What were some of the significant milestones of Hypertherm in the past year?
At the start of the year, Hypertherm acquired AccuStream, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of water jet cutting products. With this acquisition, we have expanded the range and type of cutting systems available, further solidifying Hypertherm’s position as a multi-cutting technological company. The waterjet application will enable Hypertherm’s cutting solutions to extend to other materials beyond metals, which is a first for us.
At the 200-amp range of conventional plasma cutting, we introduced the MaxPro200 in replacement of the Max200 workhorse that has served the industry and us well over the last 20+ years. The MaxPro200 outperforms the Max 200 in terms of cut quality, speed and consumable life with enhanced reliability. Since the launch, this system has received positive reception from our end-users once again.
Recently, we launched the Powermax125, a 125-amp air plasma system with 100% duty cycle. Having an air plasma system with a new and enhanced amperage level is an achievement for Hypertherm, enabling the cutting performance of Hypertherm PMX air plasma system to reach new heights in terms of metal thickness for both hand-held and mechanised cutting.
With Fiber Laser cutting, we have added a 3kW HyIntensity¨ HFL030 laser unit to the product range. The addition of this system will broaden the range of HyperthermÕs fiber laser system offerings and offer more diverse cutting solutions to the end-users.
How do you see 2014 for Hypertherm?
2014 will continue to be a challenging year for Hypertherm, however, there is some optimism of a potential recovery in the US economy and this will be a plus for all. In the Asian environment, the developments and the continued progress in the China recovery, while not at the same pace as before, will be an added boost to the region. Japan, while embracing ‘Abenomics’, would be the other major factor for the region. Lastly, in the ASEAN region, there will be 2 major elections and potential changes in the government and as India braces itself for a potential change in government in early 2014, these factors will impact the market as the implementations take effect.
For Hypertherm in the Asia Pacific region, while we expect to see positive developments relative to 2013, this will be viewed with caution as the changes take place within the region. The changes will include the onward development and implementation of government initiatives for domestic development and therefore opens up new avenues for us to pursue.
Where is the metalworking industry going, in your opinion?
The metalworking industry is very broad and here my comments will be limited to the thermal cutting industry.
In Asia, although the adoption of plasma cutting is still progressing, this happens at different levels amongst different countries in the region. As the demand for finished or semi-finished products, and consequently, cut parts, rises, the drive for greater productivity will be inevitable to meet these demands. At the highest level, it concerns not solely the automation of a solitary machine but an automated production line that can work 24/7 with minimal human interface. With increasing labour costs and other related issues continuing to emerge, the need for continuous improvements in productivity through automation is the key to remaining competitive and long-term success.
Is R & D important for your company?
Hypertherm was founded on a revolutionary innovation some 45 years ago, bringing improvement to the cut quality and consumables life of the existing systems back then, and the onward drive to ‘cut the cost of cutting metal’. Since then, the company prides itself as a technological leader with more than 100 patents to their name. On the human resource front, the engineer base currently takes up more than 10% of the total company strength, attesting to the importance Hypertherm places on research and development.
With this in mind, Hypertherm continually introduces new products that outperform the predecessor models in terms of cut quality, productivity and reliability, further strengthening our industry leadership position.
Which export markets are you moving into?
In the Asia Pacific region, we are represented in 4 major markets and we have no plans to move into any new markets in 2014. However, the region does offer opportunities and we will consolidate our business in the region in specific segments.
Where are the opportunities for Hypertherm?
With increasing demands for improved productivity with technological adoption, the emerging markets of Asia present many opportunities for Hypertherm. These include both hand-held and mechanised applications that enhances both productivity and safety as plasma, in particular air plasma, does not require usage of a gas (which is flammable) other than air. As the export market is relatively weak, most Asian government will have plans to drive up domestic investments with infrastructure development to complement and sustain growth and these will offer opportunities for us. Separately, the introduction of the water jet system will open up more opportunities for us in new areas of application, which have yet to be explored by Hypertherm before.
Where do you see manufacturing growth? Which companies?
With potential infrastructure growth, we foresee growth in the construction and related equipment industries. The same can be said of the agricultural business and these businesses will drive demand for more job shops and steel centers. Depressed by soft export markets and weak bulk carrying demand, the shipbuilding industry has been in recession since 2008. Although this shipbuilding market continues to be relatively soft, there are early signs of improvement and growth in the total market. This is another recovery that is anticipated within the next 2-3 years.