Turning passion into money

Despite what the text books and the business magazines might say, there’s no ‘right’ way to start a company. Some of those that eventually turn out to be successful have very humble beginnings, and no particular business plans to speak of. Take Haas Automation customer Lange CNC, for example. Founded and owned by Jens Lange, and his wife, Steffi, the Stuttgart-based company wasn’t exactly an accident, but it started off as little more than a pastime, albeit a very time consuming one.

Mr. Jens Lange: I was working for a local manufacturing company. At that time, some friends and I were racing RC cars – in our spare time, as a hobby. One of my friends – a very serious RC car racer, asked me to make him some aluminium axels for his car, which I did. He was so pleased with the axels – and others were likewise, very interested in the product, that I decided to buy an old, knee-type milling machine to see what else I could make. Pretty soon, local companies began to find out I was machining in my spare time, and a few orders came my way.

 The company makes low volume parts for special machines - machine control pedals or turning handles; as well as a lot of bearing flanges.

The company makes low volume parts for special machines – machine control pedals or turning handles; as well as a lot of bearing flanges.

After 3-4 months, I would finish my job at the end of each day and spend another eight hours a day working in my own machine shop! It was crazy, but I loved it. After a year or so – around 2008, I decided it was time to buy a milling machine with a tool changer, which is when I went to AMB, the manufacturing show in Stuttgart, and discovered Haas. Immediately, I could see they were the right CNC machines for me. They were relatively low cost, very well equipped and, overall, great value for money. My first Haas was a VF-1 vertical machining centre, which is still running as hard today as it was the day it arrived.

I continued in my day job while running the Haas in the evenings. This went on for 7 years, until we had a daughter and my wife, Steffi, said: You need to decide whether you are going to carry on like this or take the risk to run your own business full time.

A semi-retired gentleman called Mr. Straub, with a background in machining, said he’d come and work for me, so immediately I had employee number one.

When Steffi and I decided to commit to running Lange CNC, we bought a Haas ST-10Y turning centre with live tooling, another VF-1 and a VF-2SS super speed machine.

We already had some new business, once customers knew we were full time, so the fact that the Haas machines were ordered and arrived within three weeks was perfect.

We make quite a few parts for local manufacturer, SMS Maschinenbau – parts for special machines. Our volumes are low – typically 1-10 pieces, such as machine control pedals or turning handles. We make a lot of bearing flanges – programmes run to 100,000 lines and tolerance are 0.02mm, but that’s no problem for the Haas ST-10Y. We often use it to make parts with tolerances of 0.008mm.

Jens Lange founded Stuttgart based Lange CNC with his wife, Steffi.

Jens Lange founded Stuttgart based Lange CNC with his wife, Steffi.

Florian is our machine operator running the ST-10Y. He’s currently making 250 little spindles for a miniature vice, used in dental applications and metrology.

At the most, we make batches of, say, 500 small prismatic parts for customers like VW. But small batches are our specialty, which is why we are about to merge with another local machining business that is set-up for larger batches: 2000+ off.

The Haas machines are so easy to run. One of our operators – Hans Maier, spent 20-years out of machining before he joined us. We put him on a Haas VF-1 and he was running it within a couple of days, no problem. We also have a trainee, Bahadir Deniz, a student from a local college, running our other VF-1. He’s doing a great job and I know he’s very comfortable operating the Haas.

All of our Haas machines run from 6:30am to 10pm, every day. Before we moved to these premises, my workshop was a garage, without heating or insulation, and the Haas VF-1 would be running in temperatures of zero degrees. But, despite the demands we place on them, we’ve had no serious issues and the Haas machines never lose accuracy. If ever we do need support, the local Haas Factory Outlet can send us a replacement part or a service engineer within twenty-four hours. For a young, growing company like us, that sort of peace of mind is very valuable. I have no doubt we’ll buy more Haas machine tools.