Written by Cheng Lin
These days, machines used to process injection molds nowadays are usually 5-axis machine centers that have been mainstreamed due to the flexibility of three linear axes and two rotary axes. The tooling selecting for 5-axis machine centers can hold shorter tools and cut steep side walls firmly without shaking. This design also enhance tool life time, interfere areas, and the need for forming tools, which makes some processing such as EDM unnecessary. For the shortened tool length, quality of surface roughness is improved, and since 5-axis machine centers hold tools at one time, there are no repeated tool loadings and accuracy is markedly improved. In various sectors like mold, machine tool, medical, power generation, and ship making sectors, 5-axis machine tools are preferred precisely because of these advantages.
On the other hand, 5-face machine tools are more flexibility to handle the multi-side of work piece in one chucking. The main advantage of this type of machine is that they are economical and can be utilized for a variety of jobs.
In Taiwan, among the leading experts in machine centers is Quaser, whose 5-axis and 5-face machine centers are designed with X, Y, Z, A, and C axes structure. Many of its developments address the needs of the European machining sector wherein manufacturers deal with varied order types and limited quantities per order. For instance, the 5-axis MK5U is designed for this type of manufacturing as it covers a wide range of work piece side and machining processes, as is the economical 5-face MF400 with its integration of vertical and horizontal machine centers to meet the needs of purchasers. Both models come with CAD-CAM software that help automate programming and shorten time to market for customer’s products.
A service-oriented spirit: Quaser Switzerland and Quaser Kunshan
Quaser has had success in Europe since first entering the market in the early 1990s. Such a long-distance export market entails a well-organized service support system, otherwise customers could face serious problems. In the beginning, whenever Quaser received an emergency call for replacement parts from a customer or dealer, the headquarters in Taiwan would air freight the requested components. Recalling this process, Quaser president Rock Liao admitted it was very costly but important to respond quickly as the company was determined to establish its good brand image. Investing in and providing services to European customers has been well worth it, Mr. Liao said, since it built a good reputation for the company.
By mid-2000, business in Europe had expanded to an extent that Quaser had local agents across Western Europe. In 2007, a decision was made to open a service center that would be able to respond to customer needs more efficiently and cost-effectively, and Quaser founded its European center in the central part of the continent: Switzerland. The Swiss office provides better service efficiency in component delivery and builds positive image in the area, and consequently, Quaser has become even more competitive in this market.
Meanwhile, to serve customers in China opened a service center in Kunshan. While the requirements of Chinese machine tool users are not as mature as it is in the European market, Mr. Liao said the decision to provide immediate and accessible support to the Chinese machining industry is strategical and will pave Quaser’s expansion route in Mainland China, where Quaser entrusts marketing to local agents to gain from their flexible marketing tactics.
Today, both Quaser Switzerland and Quaser Kunshan have warehouses, showrooms, and a roster of well-trained technicians. Especially in the China market, Quaser holds routine training programs for agent technicians to maintain the level of service quality.
Training programs for in-house technicians
Quaser invests in a technician training program that is both extensive and time-consuming and requires a great of deal of resources not just money, but the company believes the investment is well worth it because, ultimately, employees are recognized as the most important assets of the company.
The training program abides by rigid Quaser SOP for every type of machines that the company produces, from vertical to horizontal then to 5-axis and automatic series assembly. In the case of vertical machines, it takes about 3.5 years to finish training one qualified assembly technician. On the production line Quaser adopts one-on-one responsibility procedure, that is, one technician is responsible for one machine from A to Z. While this training system was once criticized by its USA OEM partner as inefficient and regressive, but eventually consistent product quality and the peripheral benefits resulting from this one-on-one procedure convinced the US partner how the system works for Quaser and its partners.
The production system is designed not only for production, but also to track the individual performance of a machine as well as the development of each employee. With this system, Mr. Liao explained, every problematic machine can be traced back to the one worker, who becomes more conscious about responsibility and quality. Employees responsible for assembling the whole machine center gain the opportunity to learn full operational phases of that machine, and this forces trainees to develop wider professional skills and theoretical knowledge. “We currently have 186 employees, half of whom are on-site assembly workers whose average age is 30,” said Mr. Liao. “Since 2009, Quaser has not laid off a single one because economic impact, since we consider each certified employee as a treasure.”
Characterized cutting art: OEM brings learning opportunities
When it began working with OEM partners, Quaser relied on its existing technology. Later, as the company partnered with cutting-edge Japanese companies, it started to learn novel machine tool manufacturing technologies. Moreover, the company also became exposed to Japanese commitment to stringent manufacturing standards. These quality standards required not only consistently meeting and maintaining a high level of product standards, but also an individual commitment to quality.
At first, this stringent Japanese standard seemed unreasonable to Mr. Liao. As time passed, however, he realized that the standard is indeed attainable and now that they have incorporated the Japanese standard, it is indeed helping Quaser achieve its goals.
Following the Japanese quality standards, Quaser fosters certified on-site workers whose skills are superior to other factory workers. Mr. Liao said the two-standard approach is being exploited to achieve high accuracy: For instance, if the intended accuracy is 5μm, then the standard for on-site workers would be 3μm.
As a pro in turning and milling operations, Quaser continues to act purposely to obtain new technology and expand the operational range of its machines. Currently, one of its OEM projects for a UK company is to manufacture special machine for machining airplane engines parts. Although Quaser products have participated in the aerospace arena, jet engines are a new field for the company. Yet Mr Liao recognizes this unexplored OEM field as a very good opportunity to advance Quaser’s technology and also to prevent the company from putting all of its eggs in one basket, since focused application of machines is dangerous for the company’s bottom line.
Working in high-end OEM projects can prove challenging for Taiwanese corporations, however, so local research centers provide expertise and support to private companies.
Taiwan’s research resources
Founded for the purpose of supporting the local industry, the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan (ITRI) and the Precision Machinery Research Development Center (PMC) aim to solve technological difficulties that Taiwan manufacturers may encounter.
Mr. Liao expressed his great appreciation for assistance Quaser has received from these associations. For instance, this intervention has been helpful in bridging the technology gap between OEM partner and the company, as in instances when Taiwanese technicians have difficulty comprehending advance technology even when directly demonstrated to them. Researchers from different backgrounds in ITRI and the PMC are instrumental for Taiwanese firms so that the international OEM projects can be carried out smoothly.
Furthermore, Quaser is a founding member of the so-called “M-Team”, an alliance of Taiwanese machine-tool manufacturers under the auspices of the government-based think tank Corporate Synergy Development Center that is focused on export development, improving productivity, and shortening delivery time, makes benefit of factory management and delivery efficiency. By participating in the M-Team, Quaser is developing management and manufacturing systems suitable for producing excellent machining centers for the European customers.
In dealing with the future, Mr. Liao said Quaser will maintain the rigid standards the company employs in developing new products for the high-end market and maintain a flexible strategy that will allow the company to respond to market trends. As has it done all these years, Quaser will be a step ahead of the competition in order to provide best and most responsive services to customers worldwide.