From: email@example.com (Alan Frisbie)
Subject: Re: Tour of Fadal & Haas factories
Date: 16 Jan 96 12:07:50 PST
> A few days ago, I was treated to tours of two factories
> that manufacture vertical machining centers (VMCs).
> If there is sufficient interest, I will write up my impressions
> and post it to this group.
You guys are sure good for a fellow's ego! :-)
I got 18 replies asking me to write this up, so here it is.
I hope you find it enjoyable.
A few days ago, I was privileged to receive a tour of the
manufacturing plants of both Fadal and Haas Automation. This tour
was part of their efforts to convince Glendale (Calif.) Community
College to select their vertical machining center (VMC) for pur-
chase. I was invited along as an independent observer.
I have tried to be accurate in what I report here, but please
remember that I had to absorb all of this in one morning. I
apologize to both Fadal and Haas for any errors that I may have
The tours lasted about two hours at each company. We were
shown everything we wanted and allowed to take all the photos we
wanted. They both are proud of what they build and how they do
Fadal and Haas have evolved in parallel. While Fadal started
making CNC mills first, Haas built (and still builds) rotary
tables. Later, Haas realized that they would have to sell lots
more rotary tables to make the same profit, so they decided to
also make VMCs and lathes. Fadal's first VMCs were shipped around
1981, about the time Haas was first formed. Haas did not make a
VMC until 1988, but has quickly ramped up.
Just a brief historical note: Fadal is named for the founders,
Frank And Dave And Larry (father and two sons). Haas is also
named for the founder, Gene Haas.
Both companies started in North Hollywood, and then moved to
their present location in Chatsworth, in the San Fernando Valley
area of Los Angeles. Their buildings are literally around the
corner from each other, with only a driveway separating them.
This leads to some amusing moments when a trucking company is mak-
ing pickups or deliveries to both on the same day.
On one occasion, a truck picked up a VMC at Haas. It then
drove across the driveway and backed into the Fadal building,
where they then closed the doors (to comply with some silly city
regulation). This caused some good-natured taunts in both direc-
Both companies focus on "smaller" CNC Vertical Machining
Centers. By this, I mean table sizes from 15" x 30" to 30" x 80"
and motors from 7.5 HP to 15 HP. These are not the sort of
machines that GMC would use to machine diesel engine blocks, but
would be right at home making the thousands of smaller parts.
Each company has a VMC to compete with the other's products. As
far as quality, features and capability go, it is pretty much a
What is illuminating, however, is the philosophy of each com-
pany, both in terms of their design and in how they execute it.
Haas uses iron castings for the main structural units of all
their machines, with linear bearings on all of them. Fadal, on
the other hand, uses a weldment and linear bearings only on their
smallest machine (the VMC-15) and castings with box ways for all
the larger ones. For vibration damping, Fadal fills the base of
the VMC-15 with concrete, while the castings do not need it. Both
companies say that today's casting technology has eliminated the
need to "age" castings, as was needed in "the old days".
One difference I noticed was that Haas spaces the linear bear-
ings further apart on a wider casting than Fadal does, providing
somewhat greater stability. They both appear to use the same
From what I have read, it appears that linear bearings are
becoming the preferred solution for high-precision machines. In
theory, box ways should provide greater rigidity and accuracy. In
practice, Haas says, this has not proven to be true. They cited
several other manufacturers (including Hardinge and LeBlond-Makinko)
that use them.
One impressive operation at Fadal is where they flame-harden
the box ways of their larger machines. This process uses a row of
torches that slowly travel the length of the ways. This takes
about 1/2 hour. The area just behind the torches is flooded with
cold water, so you see red-hot metal just two inches away from the
area with standing water on it. My photos came out well, but can-
not capture the roar of the jets, the radiated heat from the cast-
ing, and the cloud of flame surrounding it. If you ever get a
tour, be sure to ask to see this.
Both companies make controllers that are Fanuc compatible, but
that is where the similarity ends. Haas has opted for a membrane
keyboard with lots of dedicated keys arranged in several square
arrays. Fadal chose a typewriter style layout with full-travel
keys. Fadal's user interface seemed to me to be somewhat clumsy,
while Haas's was much more direct. Again, this is a personal pre-
An old-time micro-computer hacker would feel right at home with
the Fadal controller -- it is built with S-100 boards which look
the same as those I played with in the late 1970's. Fadal says
this is a plus because they can upgrade older controllers to the
latest by simply replacing the boards. An optional Fadal con-
troller (the 32MP) adds the ability to do solid-model rendering,
run very large CNC programs from a hard disk, or run any
PC-compatible CAD/CAM program right at the machine.
The Haas controller struck me as being a more modern design, with
a lot of thought put into making it easy for the operator. Even
the design of the electronics enclosure seemed "cleaner".
We didn't visit the Haas training area, but Fadal has two large
classrooms. One is classroom-style and is equipped with simula-
tors to give hands-on programming experience. In the room next
door is a VMC which the students actually cut parts on. There is
plenty of room to spread out your books and materials.
