R & G Sheet Metal adds fiber laser cutting and increases machining capabilities

The decision has thrown the shop into new business opportunities including processing reflective materials such as stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminium and other exotic materials.

Before a metal fabricator can take the next big step, it needs to ensure that it has a firm foundation to walk on. R & G Sheet Metal Workers (Pty) Ltd was in such a position heading into 2014. The shop, founded in 1987, had built up a solid business of providing a multitude of components to leading companies in the electrical, locomotive, banking, signage and automotive industries. It also had added key capabilities like assembly services, a sheet metal patterning or rigidising department, an in-house powder coating plant, a fully functional toolroom and CNC machining and pipe bending, over the years.

MD Geoff Lass has a no nonsense and urgent demeanour. However, it is his passion for the work and a pragmatic willingness to revise the company’s comfort zone as customer needs change that really comes to the fore. This has made him a very successful businessman.


“I have always believed in keeping up-to-date with advances in technology, which is why I will visit international exhibitions and OEM manufacturing facilities as often as possible. There you are able to see the true picture and make informed decisions. Our recent purchase of the Amada FOL 3015 AJ fiber laser was a direct result of me visiting EuroBlech in 2012.”

“A shop owner that immerses himself in all aspects of his business will reap the rewards of his efforts and satisfied customers will keep coming back for more,” said Lass.

“Metal fabricating technology has advanced over the years and it constantly forces you to ask how we could apply new technology to grow the business. Since the fiber laser cutting machine technology made a grand debut in the industry back in 2010, fabricators have marvelled at the speed at which the machines cut, particularly thin metal, and reflective materials such as stainless steel, copper, brass, aluminium and other exotic materials.”

“CO2 laser cutting machines, the workhorse of the metal fabricating industry for the past two decades, rely on CO2 and other gases to create laser light in a resonator with highly polished mirrors to deliver the laser to the cutting head. Fiber lasers do not need laser gases. The laser beam is generated using solid-state laser diodes and a rare-earth element within a specialty fiber-optic cable. The laser beam is then delivered to the cutting head with more fiber-optic cable. Mirrors aren’t required for beam delivery.”



Transnet Engineering is currently upgrading its existing locomotives. In many cases, obsolete technology, such as analogue controls, is replaced with new electronic IT based control systems. The upgrades also allow Transnet to reduce the number of locomotives to haul coal for example, but more importantly the amount of locomotives that are required when braking while hauling coal. R & G Sheetmetal are contracted to supply a client a number of enclosures for the rectifiers. The pictures show the shelving, which have a number of complicated bending and punching operations, and the boxes that house the shelving. R & G Sheetmetal also powder coats the components in its own facility

“I have always believed in keeping up-to-date with advances in technology, which is why I will visit international exhibitions and OEM manufacturing facilities as often as possible. There you are able to see the true picture and make informed decisions. Our recent purchase of the Amada FOL 3015 AJ fiber laser was a direct result of me visiting EuroBlech in 2012.”

Changing the Culture
“When you bring in a piece of technology like this, you need to change mindsets as well. If you don’t change the mindset and you are running the new technology with old ways, you are not going to maximize what you can actually do with the new machine,” Lass said.

In particular, he was referring to the laser machine operators’ tendency to treat the new technology as if it were the old CO2 laser. “They literally sometimes tried to adjust various machine settings, just like they did on the CO2 laser machine, to replicate a feature like an oversized hole. That led to problems, because when these special adjustments were made, the desired cutting result often did not occur.”

Lass said that this type of unauthorised intervention was actually linked to the older manufacturing environment where the goal was to do what was necessary to get the desired cut features. As a result, many of the operators developed their own approach to achieving laser cutting success.


R & G Sheetmetal has installed two new Amada EM 2510NT turret punch presses over the last couple of years as well as adding an Amada HDS 8025 NT press brake

Now standard operating procedures have replaced individual approaches. Through training and more experience with the fiber laser, the operators realise that they only have to concern themselves with a few checks: focusing, centering, cutting conditions, and nozzles. Those areas should always be aligned with the cutting job loaded in the machine control, so if something is not right with those application parameters, it is likely the equipment’s fault; operator error is no longer to blame.

