Gary Hobbs, owner of GH Engineering in Palmerston North, New Zealand, has invested in high-spec plasma cutting technology to harness these key ingredients and ensure his 15-year-old structural steel fabrication business continues to thrive.
“Keeping up with technology means you’re not getting left behind,” he explains. “Otherwise your gear gets old and then you just slowly don’t make a profit anymore because everyone else is doing it a smarter way.”
Gary’s decision to upgrade his steel plate cutting setup to a Plazmax CutPro HS system, featuring Hypertherm’s X-Definition XPR300™ plasma system in 2019 has delivered significant benefits.
GH Engineering fabricates and installs general and structural steel for builders and construction companies across the lower North Island. Demand for thicker steel plates (specified by engineers to meet higher building standards after the Christchurch earthquakes), meant Gary’s older and smaller plasma cutting system wasn’t up to the job.
“I used to have a Powermax 105® plasma system on a light cutting bed. But we were maxed out at 12mm-16mm. Any plates thicker than that had to be outsourced and back then that was about 40 per cent of our business. We also had quality control issues with bolt holes and the taper on those holes.”
Gary’s new plasma machine can now precision-cut plates up to 70mm thick, allowing him to retain everything in-house and turn jobs around quickly for his clients.
“When you outsource it has a big impact on your timeframes as you’re relying on other people. In the past a job might have taken two weeks to turnaround when we outsourced to another company. Now we can do it in two or three days. Because we’ve got the gear to handle the job, we can push the go button at any time.”
After installing the XPR300™ plasma system, GH Engineering asked Plazmax to retrofit their 50 degree beveling head to the machine – a decision which has given the company a big competitive edge.
“It’s becoming more common for engineers to want more full penetration gussets and full penetration welding on building projects. Now we can bevel those edges on the plasma and it saves times. It comes off the machine already beveled with minimum clean up. It was quite a manual process before. A lot of people just gas cut it and then clean it up with a grinder which takes up a lot of the fabrication time allowed for in jobs.
“Clients are requesting this service more because they’ve seen the quality of the finish and also the man hours that it’s saving in the factory. They can fabricate faster and the time saved outweighs the cost. Not everyone has a plasma with the ability to do this, so it gives us a competitive advantage.”
GH Engineering currently employs nine staff and is building a new 2200m² factory which will double the company’s capacity by the end of 2022. Gary believes having the latest Plazmax technology at their fingertips also helps recruit and retain staff in a tight labour market.
“If you’ve got good gear you can usually attract good people. There’s a lot of old businesses that haven’t kept up with technology and they’re slowly sinking because everything is so hard – no one wants to do things the hard, manual way anymore.”
Gary says the new equipment will have paid itself off within a couple of years and praised the level of customer support he has received from Plazmax.
“I can’t really fault them to be honest. Most of their service is done remotely and that’s good because they can log into your computers and show you things. They’re quite knowledgeable and understand what you’re doing and what the problem is. They’ve seen it before. I like the fact it’s all New Zealand made so there is no delay in response times, unlike with other companies where you have to wait for time differences. Plazmax know the machine inside and out which helps them pinpoint the issue right away.
“Our clients certainly like the quality and precision this gear offers. Also the timeframes – the speed that we can pump it out. We have a core group of clients so we want to deliver to them in terms of turnaround. I enjoy doing what we do, and doing it well.”
Robotic welding is another area Gary plans to investigate in future and will weigh up Plazmax’s offering alongside other providers closer to the time. But overall, his experience with the company regarding their CNC profile cutting solutions has been a positive one.
“I would say that they are very competitive in the market. I believe they’re up there, if not the best.”
"*" indicates required fields