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Jean Michel Vallet has built his engineering workshop by making precision components on CNC machines for mostly local companies, but always with one eye on his long-held dream of building a race car.

In the early 1970s, Vallet was quick to realise the potential of CNC, investing in the first of many numerically controlled machines.

In the late 1990s, the time came to move to new premises; and it was the ideal opportunity to streamline the company’s workshop.

‘When we built this new factory, we had something like seven different makes of CNC machine tools,’ said Vallet.

‘Running the factory was complicated and inefficient.

‘For the sake of productivity, we had to standardise.’ In 1998, Vallet took a trip to the Paris machine tool show where, where he came across Haas CNC machine tools.

‘We found the best machines for our growing company,’ he added.

‘All Haas machines have the same control, which means if you can program one, you can program all of them.

‘Plus, they offer lots of torque, which is ideal because we often use large diameter end mills on stainless steel.’ He was also impressed with the Haas fourth-axis capabilities.

The company now owns several Haas machines, including a VF-9 vertical machining centre.

Vallet began by supplying a local company making machines for bottling plants.

Today, the company’s bread-and-butter work, the work which will pay for Vallet to pursue his motor racing dream, is mainly making parts for companies building food packaging and processing machines, plus some special and secretive aerospace projects.

‘We make scale models of new and prototype aircraft, which are used for wind tunnel testing and are full of sensors measuring airflow and aerodynamic forces,’ he said.

‘We also make five-axis parts for our aerospace customers, which are actually comparatively straight forward to machine.

‘The trickiest parts we make are for the food processing industry, machined from special stainless steels.

‘These parts often have very tight tolerances, which is a challenge because we have to find ways of making them at the price the customer wants to pay.

‘It’s demanding work, which we’re able to do because we use accurate but relatively low-cost machine tools.’ In Vallet’s busy workshop is a line of Haas machines including eight CNC vertical machining centres and five CNC turning centres.

One, a Haas VF-1, runs 24 hours a day using a Kuka robot arm to change parts.

An adjacent PC, using software designed personally by Vallet, controls the robot separately.

PCs interconnect all the machining stations, allowing managers to keep tight control of planning and scheduling.

The factory runs three shifts and 24 hours a day; 10 Haas machines running through the night with just five operators on duty.

‘My aim is to create an entire racing car from just six solid blocks of aluminium, in 70 hours, using only four tools,’ said Vallet.

Big blocks of aluminium, he admits, but just six, from which he intends to machine all of the major and supporting structural components, including the chassis, suspension, mounting brackets, and so on.

No castings, no extrusions, just solid parts.

‘We’ll buy-in brakes, glass, wheels, that sort of thing, we’ll make the body from glass fibre and we’ll use an Alfa Romeo V6 engine, giving 340HP,’ he added.

‘But otherwise, we’ll make it here, on one Haas machine, in less than a week of running two shifts a day.’

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