Easing Complexities

Automation and simplified products offer companies a way to maintain competitiveness with fewer workers


In today’s rapidly evolving industrial landscape, the metal fabrication industry faces unprecedented challenges due to a critical shortage of skilled labor. Industries ranging from shipbuilding and high-rise construction to welding shops are struggling to find and retain dedicated, skilled workers. Even when promising candidates are found, they often don’t stay long, leaving small and large business owners to constantly restart the hiring and training process.

This challenge persisted as the nation reached record unemployment during the pandemic, and the fabrication industry still has not rebounded. As a result, many companies are exploring automation as a solution to the shortage.

Rather than assembling a five-piece consumable stack-up, Hypertherm’s Powermax Sync single-piece cartridge allows operators to reduce setup time to 10 sec.

The reasons behind the shortage of skilled workers are multifaceted, including many experienced workers nearing retirement with no younger replacements available. Additionally, knowledge transfer takes time, further exacerbating the issue. According to the American Welding Society, there are currently more than 300,000 skilled labor jobs open, and the price of skilled labor is rising. PayScale reports that the average hourly pay for a metal fabricator in 2024 is $20.50, with rates typically ranging from $15 to $29 per hour.

As the ongoing challenge of finding skilled workers continues, automation offers a solution for companies striving to maintain competitiveness with fewer workers. By automating manual processes, companies can reduce their reliance on certain skilled workers while also improving work environment conditions for those who remain, making them less likely to quit.

Processes demanding high accuracy or significant labor are prime candidates for automation. Successful automation initiatives have boosted production in plasma, waterjet and laser cutting; additive manufacturing; spraying; milling; surfacing; scanning; trimming; dispensing; and welding.

Serving a majority of the global industrial cutting market, Hypertherm Associates provides cutting-edge automated solutions to help manufacturers get the most out of their production and workforce. Hundreds of thousands of businesses rely on these advanced technologies and solutions to increase productivity and profitability across various industries.

Shortage solutions

Hypertherm Associates emphasizes automation and simplification of product usability as key strategies. Making products more user-friendly enables operators with varying levels of expertise to quickly perform at a professional level, reducing industry’s reliance on highly skilled workers.

Hypertherm’s cartridge consumables for plasma cutting are easy to swap out, providing operators multiple cut angles.

Hypertherm plasma and Omax waterjet systems aligned with software reduce and often eliminate the reliance on skilled operators. ProNest nesting software helps operators using any cutting technology automatically get more cuts from materials. IntelliMax waterjet software facilitates print-to-part speed with minimal operator training.

Valuable data-driven insights help operators make informed decisions and optimize performance. Powermax cartridge consumables for plasma cutting deliver consistent cut quality over the life of the cartridge with data capture to maximize cartridge use. This helps to eliminate costly rework and time spent down the line.

Hypertherm Associates tools are designed with user-friendly interfaces and intuitive controls, making them accessible to operators with varying levels of expertise. The Powermax cartridge, Powermax Sync, HPR cartridge, ProNest software and Omax brands of waterjets all feature ease-of-use attributes.

Easy plasma cutting

Every modern Hypertherm plasma system prioritizes ease of use, including the Powermax line of air plasma systems. The latest generation of Powermax systems, known as Powermax Sync, goes even further by automatically adjusting amperage and operating mode. This advancement significantly speeds up training and eliminates setup errors, making it particularly beneficial for companies with inexperienced operators.

Powermax single-piece cartridge consumables for Sync systems eliminate the need for the five-piece consumable stack-up, which means operators can reduce setup time to just 10 sec. Another convenient aspect is the color-coding, ensuring the correct cartridge for the process is installed. This simplifies the process and reduces errors, saving time and money.

With data-driven insights, operators can make more accurate and consistent plasma cuts while also reducing the need for rework.

“The Powermax Sync series delivers incredible ease of use, a lower operating cost and better performance than any other air plasma before it,” says Erik Brine, general manager of Hypertherm Associates’ Powermax business team. “This simplified operation serves to help fabricators address many of the toughest challenges they face today by eliminating operator errors, downtime, troubleshooting, waste and training time.”

The HPR cartridge with its single-piece design is for use with current Hypertherm HPRXD plasma systems and, aside from the new torch, requires no changes to the system or system settings. Operators can replace both in seconds without the use of tools.

“Consumable management and assembly are much easier with the HPR cartridge because it eliminates errors caused by incorrect handling or installation,” says Kristopher Rich, Hypertherm Associates’ marketing director for HPRXD products. “It simplifies plasma cutting and training for fabricators, job shops and manufacturers struggling to fill open positions.”

Advanced cutting

ProNest is CAD/CAM nesting software designed for advanced mechanized cutting. It provides a single solution for all cutting technologies, including plasma, laser, waterjet and oxyfuel. The software helps fabricators and manufacturers increase material savings, boost productivity, lower operating costs and improve part quality by offering the highest level of cutting expertise.

Watch the video to see Omax waterjets in action. With IntelliMax software, waterjet operators require minimal training, as the nesting solution is easy to use.

“ProNest is incredibly easy to learn and use with its intuitive screens and a variety of helpful features,” says Tom Stillwell, product marketing manager for Hypertherm Associates’ CAD/CAM software products.

The Omax OptiMax waterjet is engineered to swiftly transform drawings into parts, minimizing reliance on highly experienced operators. Its intuitive software is designed for ease of use at any skill level, enabling operators to start cutting quickly with minimal training. IntelliMax software also offers data-driven system monitoring to prevent downtime.

In addition, OptiMax’s enhanced automation reduces the typical learning curve for new operators. It features a high-efficiency EnduroMax pump that automatically sets the correct pressure and minimizes fluctuation, reducing the operator’s workload while improving component life. With a drive system featuring advanced motion control, OptiMax enhances part accuracy without requiring user intervention, thereby increasing reliability.

“The OptiMax is designed for manufacturers in need of a versatile, easy-to-use cutting system to increase the capability and efficiency of their operation,” says Arion Vandergon, Omax waterjet product marketing manager. “It offers IntelliMax, the groundbreaking, intuitive software for optimized cutting capability and power along with enhanced automation to maximize uptime, so users can deliver finished products faster and more easily.”

Watch the video to see how Hypertherm’s mobile app provides an easy way to view cartridge consumables data.

Finally, a bit of advice for manufacturers to address the growing challenge of the skilled labor shortage: A three-pronged approach can be impactful. First, identify processes that demand high accuracy and significant labor. Second, leverage user-friendly interfaces and intuitive controls to simplify operation for operators with varying levels of expertise. Lastly, implement automated systems that capture valuable data to help operators make informed decisions and optimize performance.

Hypertherm Associates

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