https://cdn.mtdcnc.global/cnc/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/22141820/The-HAAS-UMC750-at-CLA-Tools-640x360.jpg
    Machining

    CLA cuts a path through the pandemic with 5-axis HAAS

    • By MTDCNC
    • March 22, 2021
    • 7 minute read

    Established in 1974 by Geoffrey and Jacqueline Flinn, CLA Tools is a business that was initially formed around being the agents and sole UK distributor for American brand Cogsdill Tool Products. Over the years, CLA Tools expanded its portfolio with other products and brands, such as Sheffcut Tools. In 1988, CLA Tools changed direction by designing and manufacturing tools, a step that led to CLA purchasing its factory in 1991 to manufacture tools – a step that subsequently took the Coventry company down the route of subcontract machining. MTD magazine takes a look at how this subcontract manufacturer has evolved down the years and what it has done to build a business model that is sustainable through the pandemic.  

    As a family business, CLA has now entered its third generation with Geoffrey and Jacqueline retaining co-ownership with daughter and current Managing Director Melanie and granddaughter Elle Flinn-Shephard joining the company in 2019. Down the years, the West Midlands company has evolved from a manual to a CNC machine tool workshop manufacturing parts for the automotive, agricultural, pneumatics, hydraulics and MOD sectors. With a customer base that includes renowned brands like JLR, Ricardo, Aston Martin, JCB, TATA, Toyota and IMI Norgren; precision, quality and productivity have all been critical factors in the success of this ISO: 9001 and ISO: 14001 business. To help the 12-employee company achieve this, it has invested in machine tools from HAAS to ensure its sustained success. 

    Like all subcontract manufacturers, CLA Tools has had to weather the storm of the pandemic and commenting upon this, Elle Flinn-Shephard says: “Covid has impacted our business in both negative and positive ways. In April, we initially struggled as many of our customers closed production – a typical example was the temporary closure of foundries in the automotive sector. However, since April we have maintained a steady output due to repeat orders from existing customers and we have picked up new accounts. Some of the new work includes the production of compressors, prototype samples and regular low volume parts such as motorcycle handlebar yokes, brake pedals and gear levers.”

    “Sadly, some of this new business is due to the failure of other companies to weather the pandemic storm. As a company that has invested in 5-axis machining centres from HAAS, our set-ups, cycle times, lead times and throughput has put our business in a positive position to face the challenge. Inevitably, our prototype work for automotive models has slowed down during the pandemic, but we have replaced that work with some new customers and increased orders from existing companies. This has seen our business diversify further into the commercial vehicle segment.” 

    During its 46 years of business, CLA Tools has developed specific expertise in the production of jigs and fixtures for holding and machining castings, working closely with customers and designers to plan the most efficient process. Adding further value, Elle Flinn-Shephard says: “We can source patterns and castings and project manage the entire process to include heat treatment, painting, coating, welding, wire/spark eroding, balancing, gear-cutting and fabrication. We mainly work on prototype and low volume pre-production parts such as engine brackets, fuel pump housings and engine air intakes as well as machining a lot of work from solid billets. We are considered experts in everything from complex prototypes to higher volume pre-production runs.”

    With 17 machine tools on the shop floor, the journey with HAAS started back in 2011 with the purchase of a HAAS VF4SS large bed machining centre. Commenting upon this, Elle Flinn-Shephard says: “We wanted to start our 5-axis journey with a large capacity VMC, as we could see our business and customers requiring more 5-axis work. Retrofitting a rotary unit to the VF4SS to create a 3+2 configuration was seen as the most cost-effective and efficient way for us to start our 5-axis journey.”

    The successful integration of the VF4SS led the company to purchase more HAAS machines with a VF5SS arriving in 2012. This was followed by a second VF5SS in 2015, the 5-axis UMC750 in 2018 and more recently a VM3 in 2019. The HAAS machines incorporate an interface that has enabled CLA Tools to easily and cost-effectively integrate 5-axis rotary units on all four of its 3-axis HAAS machines. 

    The succession of machines from 2011 to 2019 is credit to the company making the step-change to 5-axis machining that subsequently reduced set-ups, improved throughput and increased the complexity and type of work the Coventry company could undertake. The arrival of the VF4SS with the trunnion unit in 2011 created a self-perpetuating growth pattern that enabled the company to purchase more VMCs that CLA Tools could retrofit with trunnions.

    Commenting upon this, Elle Flinn-Shephard says: “We added the 5-axis trunnions to all our vertical machines to accommodate large production orders. We could not have won the bigger orders without this capability, as the parts would have had to be done in multiple operations. This would have been more time consuming, labour intensive and less accurate, therefore we would have been less competitive.” 

