Staying ahead with Cutting Edge Technologies

As a term, ‘cutting edge technology’ is somewhat ambiguous and is often used in the context of IT and marketing. Cutting edge technology refers to technological devices, techniques or achievements that employ the most current and high-level developments in other words, technology at the frontiers of knowledge. While commonly used to refer to computer and electronic technology, the term can apply to technology of any type, including automotive, medical, engineering and countless other industries.

When establishing a business deciding on the name of your company can be somewhat daunting because there are many aspects to think of and you don’t want any regrets down the line once you have spent money on marketing the name. Everyone is different in their thinking on how they want the name to be associated with the industry that they are involved in. There are many examples where you find yourself wondering what the psychology was behind the name of the company or even the name of a product.

Cutting Edge Technologies has invested in its first fiber laser – a Trumpf TruLaser 5030 fiber that has a table size of 3m x 1.5m

Components that have been cut and bent on the company’s Trumpf equipment

Not so in the case of Cutting Edge Technologies, a Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal based metal forming company. Cutting Edge Technologies has been employing laser technology as its main source of cutting metal since the company was established in 2002. At the time laser technology in the metalworking industry in South Africa was a relatively new technology. People were sceptical about the technology as it was ‘cutting edge’.

“Cutting edge technology sometimes takes a while to make its way into the niche areas of metal fabricating. But when it does, its impact is immediate, like anywhere else,” said Wayne Foulkes, managing member of Cutting Edge Technologies.

“We knew from the beginning that laser technology would be impactful on the metal cutting industry and hence the name of the company.”

“A laser beam is a remarkable thing. A continuous-wattage laser beam has energy densities more than four trillion times higher than the sun’s focused energy, and manufacturers have determined ways to utilise this extraordinarily high-power density to do everything from cutting and welding sheet metal to drilling holes in PCB boards.”

“Lasers can cut, join, and subtract material. They can even add material via laser metal deposition or 3D printing. We can vary power levels, pulse frequencies, and energy densities via beam diameter manipulation, among other ways, all so that the laser beam can induce the right material reactions for various processes. Truly, the laser’s use to industry is vast and varied.”

Cutting Edge Technologies have adapted by adding more engineering and fabricating services to their portfolio other than just laser cutting

Components ready for delivery

“The laser continues to solve more and more manufacturing problems, and process variables such as beam diameter and manipulation continue to have a meaningful impact. From cutting and welding to adding material layers or removing them, advancements in laser technology are sure to be a key component of success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

“In the beginning we invested in CO2 lasers because that was the ‘new’ technology that was available. We still have two Trumpf 5kW CO2 lasers on the floor and more recently we have invested in our first fiber laser. At first people were sceptical about making the transition into fiber as it was cutting edge technology. I think the fear of the unknown is a more realistic view. But once they grasped the technical knowledge and realised the cost benefits that they would achieve, the switch has been rapid more so than when lasers were first introduced. Now you have OEMs that don’t even offer CO2 source lasers anymore.”

Job shop environment
“From the beginning we set up as a job shop or as a service centre, as some people refer to it as, and only offered laser cutting services. This means that we are the first in the line of component supply to our customers who use the components that we cut to manufacture other products,” explained Foulkes.

“As we all know lasers cut at very high speeds, thereby reducing not only the time it takes to produce components, but also the cost to customers. When comparing costs using laser cutting instead of mechanical cutting, it is well worth it. The cost difference of labour and consumables to produce a part through mechanical cutting, which could also comprise of other processes such as grinding and drilling, is significant,” explains Foulkes.

Cutting Edge Technologies is more than just a service centre. It is now a diversified metal cutting and bending shop offering fabrication services

Two years ago the company purchased a Trumpf TruBend 3100 press brake from Retecon Machine Tools

“Other advantages are that laser-cut components are almost identical, which makes using them in any production process more time efficient as there is generally no call for cleaning or grinding. This ensures that the components are fitted or slotted in the correct position every time.”

“Today’s job shop market is characterised by unrelenting competitive pressure for laser processing services. Some metal fabricating operations produce the same product day in and day out with little variation. In real job shops, which are becoming rarer, 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 the older skill sets are going away with the retirees. Additionally, technical schools are not able to teach what has been passed down for generations.”

“As a result very few real job shops exist today. Most manufacturers prefer to engage in producing multiples of the same component, 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.”

Diversification and adding value
“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 rands, and only a few shops have equipment large enough for some projects.”

Cutting Edge Technologies have diversified in the materials that they process. Some galvanised sheets for ducting installations is one example

Components manufactured by Cutting Edge Technologies

“Manufacturing isn’t the same today as it was three plus decades ago. CNC for machine tools, desktop computers, electronic data interchange (EDI), laser cutting machines, robots, lean manufacturing, and other technologies and processes have caused more changes in the past 35 years than perhaps any similar time period since the discovery of iron. Job shops who have been able to adapt have survived, and many have thrived in this environment.”

