Operational expenses and productivity gains are obvious concerns when evaluating a new CNC plasma system. Faster cut speeds, fewer secondary operations and improved material usage all drive purchasing decisions. Likewise, the benefits of new technology tend to offer improved energy efficiency, better cut quality and longer consumable life. These considerations are important; however, there are some less obvious details that should factor into the decision.
X-Definition plasma cutting technology, found in Hypertherm XPR systems, is a good example of available offerings that are hitting a sweet spot with fabricators looking for improved efficiency, cut quality and consumable life. Kris Rich, marketing director at Hypertherm Associates, says the company has drawn on 50 years of experience to develop the XPR line, which he refers to as the “state of the art” in plasma cutting.
“You get weld-ready or even finished products out of the XPR system with very little or no secondary operations required,” he says. “The cleanup is minimal to move to the next step.”
Understandably, improving and expanding services ultimately produces happy customers and encourages their repeat business.
Establishing a shop is already difficult enough, but owners and managers depend on loyal customers and repeat business. When customers can rely on a shop and trust is established, they will spend more money with the shop. Moreover, they are typically easier to conduct business with, based on proven relationships. Understandably, improving and expanding services ultimately produces happy customers and encourages their repeat business.
To do so, take the time to find out what your customers really need. Maybe it’s faster delivery times, lower costs, higher quality products or customization. These are just a few ideas, but your customers can give you specific information on the ways to improve, expand and distinguish your shop.
It’s natural for shops to progress from older, less costly technology, such as mechanical shears or a punch press and then advance to oxyfuel. The next step is often plasma, but staying with oxyfuel might be preferable for shops cutting extremely thick material, such as mild steel 3 in. thick and over. But, as Jorge Santana, a marketing project manager at Hypertherm Associates, says, the vast majority of metal used in manufacturing is 3/4 in. thick or less, which is right in the wheelhouse for plasma cutting technology.
“What plasma brings into the equation is that it is versatile,” Santana says. “You can cut different metals and materials in different thicknesses in multiple shapes. Plasma is three to five times faster than oxyfuel and provides minimal distortion because the heat-affected zone isn’t as prevalent with plasma.”
For any shop, loyal employees are just as important as loyal customers, but hiring and keeping good employees is one of the biggest challenges for most businesses. That said, satisfied employees are less likely to leave a company, and one way to increase job satisfaction is to give employees the best tools. This means tools that are easy to learn, make the job easier to do and are capable of providing consistent outcomes.
Talk to your operators to find out what they want and need. Most employees care about their work and have great ideas based on their experience. By considering worker input, you foster stronger ties and strengthen your allegiance. Even if you incorporate all of their feedback, your employees are more likely to be invested in the company’s success.
Given the skills gap manufacturers deal with today, the idea of reducing the need for skilled labor and prolonged training is certainly attractive, which is why Hypertherm Associates is dedicated to designing products that offer attractive ergonomics and are easy to use. And that extends to features that involve less operator action, such as changing out consumables.
“When you look at things like the consumables,” Rich says, “Hypertherm Associates offers intuitive assembly and ease of putting the components together. For example, Hypertherm-branded plasma systems have quick-disconnect torches so you don’t have to disassemble the unit. We have also designed certain components in XPR consumables to be common across different processes. That means you have a single part that works across the line so you don’t have to keep track of multiple parts. One of our focus areas in product development is ease of use and simplicity.”
Santana notes the XPR is the “smartest system we have in our portfolio,” and that it is equipped with Wi-Fi and advanced monitoring capabilities.
“It allows you to monitor the system with a mobile device,” he says, “so you can see operating data, like the number of arc hours. And it also allows you to do some diagnostics so you can reduce errors.”
When considering new technologies like one of Hypertherm Associates’ plasma systems, be sure to consider the jobs offered to you in the last year. Have you turned down work or referred a customer to another shop? Have you outsourced a job or part of a job because you didn’t have the right tools? Were you dependent on a supplier that missed some deadlines? Are there jobs you could take on if you could cut thicker metal, cut parts with smoother edges or bevel cut? How much are these missed opportunities costing you?
Rich recognizes that there are a variety of technologies on the market today and manufacturers are seeking out better precision, ease of use and lower operating costs. He’s confident that using X-Definition technology, like that found in the XPR system, fits a sweet spot in the market.
“It’s much faster than older competing cutting technologies,” he says. “Yet you’re getting really excellent cut quality, which is something people are used to getting out of a laser, but it’s much lower in acquisition costs and, in thicker metals, in operating costs.”
Santana also recognizes that while a laser might be faster for very thin sheet metal cutting, the initial investment is “extremely high.” Additionally, there are advantages for taking the slightly slower route. For example, he explains that the “X” in XPR stands for “expanded” and “extended” capabilities. And while high-definition plasma cutting is often associated with mild steel, the X-Definition technology found in the XPR system extends the cutting capabilities to stainless steel and aluminum.
“We have multiple processes available with different gas combinations that offer you the right outcome based on the specific customer needs,” he says.
Cutting back on costs related to consumables is also possible with the XPR system, as it has arc response technology that continuously monitors voltage and allows operators to see the condition in which the system is running. This helps to avoid “catastrophic failures” in plasma cutting, such as when an electrode blows out and damages the torch. This not only has a consumables cost, but there is also the cost associated with downtime and scrap.
Operational expenses and productivity gains are important when selecting a CNC plasma cutting machine, but you must look beyond the cutting table. Think about the people that produce and buy your products. Ask yourself, how can I better serve their needs so I can grow my business?