    Specifically identifying the benefits of the HAAS UMC750, Elle Flinn-Shephard continues: “The UMC750 enabled us to take on two higher volume production jobs from two different customers; one of which was oil filter housings which we did 3 runs of, machining around 150-off overall. On one of the two jobs, we managed to get the process from four operations spread across four machines down to two operations. The HAAS UMC750 enabled us to use only one VMC and then finish the job on the UMC, rather than splitting the work across four machines. We have been more efficient and accurate using this 5-axis capability and this has helped us during the pandemic. The 5-axis machines have made a significant contribution to us retaining our existing customer base as well as gaining new customers throughout the pandemic.” 

    “The HAAS machines suit our type of work. They are quick, accurate and robust. We’ve also had excellent after-sales service from the company. This HAAS UMC750 was a strategic decision as it has allowed us to win bigger work. This is a credit to the machine having a much larger work envelope than the trunnion machines, as the table rotates rather than using a ‘bolt-on trunnion’ that reduces the working area. It has a tool probe for setting our tool offsets and it is far more accurate and faster to use than entering offsets manually. This processing speed is created because the machine only needs one datum offset, as it tracks the programme datum – again this is more accurate and quicker to set than the trunnion machines.”

    Looking to the current strategy and how it has positioned CLA Tools for the future, Elle Flinn-Shephard concludes: “We have funded new machinery through re-investment so we are not saddled with debt and this makes it easier for us to weather economic downturns. We have invested in 5-axis machines to give us enhanced accuracy and speed, particularly on the most complex prototype parts. These machines have allowed us to win new work, particularly from a new multi-national company looking for new suppliers following the closure of several machine shops and foundries due to Covid-19.” 

    “Whilst this has been a tough year, we have reaped benefits. We have increased our efficiency and profit margin by analysing what we truly do and don’t need in the process of tightening our belt. This has made us more robust as a business. We have gone into more detail on the costing of jobs, including tooling, downtime, and programming as well as machining. This enables more accurate quoting. We also reorganised the shop floor to make tooling and gauges immediately accessible and to reduce time lost by operators being away from their machines. We have also upgraded a second CAD station and invested in further training for our programmers. The future is certainly looking bright for our business.” 

    https://cdn.mtdcnc.global/cnc/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/22141820/The-HAAS-UMC750-at-CLA-Tools-640x360.jpg

    CLA cuts a path through the pandemic with 5-axis HAAS

    Established in 1974 by Geoffrey and Jacqueline Flinn, CLA Tools is a business that was initially formed around being the agents and sole UK distributor for American brand Cogsdill Tool Products. Over the years, CLA Tools expanded its portfolio with other products and brands, such as Sheffcut Tools. In 1988, CLA Tools changed direction by designing and manufacturing tools, a step that led to CLA purchasing its factory in 1991 to manufacture tools – a step that subsequently took the Coventry company down the route of subcontract machining. MTD magazine takes a look at how this subcontract manufacturer has evolved down the years and what it has done to build a business model that is sustainable through the pandemic.  

    As a family business, CLA has now entered its third generation with Geoffrey and Jacqueline retaining co-ownership with daughter and current Managing Director Melanie and granddaughter Elle Flinn-Shephard joining the company in 2019. Down the years, the West Midlands company has evolved from a manual to a CNC machine tool workshop manufacturing parts for the automotive, agricultural, pneumatics, hydraulics and MOD sectors. With a customer base that includes renowned brands like JLR, Ricardo, Aston Martin, JCB, TATA, Toyota and IMI Norgren; precision, quality and productivity have all been critical factors in the success of this ISO: 9001 and ISO: 14001 business. To help the 12-employee company achieve this, it has invested in machine tools from HAAS to ensure its sustained success. 

    Like all subcontract manufacturers, CLA Tools has had to weather the storm of the pandemic and commenting upon this, Elle Flinn-Shephard says: “Covid has impacted our business in both negative and positive ways. In April, we initially struggled as many of our customers closed production – a typical example was the temporary closure of foundries in the automotive sector. However, since April we have maintained a steady output due to repeat orders from existing customers and we have picked up new accounts. Some of the new work includes the production of compressors, prototype samples and regular low volume parts such as motorcycle handlebar yokes, brake pedals and gear levers.”

