BoerBoel Laser Cutting and Sheet Metal Services reaches 40 year milestone

For many metal fabricators, the market is crowded with competitors, many of which are trying to outmuscle everyone else by slashing prices to secure contracts. As an added challenge, many large customers are taking advantage of both increased competition and their large-scale buying power to dictate lower and lower prices, squeezing margins and stifling profits. Additionally, there has been a trend for customers to buy their own equipment and in essence become a competitor to you.

To ensure your survival in a tough marketplace, your approach needs to include a strong competitive strategy. It needs to set your company apart from your competitors to make it crystal-clear why your customers should choose you, even if you’re not the lowest-priced competitor in the marketplace.

BoerBoel Laser Cutting and Sheet Metal Services has recently invested in a new Bodor 12kW fibre laser

One of the best places to start creating this competitive advantage is in the conversations you have with your customers. This includes conversations across all of your marketing, sales and production channels. These conversations are often where your relationship begins, and it’s important to lay the groundwork early on. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a position of undifferentiated powerlessness, with your large customers handing you a list of prices in a boilerplate Excel spreadsheet.

Having acquired a company that has BoerBoel in its name certainly makes you stand out from the rest, especially here in South Africa. Not many of us in South Africa would not know the name Boerboel and what it is.

The Boerboel is a South African large breed dog of the mastiff type, used as a family guard dog. It is large, with a short coat, strong bone structure and well-developed muscles. Boerboels are intelligent and loyal dogs who love their families. When well-trained and socialised from an early age, boerboels can be gentle and loyal family dogs while still fulfilling the working role they were originally bred for – keeping a watchful eye over those they love.

The new Bodor P4020 fibre laser, supplied by Integral Machine Tools

“Some of these attributes can be associated with our company and the association we have with our customers in the sense that we are loyal and will watch over our customer requirements like a family guard dog. The success of the company is that we care about and invest in the long-term well-being of our employees and customers. Our journey with them is strong, well-developed, while at the same time gentle,” said Les Coetzee of BoerBoel Laser Cutting and Sheet Metal Services.

“Launching a business is a tricky venture. Sustaining one is even more so. While no single person is responsible for a company’s culture and direction, there is little doubt that having a positive attitude towards your daily responsibilities and clients, is instrumental in the company’s success. We have emphasised the importance of the customer, keeping all of his proprietary secure in our safekeeping. More importantly, to gain their trust, we have never considered manufacturing even one component for our own portfolio, that would be in opposition to them. In fact, we have a zero policy towards processing, manufacturing or fabricating anything that is not for our clients’ consumption.”

The company also offers plate cutting services

“This has been fundamental to us earning our customers’ respect. A company is nothing without employees and their experience is truly a hard-to-replace asset. We care about and invest in the long-term well-being of our employees and customers and still have some valuable employees that have been working at BoerBoel since 1983, when the company was first registered.”

“My late friend and business partner Johnnie Abbartemaca and myself only got involved with the business in 2001 when we purchased it out of a deceased estate. Both of us had no industry or fabrication experience. We had no deep ties to sheet metal, no family business connection. We hadn’t grown up welding, doing manual layout or bend calculations, or nesting for the punch press or laser.”

“We knew about engineering and manufacturing challenges, as we had been operating in the fibre optic space. However, we loved a challenge and a metal fabrication job shop was just the opportunity that we sought. Sadly, Johnny would not experience the full growth of the company since we acquired it just over 21 years ago. The company has reached the age of ‘maturity’ and is positioned to further its position of recognition amongst current and future customers. We virtually have a full set of processes needed, from cutting and bending to finishing, which includes powder coating and painting, so that we are able to offer a one-stop service.”

NC bending is done in various thicknesses up to 8mm thick and 3 000mm wide with five machines that range from 80 tons to 300 tons

“Having no experience in fabrication has its advantages and disadvantages. One thing that is a given though is that if you have no experience, in whatever situation it is, you will go through a steep learning curve. It is a matter of taking the positives from this time period and turning them into experiences that you can count on going forward.”

