A feminine approach to fibre laser cutting

It is no secret that you don’t often find females hovering around a fibre laser or a press brake and being quite at home operating the machine. It is a little more prevalent when it comes to CNC lathe operators or in certain departments in a foundry, the laboratory or metallurgy departments, for example. In other words women are scarce in the ‘tough’ departments of manufacturing and for good reason, some may say.

Nicky Dodd and Suzaan Hickey might not be your typical machine operators. In fact both of them have very little experience in operating any type of equipment. That was until they formed their company Black Box CNC Profile Cutting.

Nicky has had 15 years working experience in the finance department at a metal fabricating and product manufacturing company, so has some knowledge of the industry, and Suzaan has been working in the security industry and in more recent times animal health care. Not much experience to talk about between the two but if you have the passion and drive you can achieve anything.

The new Bodor P3 3kW fibre laser that Black Box CNC Profile Cutting has invested in. Bodor is represented by Intregal Machine Tools

“Engineering in South Africa is male-dominated and even more so when you go onto the shopfloor of a general engineering machine shop or fabricator. Women are almost unheard of operating a machine that possibly has sparks flying around or makes crunching sounds. In the past working in industry has never been promoted to women and yes, I can say it has never been an attractive prospect as a career. It has always been assumed that women are not capable of taking the ‘heat’,” said Suzaan.

“However, advances in automation, software and the equipment itself becoming more user friendly and not requiring brawn and muscle and are offering opportunities to women like ourselves,” continued Suzaan.

Emphasis on female owned and run company
“We must point out at this stage that Suzaan and myself will not be operating the machines going forward. We have employed an experienced operator – Rickus Barnard – to run the Bodor fibre laser machine that we have purchased,” explained Nicky.

“In the short space of time that the business has been open we have learnt the basics on how to operate the machine but it is not our desire to become full-time operators – we will leave that to the experts. Our role is to run the company with an entrepreneurial, leadership and innovative touch.”

The Bodor P3 3kW fibre laser is equipped with a twin table for higher volume production

“Suzaan would love to be operating the machines on a full-time basis because of her enthusiasm for the technology and practical abilities but we have to be realistic as we have other responsibilities to attend to within the company. There is nothing wrong in being informed though.”

Lead times and quality
“The company was only established in August 2021 when we saw a need for a service centre that could offer small to medium production runs for various engineering and manufacturing fields and is service, quality and price driven,” continued Nicky.

“This is an area of the market that has become neglected. The advances in fibre laser technology has resulted in companies investing in machines that are hungry because of their ability to cut thicker and faster. To feed these machines and make them become justifiable they need lots of work and big production runs. The small and medium runs have become a nuisance to some of these companies and they do not want to take them on, we believe.”

“This is technology advancement but at the same time it opens up opportunities for others like ourselves.”

Bodor P3 3kW fibre laser
“After doing our research we decided on a Bodor P3 3kW fibre laser. The machine was ordered in late 2021 and was installed at the beginning of February 2022, with the help of Intregal Machine Tools Africa,” explained Suzaan.

The ladies in question: Suzaan Hickey and Nicky Dodd

“It is not the biggest of machines – as explained, we did not want that – but it has ample enough capability for the niche space in industry that we want to operate in,” continued Suzaan.

“The Bodor P3 3kW laser cuts up to 20mm in mild steel, 8mm in stainless steel, 6mm in aluminium, 6mm copper and brass plate and has a maximum sheet size of 3 000mm by 1 500mm. The Bodor software also allows us to maximise the use of sheet in terms of nesting.”

“A small but unique accessory is the remote controller that allows us gauge if we have enough space on the sheet to cut the next component. This is a particularly useful tool when you are doing one-offs, which we will be encouraging. Many companies do not like to do the one-offs but we will be happy to do so.”

“Black Box was created to service a need for small to medium production runs within various engineering fields that is service, quality and price driven. We have established a small business that can offer competitive prices and is focused on quality driven profile cutting to a range of industries who require cost effective cutting solutions in a timeous manner.”

“Being on both ends of laser cutting previously as both a customer of laser cut parts as well as working as supplier of these services, we saw an opportunity to offer an improved experience when having to use a laser cutting profile company.”

Operator Rickus Barnard

“Although Black Box is a new addition to the laser cutting arena, together with our employees we have over 15 years of experience within the sheet metal fabrication environment, be it in engineering design or customer service, we are able to offer a no frills no fuss service to any business who requires a laser cutting service.”

“We are also very flexible if a customer wants more than laser cutting done. We have the contacts in the industry to get bending, welding and fabrication done so will outsource if needed. In time these processes will be brought inhouse.”

“We are going to have challenges and we are going to have to be brave. We are ready to meet and exceed the demands and expectations of our customers, and rightfully so as our success depends on our reputation and repeat business, so much so that going the extra mile in communication and delivery has effectively become the new baseline for good customer service for successful businesses.”

“We are not the first female run business in the engineering sphere and hopefully will not be the last. We have begun a new chapter in our lives and we intend to make it work.”

For further details contact Black Box CNC Profile Cutting on 072 128 5364 or 079 293 5835 or email