Job shop versatility is key at Fast Flame Profiling

Today’s job shop market is characterised by unrelenting competitive pressure from fabricators that focus on just a few processes and do them very well.

“Very few real job shops exist today. That is job shops that offer the variety of services that can process metal from flat sheet to profile cutting. Most fabricators prefer to engage in producing multiples of the same product, which minimises engineering time and tooling costs. Facilities are organised for an assembly line-type of production, and quality control can be automated. Paperwork becomes so repetitious that the only change may be the date and customer information. Cost studies are simplified and rarely required. Personnel training can be standardised. All this combined allows the mass producer to know the cost of everyday operation,” said Mike van Zyl, MD and founder of Fast Flame Profiling.

The Bystronic 10kW fiber laser with automated loading and unloading

Fast Flame Profiling have also just invested in a Timesavers 42 RB rotating brush machine for deburring, edge rounding and finishing of components. The machine was supplied by First Cut

“Conversely, job shops must calculate the costs on almost all projects. The shop’s machinery can sit idle during some jobs, while other jobs require using every piece of available equipment. This equipment can cost millions of dollars, and only a few shops have equipment large enough for some projects,” continued van Zyl.

“Then you have the narrow versus broad technology focus. Some fabricators focus on just a few processes and do them very well. One could have a quick-turn cutting and bending operation. Another could focus just on roll forming and its ancillary processes while still another could focus solely on high-end prototyping fabrication for aerospace and defence.”

“Others have broad technology mixes that include not only sheet metal cutting, bending, welding, grinding, and powder coating, but also machining, some stamping, and complete assembly. Some may even venture into other technology sandboxes, like plating or heat treating, or even plastic injection moulding and non-metal (resin) additive processes.”

Laser cut components ready for delivery

The company has also invested in a new Bystronic Xpert 80, a compact speed machine for small and medium-sized parts

“Then you get the fabricators that are expanding into niche services. They offer laser and bending processing services and have expanded their services to include machining, welding and assembly but don’t go much further than that. They also limit themselves to the gauge of material that they process. At the other end of the spectrum, custom fabricators launch their own product lines so they can stop chasing work and build an additional revenue stream while others are obliging by offering some previously unheard-of technology mixes.”

“That’s why product-line manufacturers dip their toes into the job shop business, an arena that’s not tied to the demand variability of a single industry or product. It’s a good business if the operation can weather the ups and downs.”

“But the real job shops, offering a variety of metal processing services for a wide range of gauges only, are becoming rarer.”

“Fast Flame Profiling typifies what this type of job shop is all about. Nearly no two jobs are alike, and dynamic innovation is what drives the business. The skill level in such a shop must exceed that of an operation that produces the same item every day, a practice that soon becomes automatic and even mundane. In the job shop, the worker must be familiar with multiple fabrication methods and mechanical variations. Every employee requires problem-solving skills, because there is often no precedent for reference. True job shops are rapidly disappearing, and with it the older skill sets are going away with the retirees. Technical schools are not able to teach what has been passed down for generations.”

Profile cut components with bevelling

One of the decoiling machines

“Job shop work is ever-changing, with most jobs never returning to your worktable. Repeat orders are a blessing, especially when your processes to produce them are fine-tuned. We have a few customers that provide us with these types of high-volume orders, but the majority are for orders with a minimal number of components required. We are not a service centre that takes a standard size sheet of metal or plate, feeds or loads it onto a machine and then boom, boom, boom or cut, cut, cut and out pops the components.”

“Customers want to simplify their supply chains and demand a high level of quality and delivery performance, at the right price. Nothing fancy. They just want to be associated with our flexibility and the variety of services that we offer.”

“These services include laser cutting, high-definition plasma cutting, guillotining, profiling, CNC bending, rolling, decoiling, slitting, cut-to-length, blanking, drilling, chamfering and bevelling. We do offer some light fabrication and welding services but it is not our focus.”

“We pride ourselves on stocking a diverse range of carbon and stainless steel grades. Wherever possible Fast Flame Profiling stocks locally produced steel but, if we have to import, we will do. A good example of this is the 300mm plus range of profile material.”

“We also operate on a 24/7 basis, allowing us to assist our clients with varying quantities, breakdowns and tight-deadlines.”

“Additionally we are continuously working to acquire state-of-the-art equipment to keep up with customer demands. Our latest acquisition is a Bystronic 10kW fiber laser with a bed size of 4 000mm by 2 000mm. It is the second fiber laser (the other is a Bystronic 4kW fiber laser with a self-loading bed size of 3 000mm by 1 500mm) that we have purchased and it joins the other three Bystronic CO2 lasers. Two of them fall into the large bed category size of 12 000mm by 2 500mm.”

Bystronic 10kW fiber laser with automated loading and unloading
“In 2018 Bystronic acquired a 70 per cent shareholding in automation specialist Antil S.p.A. This majority shareholding in the Italian specialist for automated sheet metal processing for the loading and unloading of cutting systems, corresponding storage systems and services, gave us an opportunity to include one of their systems, as we explored our automation possibilities.”

Fast Flame Profiling can decoil from 0.33mm to 12mm with a maximum coil width of 1 800mm and a maximum coil weight of 30 tons, blank up to 200mm wide with gauges of between 1mm and 3mm and slit according to these parameters up 6mm

Profile cutting

“Antil automated warehouses, as they are referred to, complement press brake, laser cutting and punching machines, allowing you to multiply the efficiency of production facilities, reduce the processing times of an individual project and optimise the use of production space. The sheet warehouse and processed metal automation system allows you to extend the daily active time of your connected equipment – in our case our new Bystronic 10kW fiber – to 24 hours a day without interruption. The automatic warehouse loads sheet and unloads processed components according to the needs of our flexible production plan, ensuring continuity in the unattended work of the machine.”