“BoerBoel Laser Cutting and Sheet Metal Services specialises in sheet metal fabrication. We deliver both fabricated components and fully finished products to meet the exact specifications of our customers, who number over 50 regulars and many others that order on a less regular basis.”

“Whether you work as a job shop service centre, custom fabricator or OEM, your business grows and shrinks within the market it represents. It is therefore all important to spread the portfolio of clients and the industries that they operate in. This lessens the burden or risk of relying on one industry or client.”

The management team of BoerBoel Laser Cutting and Sheet Metal Services Ryan Coetzee, Lazarus Sahadow and Les Coetzee

“However, besides adopting this strategy, we have gone further to lessen the burden of having ‘all our eggs in one basket’, as the old cliché goes. We decided to build the business around offering as many related services around sheet and plate cutting, bending and forming, which are the nucleus services of the business.”

Laser cutting
“On the laser side we now have four machines at our disposal. All laser cutting is done to customer drawings and or samples and we cut all the popular materials including mild steel, stainless steel and aluminium.”

“Currently we have two Trumpf machines and one of our more recent purchases was a 4kW Durma fibre laser.”

New Bodor 12kW fibre laser
“The thicknesses of flat sheet materials that we can cut varies according to material type. However, it’s more than just about cutting thick materials. These days it’s about cutting process time.”

“Fabricators don’t have to be an expert in fibre laser cutting technology to know that if they can cut 6mm flat sheet with a 4kW laser, they can cut it faster with an 8kW laser power source. Now think what they can do with a 12kW fibre laser cutting machine. And what about a 15kW or higher? The technology is there and unheard of 40kW or 50kW machines are being manufactured.”

“These choices are available for metal fabricators today, but to focus solely on thick metal cutting with these new high-powered fibre lasers would be wrong. These 10kW, 12kW and 15kW machines can do much more than cut thick materials, even if that may be the first thing that comes to mind for a metal fabricator when talking about these powerful machine tools. The reality is that a large majority of metal fabricating companies process metal that is 6mm or thinner. There are simply not a lot of shops requiring laser cutting of very thick specialty metals for something like nuclear reactors. Those types of applications are not abundant.”

“The story of high-powered fibre laser technology is about decreasing process time in laser cutting. That’s why we are seeing metal fabricators buying one high-powered laser cutting machine to replace two or even three older lasers. They can get parts off the laser bed faster and cheaper than they ever could before.”

The company has manufactured its own suction type material handling system for loading sheet onto the lasers

Enclosures manufactured for a client

“Hence our investment in the new Bodor 12kW fibre laser. Besides getting the parts off the laser faster it also adds capacity for us. The new Bodor P4020 fibre laser, supplied by Integral Machine Tools, has a table size of 4m by 2m and will provide the company with a significant boost in productivity and allow us to offer better laser cutting lead times. Every increase in power delivers a cleaner cut edge, especially on mild steel, which forms the majority of our throughput. We can now cut mild steel up to 30mm thick.”

“These days it is impossible to not have a bending machine on your floor. So many components and parts need further processing than just cutting. If you are going to offer a full service of processing flat sheet, like us, then bending is fundamental. All our bending is done on CNC machines and they include two Trumpf machines. NC bending is done in various thicknesses up to 8mm thick and 3 000mm wide. Our five machines range from 80 tons to 300 tons, and are able to bend or form most materials.”

Trumpf laser/punch combination machine
“Several advancements have occurred over the years that have helped to push the laser/punch back into the spotlight. Perhaps the most important, however, has been the emergence of the solid-state laser as the dominant laser cutting technology. Today’s combination machines are now being designed with that technology at the forefront. The days of simply adding laser cutting capability to a punching machine are coming to a close.”

“Our Trumpf laser/punch combination machine processes material up to 3m by 1.5m and 3mm thick.”

CNC mandrel tube/pipe bending is a service the company offers

Bending and welding are vital services of the company

“A guillotine shear epitomises traditional metal fabrication. The process is not one of the most glamorous processes. Machines and their controllers have advanced, but the motions operators go through have remained unchanged for decades. Our service includes guillotining of carbon steel material up to 12mm thick and stainless steel up to 8mm thick with a maximum length of material to be guillotine cut being 3 000mm.”

