Today’s state-of-the-art cutting technologies such as plasma cutters can produce cut parts quickly and to a very high standard. However, a critical aspect of the system’s performance is the consumable parts uilised within the machine, and the use of counterfeit consumables can prove to be a false economy in terms of productivity.

In this day and age where global competition is rife, productivity and cost-effectiveness are often the key differentiators that can allow companies in the manufacturing sector to stand out among their business rivals. Over the years, manufacturing processes have progressed steadily with the advent of technology, and one of the key aspects of production where metalworking plays an important role lies in the quality of the machinery that is employed.

For many equipment manufacturers, sheet metal cutting is a common procedure in their factory. India-based Bharat Foils Limited is one such company. Established in 1975, the family-owned business has a long history in equipment manufacturing, and currently specialises in the production of equipment used in the grain milling industry, spanning the entire process from cleaning to drying, milling processing, and packing. With a strong presence across every state in India with machinery installed in more than 1000 mills, the company has established itself as a reputable machinery supplier in the country.

In Bharat Foils’s daily operations, plasma cutting systems play a pivotal role, with the company cutting 10 to 12 tons of sheet metal per day on average. Modern cutting technologies, such as plasma systems, are capable of producing high-quality cut parts at very high speeds, requiring little or no post-production processes. That said, the performance of a plasma system is also highly dependent on the consumable parts that are used with the torch. Even the latest advances in technology and torch designs are not exempted from this rule – a high-performance plasma system can be rendered mediocre when inferior consumables are used.

Instead of purchasing consumables directly from the cutting system provider or authorised retailers, manufacturers may often seek out cheaper alternatives from other suppliers in an attempt to reduce the overall operating costs. This can lead to an increased risk of purchasing counterfeit products unknowingly, since counterfeits are usually close copies of the genuine product that look similar in appearances, but are sold at relatively lower prices.

Despite being cheaper and delivering some degree of functional performance, the usage of counterfeit consumables can be more counterproductive than beneficial. This was experienced first-hand by the team at Bharat Foils.

Counterfeits uncovered

A satisfied customer of Hypertherm for several years, Bharat Foils currently uses six Powermax85 plasma systems in its factory. As part of its service standards, Hypertherm routinely checks in with its customers even after a purchase has been made. It was during one such occasion that a channel partner discovered that Bharat Foils had been purchasing consumables from another source in the open market. The channel partner had noticed from their records that Bharat Foils had not been purchasing consumables from them despite owning six plasma systems.

The matter soon came to Hypertherm’s attention, and after further investigations, it was revealed the consumables that Bharat Foils had been purchasing were, in fact, counterfeit products. Bharat Foils had not been aware of this, as the counterfeit products looked virtually identical to the genuine consumables.

“Our purchase department was instructed to source from the open market, to see if we could get the consumables at a better price than what was offered by the channel partner,” explains Sunil Gupta, Managing Director of Bharat Foils. “We found a product which looked like Hypertherm’s to me, and so we started to purchase from that source.”

Upon understanding the situation, Hypertherm immediately contacted Bharat Foils to explain the consequences of using counterfeit parts, and the benefits associated with using genuine consumables. During a discussion with the operators at Bharat Foils, Hypertherm also found out that the company had had to reduce the cutting speed in order to maintain acceptable cut quality, which resulted in a variety of cutting issues, including dross that required secondary work. The consumables’ performance was also found to be inconsistent and had to be changed frequently.

Trials, tests and results

The high consumption of consumables ultimately resulted in higher expenses in cutting operations for Bharat Foils, in addition to reduced cut quality and decreased productivity. To illustrate the difference in performance between the genuine and counterfeit consumables, Hypertherm proposed the idea of conducting some trials in the factory.

“We were initially reluctant to do the trials but Hypertherm continued to follow up with us closely,” Gupta explains. “Eventually, we were won over by their sincerity and agreed to give it a try.”

Two separate trials – one with Hypertherm Cu+ consumables and the other with Bharat Foils’ existing consumables – were conducted simultaneously for three days under similar conditions, on mild steel plates of varying thickness (8mm, 10mm, and 12mm). As the trials progressed, the differences in performance became apparent to Gupta. For the same amount of cutting, Bharat Foils had to use three sets of counterfeit consumables compared to just one set of genuine consumables.

The team also observed a significant increase in cutting speed (around 68% on average) with the use of the genuine consumables. During the trial, it was also noted that the counterfeit consumables had inconsistent lifespans, with the first set getting damaged after just 9m of cutting.

Quality-wise, the machine fitted with genuine consumables also delivered parts with better hole and slot cut quality. Upon assessing the results, Gupta became convinced of the benefits brought by the use of genuine consumables, and immediately made the decision to switch to Hypertherm’s consumables.

Satisfaction all-round

Since switching to genuine consumables, Bharat Foils has experienced smoother operations, reduced downtime, and better levels of customer service. These benefits have led to a significant overall improvement in their manufacturing process, notably in the areas of productivity, cost-effectiveness, and customer satisfaction.

“With Hypertherm’s consumables, our consumption level has gone down by 40% while the quality of our cutting has improved greatly,” says Gupta. “Our customers have also started to notice the differences in our products. Now, the company is growing rapidly because our productivity has increased, and I am able to offer a high-quality product that is on par with my competitors.”

To Bharat Foils, the relationship with Hypertherm is one that they are keen on maintaining in the long run. Moving forward, Gupta intends to adopt other cutting solutions to enhance Bharat Foils’ operations, with high-definition plasma cutting systems being next on his list.

More than just a manufacturer and supplier of cutting solutions, Hypertherm endeavours to offer close support to its customers, allowing them to fulfil their business goals. This level of dedication was keenly felt by Bharat Foils through this episode.

“Hypertherm is not merely providing me a machine,” Gupta concludes. “They are giving me technical support and aftersales service. They’re here to improve my company’s productivity, and we appreciate this partnership with them.”