Andrew Parkin, chief representative for Asia at Heller, talks about Heller’s activities in Asia, horizontal machining centres (HMCs), and trends shaping the metalworking industry. Article by Stephen Las Marias.
At the recent EMO Hannover 2019 exhibition in Germany, Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News sat down with Andrew Parkin, chief representative for Asia at Heller, to talk about Heller’s activities in Asia and their growth drivers. He also discussed horizontal machining centres (HMCs), and why the company focuses on this segment.
Tell us more about Heller in Asia and your role in the company.
Andrew Parkin (AP): Heller is a traditional German machine tool builder. We have been building machines for 125 years now; so, we are celebrating our anniversary this year. Right now, our focus is in four- and five-axis horizontal milling and milling/turning machining centres, and we have a global footprint to support this.
I have been in the company for 11 years. I left the UK in 1984, so I’ve lived in Asia now for more than 30 years. I was brought in to manage all of the operations Heller has in Asia. I am responsible for the four companies we have in China, the company we have in Singapore, in Thailand, and in Pune, India.
What opportunities and trends are you seeing in southeast Asia?
AP: Southeast Asia is a very important region for us. Based on potential, all of the ASEAN region together represent a very high consumption percentage of the global total. The difficulties, of course, are the different cultures and the different markets—you got a Thai culture, a Malaysian culture, an Indonesian culture, a Singaporean culture—these have to be managed carefully. We manage this from two operations: we have an operation in Singapore—which is our headquarters in Southeast Asia—and we have an operation in Thailand, focusing on the Thai automotive and aerospace sectors.
Apart from culture, what other challenges do you experience in southeast Asia?
AP: The challenges are varying. A lot of our customers have a Japanese background, for example, and we are very German. A lot of our customers have different manufacturing methods; a lot of customers have different relationships; and a few are challenged with financial goals. There’s always the difficulty of fluctuating currencies in the region. On top of that, language is often a barrier when it comes to explaining things and doing service jobs—so, it is not so easy. But it is a very rewarding market.
Are there particular industries in the region that are driving growth for Heller?
AP: We have been driven by various industries; but at present, the big drivers are automotive, general mechanical engineering and aerospace, where Heller has a lot of advantages due to the stability of the machines. If you are machining difficult materials such as Inconel-based materials or titanium-based materials, you need a very strong and rigid machine in order to reduce vibration. Vibration takes the edge of the cutting tool—that’s the only interface to the workpiece and the cutting tool—and tool life shortening means a longer cycle time. In some of the components we are machining, we have more than 50 hours machining time. If you save 10 percent of that, that’s a lot of time.
How do you help your customers on their smarter manufacturing journey?
AP: Some customers would like to have it all straightaway from the beginning; while the others like the most cost-effective solution, and then they add a lot of these processes to the system as it is going on. That’s one of the advantages of dealing with Heller: we are predominantly a technical and engineering based company who work together with customers in steps and stages for the whole duration of the machine tool’s life. So, we have some customers who have 20-year-old machines who we still service and modify for them. This is part of our core business.
Earlier on, you mentioned that the company focuses only on horizontal machining products. why is this so?
AP: Horizontal machining offers you more stability and accuracy. When you have more stability, you have a higher metal removal rate—that is the main difference between the vertical and horizontal option. We don’t manufacture vertical machines; we manufacture five-axis machines where you can move the head into the vertical machining position, but that’s basically a horizontal machine with a five axis. By the way, we have also 5-axis machining centres with the fifth axis in the workpiece and a horizontal spindle completing our comprehensive product range.
What’s your outlook for next year?
AP: There has been a downturn this year; there are political uncertainties in the market now, which are making people invest in a more cautious manner. There are also disruptive elements in the market. Electromobility is going to change the way we drive a lot, and we have to keep our eye on this.
At Heller, we are not seeing such a pronounced downturn because we do have a lot of manufacturing solutions for so many different industry segments, so we are doing a lot of modification work, and we do a lot more redeployment work—redeployment is where we take all the machines and put them on the new products. All in all, we are still very busy.
Where the market goes, I expect a rebound in the second or third quarter next year.
Are there any new applications that you see emerging soon?
AP: There are new applications emerging and there are also new materials emerging. And one of the trends is that everybody wants to machine these materials in a lights-off environment. That means many more of our customers are forcing us towards automation, and machinery and equipment that almost run itself. Heller is completely open as far as the three main groups of automation—overhead loading, pallet automation and flexible robot cells—are concerned when it comes to enhancing productivity, availability and economic efficiency.
This means as well we need to be a lot cleverer with software interfaces to the machine, because there’s nobody monitoring the machine anymore. If the machine has a problem, we have to know this. We have packages for Industry 4.0, we call it Heller4Industry. Within this, we have modules for preventive maintenance, for machine monitoring, and for production optimisation; all of these things are being used at the moment and pushing us in this direction.
Is the umati standard something you are looking at?
AP: As a core partner of umati, the universal machine interface developed on the initiative of VDW, HELLER has the finger on the pulse of the industry as far as digitisation is concerned. We like to adopt an active role in the design to promote our idea of a universal compatibility of different machines, units and software.
Do you have any final comments?
AP: I would just like to say it is an interesting time we are in. We believe quality is selling. The industry sector we are involved in is becoming more complicated because the standards are becoming much tighter, the tolerance is becoming much lower, and the materials are becoming much tougher to machine—therefore, I see a bright future for companies like Heller.
For other exclusive articles, visit www.equipment-news.com.
Check these articles out:
WANT MORE INSIDER NEWS? SUBSCRIBE TO OUR DIGITAL MAGAZINE NOW!