Plasma cutting
“Plasma cutting has come a long way since it was first developed in the late 1950s. Today it is one of the most widely used metal plate cutting processes for a large variety of industries. We can accommodate CNC plasma cutting of plate up to 50mm thick and a maximum plate size to be cut is 10 metres long by 2.5 metres wide.”

Rolling of sheet up to 8mm
“Over the past 35 years, NCs and CNCs in metal fabrication have become increasingly sophisticated. They control different axes within robotic press brake cells, punching systems with material handling, laser systems with material handling and storage systems, robotic welding, and more. Even so, one area seems to have fallen behind – sheet metal and plate bending rolls. However, advancements in controls and their software are starting to boost rolling throughput in significant ways.”

“In many cases the technology has allowed rolling to adapt to variations in material, and modern four-roll CNC machines can be seen producing complicated parts in as little as 30 seconds. Like any technological advancement, intelligent rolling controls have their limits, but in recent years especially, the CNC on rolling machines has had great success. We can roll material up to 8mm thick and our capabilities include welding and re-rolling of pipes, cones and sheets up to 3 000mm in length.”

One of the more recent purchases was a 4kW Durma fibre laser

CNC machining introduced two years ago

Grinding and finishing of cut and manufactured parts
“We also do polishing/brushing of stainless steel and aluminium products. Our stainless steel enclosures are available with a brushed finish option as well. Types of grinding include orbital sanding, rotary sanding, angle grinding, polishing and brushing.”

“Welding is a necessary service if you are offering the full service of assembly and packaging. We carry out CO2, TIG, spot and ARC welding of mild steel and aluminium and stainless steel silver soldering. Our welders are certified by TUV to weld most materials.”

CNC machining introduced two years ago
“Bringing in milling and turning requires a well-thought-out strategy. In many cases, the machining is there to support the metal fabrication, with machinists building custom tools and fixtures and perhaps creating small parts that go into larger subassemblies. At the other end of the spectrum, some companies do sell themselves as being a true one-stop shop, with both extensive machining and fabricating capacity.”

Cabinets form part of the mix of products the company manufactures for clients

“These days many fall somewhere in between the two extremes. They never expect machining to dominate the business, but their machinists do a little more than just support the primary metal fabrication operation. Put another way, fabricating shops are stepping up their machining departments a notch. Our machining capabilities include CNC lathe work, CNC milling, as well as manual lathe and milling.”

CNC mandrel tube/pipe bending
“Typical applications of bent tubes are bakkie roll bars and bull bars, hand railings, tube frames, generator frames, or any other application which makes use of tubing. We offer CNC bending and fabrication of both mild steel and stainless steel tubes, up to 63mm diameter. Tubes can be bent at any angle or direction as per customer requirements.”

Fabricate, powder coat, paint – done
“With any new process comes growing pains and, let’s be honest, potential failure. Processes like machining, wet painting and powder coating fall into this camp. However, bringing certain processes in-house shortens turnaround times and supports lean part flow. It also offers a potential revenue stream and the opportunity to broaden the customer base.”

“Like machining we only introduced powder coating and painting of parts according to customer specifications. Finishes include smooth, textured and ferro-grain, available in most colours and textures.”

The plasma cutting machine

Assembly and packaging
“After offering all the processes it made sense to finish it off and offer assembly and packaging of manufactured goods including palletising, shrink wrapping and bubble wrapping.”

Electrical design, wiring and system integration
“One of our specialities is the manufacture of steel enclosures for electrical housing. Enclosures can be manufactured to customer requirements and any enclosure size can be accommodated. Finishes are per the client’s choice and what we have as a service.”

“However, an added advantage for us is that our resident electrical engineer oversees a team that are very capable of panel wiring, machine building, system integration and PLC programming. Optimising building and system integration from one supplier can be very conservative on a client’s budget.”

“One-stop shopping ensures your supplier has control over all the steps required. Many companies are looking for a one-stop shop because moving components and processes is costly. Reducing costs and time-to-market are important factors in their decision making. Hopefully our business offers them this advantage.”

For further details contact BoerBoel Laser Cutting and Sheet Metal Services TEL: 011 873 0366/58 or visit