“Another aspect that we have to address is the material handling, storage and automation. The machine is simply too fast for manual loading and unloading to take place. I can give you an example. As a result of the fiber we have acquired a new client. He was having a 6 mm brass component for a lock machined, which was taking 25 minutes per component. We now cut this component on the fiber in 12 seconds. Not only does it save on time but it also brings in the versatility of the fiber laser. There could be numerous applications that are currently being machined which could now be done on the fiber laser, and the quality is equal to machining. Additionally there are punching operations that we are now performing on the fiber laser.”


R & G Sheetmetal have recently added a Hurco VM 20 CNC vertical machining centre and a Hurco TM 10 CNC lathe to its machine shopfloor

“Another example is where were taking a week to complete a number of stainless steel components. This now takes us one day. The increase in productivity is putting pressure on us because most of the components or blanks that are cut on the fiber laser still have to be processed through downstream operations and every now and then we have to let the rest of the plant catch up. However, the speed of the machine has actually provided a much more relaxed atmosphere for processing rush jobs.”

“We are also saving on input costs. We have installed a nitrogen generating plant so that we can make our own nitrogen and that’s saving us between R40 000.00 and R50 000.00 a month.”

R & G Sheetmetal now also boasts its own range of CNC machines, which are housed in a separate facility up the road.

“We were always lacking on the machining side. Today a customer wants to deal with as few suppliers as possible. A simple example is side plates needed holes drilled into them, which then had to be welded onto a formed component. In the past the drilling operation had to be sent out,” explained Lass.

“We addressed this problem in 2010 when we installed our first CNC machine, a PolyGym with an automatic barfeeder supplied by PBS Machine Tools. Shortly thereafter we purchased a second hand Mazak Quickturn 15N and this was followed up with a Hurco VMX 42 CNC vertical machining centre.”

“Wherever possible we try and make our own spare parts for the equipment we use and this is one of the reasons we have a toolroom. The primary function of this department is to make our own tooling for the lasers, presses and punches but since the introduction of the CNC equipment they have become a much more valuable asset to the company. They added more value to the completed products and components we supply clients, as well as being able to take care of manufacturing spares for our own consumption that we would normally buy or send out for machining,” continued Lass.


The company now has four robot welders, whereas three years ago they only had one

“We were not looking to become a big machine shop. Rather, we wanted to offer the extra service of machining as well as being able to have the facility available for our own use. However this department has flourished and as a result we have added a further two machines to it, a Hurco VM 20 CNC vertical machining centre and a Hurco TM 10 CNC lathe.”

“Getting in the outside machining work has also benefitted the rest of the company because clients now see what else we offer.”


R & G Sheetmatal can now manufacture components such as this one because it has all the equipment. This particular stainless steel component, which is for the health spa industry, has been cut to length, machined, rimmed and welded. With the installation of its new Amada FOL 3015 AJ fiber laser, the company is actively looking for exotic material work such as aluminium, brass and stainless steel

As technology has become increasingly more advanced over the past decade, machines have come to replace man in many instances, particularly industry. Machines work faster, they never tire and in many cases they never have to stop. However, Lass says that although the steel industry relies on machines to carry out most of the intricate jobs and heavy-duty work, they will never replace human hands.
“We rely heavily on the use of machines, but machines that work faster mean that there is a lot more finishing and transportation involved, so we have actually employed more people since installing the new machines.”
“We have four robot welders, whereas three years ago we only had one. That means we need more grinders, assemblers and so on. So the technology has actually led to more job creation.”
For R & G Sheetmetal, keeping up-to-date with modern technology not only increases its productivity, but it ensures that the company retains its leadership position in the market and has enhanced its strategy of being a one-stop shop.
It has also led to the enviable position of increased turnover and a burden on floor space available for the future growth that Lass envisages. “Right now we are looking to address this problem.”

For further details contact R & G Sheetmetal on TEL: 011 452 8055 or visit www.rgsheetmetal.co.za