Heller Has The Tools For Growing In Oakland County

Heller Machine Tools is increasingly utilizing its US operation to manufacture its advanced CNC machines in the United States, according to company management, and has become the largest manufacturer of horizontal machining centers for heavy-duty production in the United States.

The extent to which Heller is handling the system design and build is unprecedented for the company. Currently on the assembly floor at the 100,000 sq ft Troy, Michigan, facility is phase 1 of a turnkey flexible manufacturing system for heavy-duty diesel engines. Backing this initiative is Heller’s investment in R&D–more than $30 million in new product development over the last few years which includes a line of large machining centers for large part, high precision machining to be introduced next year.

“The German parent of Heller Machine Tools, Gebr. Heller Maschinenfabrik GmbH in Nürtingen, recognized the advantages to building in the North American market, and the decision is paying off for the company,” said Robert Pelachyk, CEO at Heller in Troy. He pointed out that Heller saw that building in North America helps keep its costs competitive, and reduces shipping cost and shortens delivery times. Heller GmbH, Nürtingen, Germany, is one of the largest machine tool builders in the world and a chief supplier to the motorized vehicle industry worldwide.

“We are a relatively low-cost country, in global terms, right now. And when you consider Michigan’s skilled work force with the euro-dollar relationship, you can see that Heller gains a big cost advantage over its competitors,” pointed out Vince Trampus, HELLER Vice President – Sales. “This works directly to the benefit of our customers who get highly regarded German machine tool technology built locally into reliable and maintainable systems designed and serviced by Americans,” he said.

HELLER US in 2008 assembled more than 60 of its advanced, large capacity horizontal machining centers used by automotive suppliers and powertrain manufacturers to produce key components.

To accomplish this major undertaking, HELLER developed a network of qualified suppliers in Michigan and Canada to participate in building its turnkey manufacturing systems. Heller is sourcing a substantial portion of the machine components and subsystems in the USA:

•    Large castings
•    Fabrications and machining
•    Fixtures
•    Tooling
•    Sheet metal
•    Controls systems

One of the effects of Heller’s creation of a supplier network has been the employment of more than 800 Michigan-area skilled personnel through these companies.

Boost to skilled employment
The result of this initiative at Heller is to create employment and value in the United States rather than simply assembling machining centers from elsewhere. Last year, skilled people were added in tool and fixture design, controls design, and assembly in addition to the supplier network.

Heller created more than 35 jobs in Troy in 2008–an increase of almost 30%–utilizing manpower agencies and suppliers. Working with local universities and colleges, Heller has also started an apprenticeship process to help create the next generation of machine tool employees. Currently, 6 persons are enrolled and are being rotated through several different departments at the company. Part of the goal of the program also is to introduce young people to an industry that relies on advanced technology and computer-aided engineering.
The company is also getting support from the local county government and Automation Alley, Michigan’s largest technology business association, designed to drive growth and economic development through a focus on workforce and business development initiatives. Automation Alley attracts the creators and consumers of diverse technologies from a variety of industries around the world. The Automation Alley area in Southeast Michigan, is home to more than 311,000 technology workers and 7,300 technology businesses.

“The fact that an American company is building high-value products here in Oakland County provides a big boost to the local economy when we really need it,” said L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive, on a visit to the Heller facility. Patterson is also the originator of the Automation Alley concept.

Currently, Heller is the only manufacturer building large machining center-based systems in the U.S., and is the largest designer and builder of diesel engine machining systems globally. It delivered over 20 such systems in the last eight years employing more than 600 of its heavy-duty machining centers to such leading companies as Detroit Diesel, Daimler, MAN, Volvo Truck, Royal Oak Boring (Caterpillar) and others worldwide.

Heller is quite experienced at taking on full turnkey projects for the creation of machining systems from raw part machining through preassembly. “Heller really delivers production to its customers, from beginning to end,” Trampus said.

Major Diesel Orders
In 2007-08 HELLER delivered a flexible machining system to Detroit Diesel Corporation, a Daimler company, Redford, MI, that machines a family of diesel engine blocks for the recently introduced DD15 engine. The hybrid system can produce lot sizes of 1 with no time lost to changeover.

HELLER in 2008 also announced a major order from PACCAR for a flexible machining system to produce that company’s first U.S.-made large diesel engine. The complete system will be designed and built at Heller’s facilities in Troy and Nürtingen. PACCAR is partnering with HELLER because of its global experience in providing turnkey machining systems for heavy-duty diesel engine manufacturers.

The PACCAR turnkey system will include more than 40 computer controlled (CNC) machining centers, part handling automation, wash, deburr, and pre-assembly equipment.

“Managing the design, engineering, machine building, integration and installation of these complex system components is a key HELLER competency, and has earned the company business in Europe, Asia, and South America as well as North America,” said Trampus.

“Heller is also building up its service capability in Troy, and assembling machines within this market allows us to be even more responsive to customer requirements,” Trampus continued. “It is our intention to be the premier designer and builder of turnkey flexible machining systems in the United States, and we are well on our way to doing that.”

HELLER Machining Centers for Production
One of the key HELLER values is its experience in creating machines that can efficiently handle compacted graphite iron—a tough material that most heavy-duty diesel blocks and heads are cast from. Because of its high density, CGI is a tough material to machine, but the durability and robustness of HELLER machining centers make them ideal for cutting the material. The gear-driven Heller spindles, for example, afford very high torque at the low end.

With its depth of engineering expertise, Heller can also able to modify its machines to better handle workpieces. For example, Heller put an A-axis trunnion on the heavy-duty machining centers being built to machine large engine heads; other builders would have used a B-axis fixture, standing the part on its end. The Heller method keeps the part horizontal and low on the table, supporting part stability during cutting.

Other aspects of the modular design of the Heller machines include 5-axis machining capability and to the ability to accommodate special head designs for multi-spindle operation.

Heller’s MQL is more effective and productive because the machine and process are designed from the start to accommodate it. “It’s more than putting an MQL unit on the spindle. You need to understand the process, tooling design, and how to dispose of the chips,” Trampus said. Heller MQL helps manufacturers save cost by avoiding the need to dispose of coolant and by dropping clean recyclable chips into the conveyor below.”

Reaching out to more markets
Heller is also active in reaching out to the energy and aerospace markets. “Our machine tool technology is very well suited to work in these areas, said Tracy Ellis, Manager, Sales, Machine Group. “This is because of the difficult materials that are used in many critical aerospace and energy components. The precision, size and mass of these components are similar to the challenges we see in large diesel components.”

For more information contact The Arnesen Company, 810-229-2299


– County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, City of Troy Mayor Schilling, and President/CEO of Heller Machine Tools Robert Pelachyk