    “Sadly, some of this new business is due to the failure of other companies to weather the pandemic storm. As a company that has invested in 5-axis machining centres from HAAS, our set-ups, cycle times, lead times and throughput has put our business in a positive position to face the challenge. Inevitably, our prototype work for automotive models has slowed down during the pandemic, but we have replaced that work with some new customers and increased orders from existing companies. This has seen our business diversify further into the commercial vehicle segment.” 

    During its 46 years of business, CLA Tools has developed specific expertise in the production of jigs and fixtures for holding and machining castings, working closely with customers and designers to plan the most efficient process. Adding further value, Elle Flinn-Shephard says: “We can source patterns and castings and project manage the entire process to include heat treatment, painting, coating, welding, wire/spark eroding, balancing, gear-cutting and fabrication. We mainly work on prototype and low volume pre-production parts such as engine brackets, fuel pump housings and engine air intakes as well as machining a lot of work from solid billets. We are considered experts in everything from complex prototypes to higher volume pre-production runs.”

    With 17 machine tools on the shop floor, the journey with HAAS started back in 2011 with the purchase of a HAAS VF4SS large bed machining centre. Commenting upon this, Elle Flinn-Shephard says: “We wanted to start our 5-axis journey with a large capacity VMC, as we could see our business and customers requiring more 5-axis work. Retrofitting a rotary unit to the VF4SS to create a 3+2 configuration was seen as the most cost-effective and efficient way for us to start our 5-axis journey.”

    The successful integration of the VF4SS led the company to purchase more HAAS machines with a VF5SS arriving in 2012. This was followed by a second VF5SS in 2015, the 5-axis UMC750 in 2018 and more recently a VM3 in 2019. The HAAS machines incorporate an interface that has enabled CLA Tools to easily and cost-effectively integrate 5-axis rotary units on all four of its 3-axis HAAS machines. 

    The succession of machines from 2011 to 2019 is credit to the company making the step-change to 5-axis machining that subsequently reduced set-ups, improved throughput and increased the complexity and type of work the Coventry company could undertake. The arrival of the VF4SS with the trunnion unit in 2011 created a self-perpetuating growth pattern that enabled the company to purchase more VMCs that CLA Tools could retrofit with trunnions.

    Commenting upon this, Elle Flinn-Shephard says: “We added the 5-axis trunnions to all our vertical machines to accommodate large production orders. We could not have won the bigger orders without this capability, as the parts would have had to be done in multiple operations. This would have been more time consuming, labour intensive and less accurate, therefore we would have been less competitive.” 

    Specifically identifying the benefits of the HAAS UMC750, Elle Flinn-Shephard continues: “The UMC750 enabled us to take on two higher volume production jobs from two different customers; one of which was oil filter housings which we did 3 runs of, machining around 150-off overall. On one of the two jobs, we managed to get the process from four operations spread across four machines down to two operations. The HAAS UMC750 enabled us to use only one VMC and then finish the job on the UMC, rather than splitting the work across four machines. We have been more efficient and accurate using this 5-axis capability and this has helped us during the pandemic. The 5-axis machines have made a significant contribution to us retaining our existing customer base as well as gaining new customers throughout the pandemic.” 

    “The HAAS machines suit our type of work. They are quick, accurate and robust. We’ve also had excellent after-sales service from the company. This HAAS UMC750 was a strategic decision as it has allowed us to win bigger work. This is a credit to the machine having a much larger work envelope than the trunnion machines, as the table rotates rather than using a ‘bolt-on trunnion’ that reduces the working area. It has a tool probe for setting our tool offsets and it is far more accurate and faster to use than entering offsets manually. This processing speed is created because the machine only needs one datum offset, as it tracks the programme datum – again this is more accurate and quicker to set than the trunnion machines.”

    Looking to the current strategy and how it has positioned CLA Tools for the future, Elle Flinn-Shephard concludes: “We have funded new machinery through re-investment so we are not saddled with debt and this makes it easier for us to weather economic downturns. We have invested in 5-axis machines to give us enhanced accuracy and speed, particularly on the most complex prototype parts. These machines have allowed us to win new work, particularly from a new multi-national company looking for new suppliers following the closure of several machine shops and foundries due to Covid-19.” 

    “Whilst this has been a tough year, we have reaped benefits. We have increased our efficiency and profit margin by analysing what we truly do and don’t need in the process of tightening our belt. This has made us more robust as a business. We have gone into more detail on the costing of jobs, including tooling, downtime, and programming as well as machining. This enables more accurate quoting. We also reorganised the shop floor to make tooling and gauges immediately accessible and to reduce time lost by operators being away from their machines. We have also upgraded a second CAD station and invested in further training for our programmers. The future is certainly looking bright for our business.”