Since both companies offer (free?) training courses, I would
recommend that any prospective purchaser take two weeks and attend
both of them before making a decision. This would give you the
opportunity to compare and contrast the operation of both con-
The factory floor was another area of big differences. Haas
has invested large amounts of money in automation and special-
purpose machine tools. One "robot" delivers large castings
between an array of shelves and four machining centers. As a
machine becomes free, the next casting that requires that setup
is loaded into place and the previous part is put back on its
shelf, waiting for the next operation.
Haas appears to have made a big investment in "designing for
automation", with many operations running essentially unattended.
For example, one machine had raw 8" disks of steel going in, and
completely finished faceplates, complete with T-slots, for a ro-
tary table coming out every few minutes. All the operator did was
place the raw material on a pallet (25 at a time) and remove the
finished parts. In some areas they use their own machine tools to
make new ones, but feel no shame in buying someone else's tool if
it does the job better.
Fadal, on the other hand, takes great pride in using only Fadal
machines to make new Fadal machines. It is rare to see a
non-Fadal tool in their plant, and then it is likely to have been
heavily modified with pieces of Fadal machinery. I saw two large
gantry mills that had been retro-fitted with Fadal heads and con-
trollers to the extent that the original maker would hardly recog-
nize them. While they take great pride in this, it strikes me as
being a bit stubborn. Almost no automation was in evidence at
Haas has tried to minimize the movement of an under-construction
machine around the plant. When they do move it, it is with the
use of air-bearing lifts. They say that this allows them to fit
the machines closer together, since they don't need the clearance
for a forklift. Fadal's plant seems much more "open", with lots
of space, but there are forklifts everywhere.
Both companies take great pride in the balance and low noise of
their motor and drive systems. Haas uses Lincoln motors and fully
electronic speed control to give speeds up to 7500 RPM (10,000 op-
tional). Fadal offers 10,000 RPM standard (except on the low-end
VMC-15), but has a high/low shifted belt drive to achieve this.
Fadal uses Baldor motors, but balances the motor/fan/drive assem-
At Haas, they demonstrated how quiet their machine is when run-
ning at 7500 RPM -- it was quieter than my Bridgeport at 1000!
This was done in a "showroom" area adjacent to the offices, so any
noise would be obvious. The Fadal demonstration machine is at the
edge of the factory floor, so it was difficult to judge the sound
One nice option on Fadal VMCs is the "Hydrosweep" chip removal
system, which eliminates the traditional auger. All the internal
surfaces are designed with smooth slopes to allow chips to be
washed into a "liquid conveyor" which removes them from the
machine. The liquid (coolant) is then extracted from the chips
and recycled. The closest that Haas offers is a coolant hose and
nozzle (just like you use in your garden) to wash down the inside
of the cabinet.
Fadal subcontracts a lot of their parts to the large number of
shops in the area. This allows them to concentrate on the major
components and the final assembly of their machines. It also
allows them to make more machines in less area.
With the exception of "stock" parts and sheet metal, Haas makes
as much in-house as possible. Thus, Haas requires a much larger
factory to product the same number of machines. Their machine
shop runs two shifts (the second is essentially "lights out" be-
cause of the automation), while machine assembly only runs one
shift. Shipping generally takes place in the evening, to avoid
conflicts with assembly operations.
To reduce space needs, Haas tries to use "Just In Time"
delivery of sub-assemblies. The sheet metal warehouse (a few
blocks away) will load a special cart with a complete set of
"skins" for one machine, then deliver it exactly when and where
We did not get to see the Fadal engineering department, but saw
that Haas has a large one. They make extensive use of CAD/CAM
in their designs. The Haas philosophy is to have the engineer
be responsible for a project all the way from concept to production.
They feel that this provides greater motivation and a higher
Both companies are cramped for space. City of Los Angeles
regulations restrict how much they can do in their existing
facilities. Therefore, Haas has purchased 88 acres in Oxnard,
about 35 miles away in Ventura County. They are building a
415,000 square foot facility which will house the entire operation
under one roof. They plan to start the move in early 1997 and be
producing machines there by the end of the 1st quarter of 1997.
At that time, Fadal will move into the vacated Haas plant in
Chatsworth, giving them much-need expansion space.
I have saved the most amazing figures for last. They are both
shipping over 250 machines PER MONTH!!! Both hope to hit 300 this
month, and Haas is shooting for 400 by the end of 1996. Haas
states that their production is split between roughly 85% VMCs,
and 15% Horizontal & Lathes. Roughly 25% of their production is
shipped overseas, speaking well for the desirability of American
In summary, I would say that Fadal seems to be building the
same machines in the same way they did in the early 1980s, with
only minor upgrades. Haas started late, but has made a huge in-
vestment in the future. While the two companies are neck and neck
right now, I expect to see Haas way out in front five years from
now. It is a very competitive market and Fadal has not made the
changes necessary to be number one.
Fadal's big advantage right now is name recognition. They have
a lot of machines out there, particularly in schools. This is
a weak point with Haas, which they are striving to correct. As
Haas machines become better known, Fadal's advantage will go away
and they will be the ones playing catch-up.
-- Alan E. Frisbie Frisbie@Flying-Disk.Com
-- Flying Disk Systems, Inc.
-- 4759 Round Top Drive (213) 256-2575 (voice)
-- Los Angeles, CA 90065 (213) 258-3585 (FAX)