“Even if the plant is operating 24 hours a day, the automated warehouse allows us to change the priority of orders in process and to respond to urgencies or changes in production requirements.”

“We must be one of the only companies in South Africa that is not manufacturing product or processing sheet through various equipment that has employed this system.”

Timesavers rotating brush machine for deburring, edge rounding and finishing
“We have also just invested in a Timesavers 42 RB rotating brush machine for deburring, edge rounding and finishing of components. The machine was supplied by First Cut.”

A range of profile cut components

Mike van Zyl, MD and founder of Fast Flame Profiling

“In many cases, metalworkers manually deburr components while their machine works away at the next sheet or plate. However, regardless of how skilled you are at manual deburring, it’s impossible to match the speed and consistency of automated deburring systems. In fact, hand grinding could be hampering the overall productivity and profitability of your organisation.”

“We have invested in this machine to offer our clients an extra service that nobody likes to get involved in, especially if they don’t have the volumes like we do.”

Fast decoiling, slitting, cut-to-length and blanking
“Another strength of ours is decoiling, slitting, cut-to-length and blanking. We have a number of machines on the floor and we can decoil from 0.33mm to 12mm with a maximum coil width of
1 800mm and a maximum coil weight of 30 tons, blank up to 200mm wide with gauges of between 1mm and 3mm and slit according to these parameters up 6mm.”

“We carry stock of coil but also offer a service of warehousing coil for clients.”

YSD 16m 640 ton press brake
“One of the biggest investments we made was eight years ago – a YSD 16m press brake and we have not looked back. The two 640 ton eight metre long machines act in tandem and give us the opportunity to bend some fairly wide heavy gauge material.”

How do tandem brakes work?
“Like most single brakes, tandem brakes are also CNC. Ram depth accuracy and repeatability are achieved with scales and linear encoders. These components evaluate the position of the ram multiple times per millisecond and direct that information back to the CNC, which then governs the hydraulic system powering the machines. Instead of reading two scale positions for a single machine, tandem brakes read the position of four scales and adjust accordingly.”

Besides decoiling Fast Flame Profiling also slits and cuts-to-length sheet

One of Fast Flame Profiling’s biggest investments is in a YSD 16m press brake. The two 640 ton eight metre long machines act in tandem and give the company the opportunity to bend some fairly wide heavy gauge material

“The machines can be controlled either from a single station to act as one long press brake, or they can be operated independently as two separate press brakes. Most CNCs even have an option that allows part programming to be shared across both machines.”

“When the brakes are operated as a tandem set, it is critical that both machines are setup and calibrated properly. While important for single-machine setup, calibration is even more crucial for tandem brakes. This starts with the mechanical features of the machines: The bed, ram, and tooling. If these items are not properly aligned, quality bends will not be achieved. Multiple methods are available to ensure precision alignment. Once the mechanical features are in sync, it is imperative that both machines be functioning properly. Any problem one of the machines experiences will affect the operation of both.”

Bystronic Xpert 80
“Besides our big press brake we have another 320 ton machine with a width of 4 200mm and a 135 ton machine with a width of 3 000mm. However, we have just invested in a new Bystronic Xpert 80, a compact speed machine for small and medium-sized parts.”

“The Xpert 80 is a high-speed, mobile press brake that has a compact format that fits into virtually any manufacturing environment. It is perfect for our needs for small and medium-sized parts.”

“Like most shops, ours has a ‘culture’. The dynamic of how things work is often unspoken and can’t be explained. A lot goes on to process metal successfully, so being committed to that culture or process is what makes shops like ours succeed. Having or finding the right people to make this happen is one of the biggest keys to our success.”

Rolling also forms part of Fast Flame Profiling’s services

Fast decoiling, slitting, cut-to-length and blanking is a strength of Fast Flame Profiling

Laser cutting and rolling

“There is more involved than just being an employee or co-worker who shows up and works until it is time to go home. If you don’t show some pride in your company or work, chances are you won’t be around forever.”

“Fiber laser cutting machines have emerged as the technology of choice for sheet metal cutting in the metal fabricating industry. They are able to deliver unrivalled productivity, precision, and cost-effective operation when compared with the cutting technologies that came before them.”

“Having said that, fiber laser cutting technology has room for improvement. Many systems currently being used in fabricating shops are equipped with fiber lasers that generate beam widths of a particular size, limiting their flexibility. For instance, when the early fiber lasers were sold, they were used mainly to cut thin sheet metal. The laser beam’s small spot size provided much more focused power than a CO2 laser-generated beam and sliced through thin gauge quickly, but struggled with thicker metal. That changed with the advent of manual and automated systems that could vary the laser’s spot size, but those systems have complex cutting heads that have raised questions about reliability in the eyes of some.”

A laser cutting example

A component that has been profile cut

Large pipes that have been rolled

Much of that has to do with the company’s diverse capabilities, as well as its ability to take on unique, difficult, and critical projects that demand strict adherence to codes. Fast Flame Profiling was first established in 1991, and since then has grown into one of the largest steel profiling and cutting services job shops in South Africa, and currently employs 164 highly-skilled people.

The company first operated from a facility in Robertsham, Johannesburg before moving to Roodekop, south of Johannesburg, in 2006. Fast Flame Profiling now occupies 20 000m² under roof and is still planning further expansions. The company has also partnered Fast Flame Africa to form a privately-owned black empowerment steel service centre with a 51% BEE shareholding. Fast Flame Profiling assists its partner with access to its facilities and equipment.

For further details contact Fast Flame Profiling on TEL: 011 866 1740 or visit