm. It was a very sturdy, accurate, and reliable machine that we manufactured at Haas for around 40 years.
Schleifblog: A really successful model Made in Germany, like the VW Beetle, right?
Horst Bader: Exactly. And Adelbert Haas was always improving the HS 1 and expanding the accessories. For instance, he replaced the ball screw guide with the ball hanger rod guide in the late 70s, again making the table guide much sturdier. This made the grinding process more accurate. Haas won over many renowned customers with its high-precision table guide and always very good grinding spindles. There were more than 20 grinding machines in use at both Märklin Model railroad in Göppingen and Groz-Beckert in Albstadt.
Schleifblog: You joined Haas in 1982. What did you do before that?
Horst Bader: I worked in the field of machining engineering as a qualified engineer until 1982, but had already had business dealings with Haas. When I took over Adelbert Haas’s company, he was 82 years old and still had six employees. In the decades before, the company sometimes had more than 50 employees. Due to his age, Adelbert stepped down and ultimately sold the company.
Schleifblog: And was he able to enjoy retirement?
Horst Bader: Quite the opposite! After I took over the company, Haas came in every day and really helped me settle in. In my first year we manufactured around 40 machines, split equally between surface grinding machines and tool grinding machines.
Schleifblog: Haas no longer builds surface grinding machines. What were they used for back then?
Horst Bader: Märklin is a good example. They had more than 20 of our surface grinding machines, which they used to produce small die-cast tools and metal bending tools for use in the construction of their worldwide famous model locomotives. Groz-Beckert in Albstadt used our machines to grind die-cast tools for the production of needles for the international market.
Schleifblog: And who worked with Haas tool grinding machines?
Horst Bader: It was mostly manufacturers of precision machining tools such as Prototyp, which now belongs to Walter AG and thus the Sandvik Group, Komet, and Gühring. And then of course a lot of tool grinding companies here in the region that once reground machining tools for the¬ automotive industry and for tool and mould construction: reamers, milling cutters, taps, and tools like that. The HS 1 had a special relief grinding fitting for taps.
Schleifblog: When did the CNC technology arrive at Haas?
Horst Bader: I began developing the first CNC grinding machine two or three years after I took over the company. It was clear to me that our HS 1 tool grinding machine was still good, but it was no longer up-to-date technically speaking. The Haas company wouldn’t have survived much longer without the CNC machine. So it was high time for a CNC grinding machine (laughs). We introduced the first two-axis CNC machine with step motor and controller at EMO in Hannover in 1987.
Schleifblog: You decided to move the company to Trossingen in 1990. Why?
Horst Bader: We were only renting in Schwenningen and, by the late 80s, had way too little space. There were times when we barely had any space to assemble our machines. Incidentally, one of the last grinding machines we manufactured in Schwenningen went to ALLWEILER. This machine was used there in the production of pump spindle shafts for more than 20 years without any issues. To get this enormous machine out of the hall, we had to move all the other machines around. It was a lot of work. The move was necessary.
Schleifblog: When did Haas launch the Multigrind® series?
Horst Bader: We launched the first five-axis machine with CNC controller in 1989, after having manufactured three and four-axis machines based on the HS 1 for some time. Before that there was the HB 1035 with two axes, the HB 2035 with four axes and Siemens controller, and finally the HB 3045 with up to six axes. The Multigrind® HT was developed on this basis, with more than 400 machines sold. A successful model for us, too.
Schleifblog: When did you begin developing a software department at Haas?
Horst Bader: That was around 1990. Back then, we still developed the programs for the grinding process on the computer and then entered them into the Siemens controller. Those were the first steps towards software-controlled full-sequence machining of tools on our grinding machines.
Schleifblog: Which projects have stuck in your mind the most?
Horst Bader: We carried out a demanding, large-scale project for Heidelberger Druckmaschinen. It was two HB 3045 grinding machines with Siemens controller, which allowed users to grind tools from start to finish. Heidelberger was a great reference for us, which ultimately helped us to get our foot in the door with Daimler-Benz, MAN, and BASS. Incidentally, BASS is still a Haas customer to this day, and an absolute specialist in threading tools.
Schleifblog: Speaking of new customers, how did you raise awareness of Haas back then?
Horst Bader: I have always believed that trade fairs are a very important instrument for spreading the word about our products. Personal contact with our users has always been a top priority for me. EMO in Hannover and AMB in Stuttgart were the most important trade fairs at the beginning, and gave us the opportunity to meet with customers and interested parties. We always received new ideas for development there. We first made contact with customers and representatives from abroad at EMO.
Schleifblog: You were one of the very first exhibitors at GrindTec.
Horst Bader: Yes, that’s right. The first GrindTec was a very important step for us. There we had the opportunity to meet with people who were really interested in grinding technology. GrindTec in Augsburg was, from the first day, a specialist trade fair in the best sense of the word. In addition to trade fairs, it was also the recommendations of satisfied users in particular that allowed us to advance. Word has spread about the quality of the Haas grinding machines Made in Germany.
Schleifblog: You mentioned the vertical range of manufacture in the early days of Haas. Has that changed over time?
Horst Bader: With the launch of the CNC machines, we began purchasing controllers, electronic components, and guides, but only from suppliers that lived up to our own quality standards. The vertical range of manufacture has therefore remained high at Haas.
Schleifblog: What is the famous single-grain diamond in your desk drawer all about?
Horst Bader: We used the single-grain diamond to dress grinding wheels of a certain shape. The single-grain diamond was mounted in a device and used to expose new grains in the grinding wheel, thus resharpening the grains and reinforcing the grinding wheel. Yes, I always had the single-grain diamond either in my pocket or in my drawer. Today at Haas we dress with dressing units inside the machine.
Schleifblog: One of Haas’s strengths …
Horst Bader: Exactly. Profiling is carried out with a parallel dresser in the machine or using the cross dressing procedure. Here, the dresser wheel is positioned at an angle of 90 degrees to the grinding wheel. For the pressure-sensitive tapered wheels used to grind smaller radii in cutting tools, the process is much gentler. It’s a great thing. It’s something we didn’t have back then.
Schleifblog: Grinding machine manufacturers are fond of saying that they split the micrometer. Was that the case back then too, or do people work more accurately today?
Horst Bader (laughs): Of course we also tried to split the micrometer. We’ve always built machines that allow you to grind in the micrometer range. Our customers demanded this level of precision of us even back then. In my time, we worked with extremely accurate Heidenhain scales in micrometer resolution. For rotary axes we used encoders with angular resolutions down to a thousandth of a degree.
Schleifblog: Which workpiece was that most important for?
Horst Bader: In medical technology: when it came to grinding the contours of knee implants, they had to work in increments of a micrometer. That resulted in 420,000 individual lines of code in the grinding program, which was too much even for the Siemens controller. So we went to Erlangen and spoke to the Siemens experts, who then expanded the storage capacities of the controllers for us. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to carry out this complex grinding process. That was a good collaboration. As you can see, we worked very accurately back then, too. Even if the grinding machines that leave Haas these days are more precise due to more accurate guiding systems and better spindles and probing systems.
Schleifblog: How many of the old HS 1 grinding machines do you think are still being used by customers?
Horst Bader: A few to be sure, as these machines are primarily used for reworking or regrinding. And they virtually last forever. In my day, we usually delivered four to five HS 1 machines a month. By 2004, Haas had manufactured around 2,400 mechanical tool and surface grinding machines based on the HS 1. Then came the CNC grinding machines and business with the HS 1 declined. The repeatability of our new CNC grinding machines was simply much better.
We would like to thank Horst Bader, a passionate engineer, a prudent company leader, and an exceptionally friendly person!