“We at Cutting Edge Technologies have adapted by adding more engineering and fabricating services to our portfolio other than just laser cutting, while at the same time keeping the job shop mentality where every day is different and every job is different.”

“Five years ago we purchased our first press brake and it immediately made a large impact on the shop floor. We had taken the plunge and diversified and we could now add value to the components that we were laser cutting rather than the client or us shopping out this process. This led to more clients and more jobs from our existing clients. More importantly it got most of us in the company thinking out of the box.”

“An example of this is the bull bar kits that we now supply to the automotive OEMs and the aftermarket. We cut and bend the brackets and other components that secure the bull bar to the vehicle, have them e-coated and powder coated, order in the washers, nuts and bolts and then package all of the components and deliver. We could never have done this before. It is a great example of many whereby we are now able to kit form products to our clients.”

“But it wasn’t just the components that we were processing that changed. Suddenly we were being more adventurous in the materials that we were processing. The galvanised sheets that you see on the floor will be cut and bent into various sections for a ducting system.”

A general view of the laser cutting department

Cutting Edge Technologies supplies bull bar kits to the automotive OEMs and the aftermarket. The company cuts and bends the brackets and other components that secure the bull bar to the vehicle

“We mainly cut and form material between 0.5mm and 20mm with mild steel taking up between 60% and 70% of our capacity. The rest is made up of stainless steel and aluminium in various grades, depending on the client requirements.”

Second press brake
“Due to increased demand we purchased a second press brake two years ago. The Trumpf TruBend 3100 press brake, which was purchased from Retecon Machine Tools and installed in 2017, is part of the new generation TruBend Series 3000 that Trumpf offers.”

“The TruBend 3100 back gauges can move across the entire bending length removing any restrictions. Automatic crowning ensures consistent angles. In addition, high axis speeds make the machine one of the fastest in its class.”

“The TruBend uses one-of-a-kind software for 3D design and programming of laser, punching, and bending machines. The TruBend 3100 has a press force of 100 tons and bending length of 3 060mm. It includes a four-axis back gauge. This makes it possible to position sheet metal securely, even where complex part geometries are involved.”

First Trumpf fiber laser
“From the beginning we had standardised on Trumpf equipment so it should be no surprise that we chose a Trumpf machine when we decided to venture into fiber laser cutting. Again, capacity was an influencing factor but efficiencies and taking advantage of the ‘cutting edge’ technology did play a major part in our decision making.”

“The Trulaser 5030, which has a laser power of 6kW, can cut steel sheets up to 25mm thick. The ‘Smart Beam Control’ technology continually checks the focal position of the laser and adjusts it when needed. This ensures that the power and position remain stable all the time.”

By upgrading and increasing capacity on the cutting side Cutting Edge Technologies have also had to change to a liquid nitrogen supply and installed a 10-ton storage tank

Wayne Foulkes, managing member of Cutting Edge Technologies

“The laser cutter also allows for smooth, high-quality cutting at all sheet thicknesses due to the ‘BrightLine Fiber’ technology. This technology also lets the laser cut at high speeds when working with thinner sheets of metal. The TruLaser 5030 fiber has a table size of 3m x 1.5m.”

“The machine was installed in February 2019 and it is already making an impact in terms of our lead times and costs. Our other two Trumpf CO2 machines are still working as hard as before but the new fiber laser deploys the latest technology and is bound to have advantages over the older equipment.”

“While upgrading and increasing capacity on the cutting side we have also changed to a liquid nitrogen supply and installed a 10-ton storage tank, which giving us more efficiencies and cost savings.”

“As the dynamics of the industry change so to must you adapt your business otherwise you are going to lose business.”

“We are also now supplying kits for the trucking industry, side plates, brackets and mounted plates for the car carriers, as well as rails and uprights, toolboxes for the smaller trucks and drop sides. Additionally we are at an advanced stage at supplying decorative brushed sheeting for some of our clients in the automotive industry where we will not only supply the cut-to-size sheeting but also all the other accessories that are associated with the product. Wherever possible we will add the value.”

“All this has led to us achieving our best year last year where we achieved a 36% growth. The growth was realised with our existing clients as well as acquiring new ones. On average we were processing about 200 tons of material a month, not bad when you consider that we only have 35 staff.”

“With the addition of the new Trumpf fiber laser that has afforded us more capacity and shorter lead times, we are aiming for an even better year in 2019.”

“Although we are still a job shop in many respects we have adapted to offer more services and also to accommodate those longer runs.”

For further details contact Cutting Edge Technologies on TEL: 031 700 3683 or visit