Like the man who famously liked a shaver so much he bought the company, a fan of cutting-edge Australian technology has given it a major boost by investing his expertise and industry leadership into its future in the Americas.

Unlike Victor Kiam, who was drawn into Remington by a close shave, the new North and South Americas Director for Australian laser technology pioneers ipLaser is in it to expand the future capabilities of laser cutting – already one of the world’s fastest-growing industries. Felipe Lechuga was already highly successful with his company Lemaco Corte Laser, headquartered in Chile, when he began his relationship with the Australian company.

Lemaco was supplying finely engineered laser-cut metal components to Chilean companies in demanding industries such as aerospace, automotive, construction and electronics. Lechuga hit the headlines at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, using his decades in laser cutting and sheetmetal manufacturing to provide a “Made in Chile” solution to the lack of respirators.

“Becoming a director of ipLaser and expanding the reach of our time-saving laser quotation technologies was a short step for me,” he says. “I have always been a geek for technology, software and machines, particularly where they make the job easier and more efficient. This is exactly what is happening with the technologies of ipLaser, which is creating opportunities for thousands of laser cutting workshops to substantially grow their business, without substantially growing their costs.

“You might think the actual laser cutting is the hardest part of running a laser cutting business. But the work behind the scenes, such as preparing quotations, is often the biggest limitation on businesses expanding and reaching their full potential. That was why ipCompute (parent company of ipLaser) feels like a natural place to be. I had a great relationship with the founders Ivan Cooper and Peter Olle since the beginning of our conversations, and was really impressed with the way they took their practical experience, from 20 years work on the factory floor, and used technology to turn it into a gamechanger for the laser cutting industry.”

It was a natural step for Lechuga to go from a customer to becoming a Director of ipLaser. Its cloud-based laser cutting quotation platform is designed to meet the requirements of busy modern laser job shops by enabling accurate, consistent and timely quotations for complex parts requiring multiple processes. Lechuga was familiar with the global respect for ipLaser long before he formally joined, having used the quotation technology in his own business.

ipLaser’s latest innovation is 3D-comptible laser cutting quotation software that typically more than halves the time and manual input required by companies to prepare precise estimates for their services. This next-generation technology, which offers major advances on more time-consuming two-dimensional quotation technology, opens the door to major expansion of workshops by reducing the number of steps in the quotation process.

The ipLaser cloud-based technology suite – which can automatically process three-dimensional engineering and production graphics provided by customers – not only automates business processes and saves time, but also transforms and expands opportunities for the huge and rapidly growing number of laser service providers.

Ivan Cooper, Managing Director of ipLaser, explains: “It does this by enabling laser cutting businesses to respond to customers’ needs more quickly and to reach many more prospective customers than previously in a given time. The new process – which we believe is unique in the global market – goes far beyond saving time and costs, to fundamentally change and improve the way a business built around laser cutting can grow.

“Laser cutting is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, with the machine market alone expected to exceed US$7bn by 2024, as major industries adopt this fast and accurate technology that flexibly responds to the digital revolution of Industry 4.0.”

Lechuga says ipLaser’s technology is also a boon for laser cutting customers, because of the time it saves and because of the precise record it automatically keeps on parts ordered and delivered.

“We’ve been using ipLaser for more than four years now,” he says. “Initially we used it just for internally prepared quotations because our primary goal was to be able to send fast, consistent quotes to our customers. About one year in we started using it for external (or customer-prepared) quotes. This, for certain customers, is a great benefit since they can have a price on the spot, whenever they need it, without depending on us to process their request.

“Now the latest 3D module has opened new possibilities for us, improving the way we service our customers. Before we had to ask them for 2D drawings, or they had to wait a long time for us to prepare a quotation for them when supplying us with 3D assembly files.”

According to Lechuga, using ipLaser offers many benefits: “First there’s consistency. No matter who prepares a quote, the rules governing it are embedded within the system (defined by the manager), so the price is always going to be the same. Also, we are now able to quote much faster, even when our workloads are way higher than back in the day of manual quoting. And the system is flexible, enabling some customers to prepare the quotes on their own and tweak quantities, materials, thicknesses in a couple of minutes, so as to optimise their jobs.

“Our own laser cutting business managed to free the technical office from processing hundreds of parts drawings that would never make it to cutting, since in a typical job shop less than 50% of the quoted items are ordered. This allows the expensive time and resources (such as CAM software) of the technical office to concentrate on the jobs that actually get ordered.”

ipLaser’s technology differs from conventional 2D-based laser quotation technologies as it can be fed full 3D schematics of a product and precisely sift out all 2D sheet metal surfaces required to be cut, by a laser workshop of any size and complexity. The automated 3D process eliminates many previous obstacles to the use of 3D encountered by laser cutting companies, whose services are delivered in a 2D sheet metal environment, using surfaces that must be extracted from 3D drawings.

Cooper says previous challenges in the conversion included high cost and time demands: “3D packages are expensive, trained operators are expensive, and finding the time to train people (if they have no prior experience) is hard too.”

Before adopting the technology, Lechuga’s approach to quoting was typical of a one-machine shop: “I figured out the cut length and number of ‘piercings’ (where the machine starts a new cut). From each drawing we had to estimate using a CAD software. Then I entered those numbers in a simple spreadsheet I prepared myself that had the piercing times and feed rates for every material we processed. It worked, but it was painfully slow in operation, time-consuming to set up, and didn’t take into account factors such as machine acceleration. Plus, at the end, you had to export a PDF from the spreadsheet, and we didn’t have a database of all the quoted jobs.

“Later we made a tailored software that was a sophisticated version of this spreadsheet that had a customer database and was able to directly output a PDF that we could email to the customer. Materials and cutting times came from our machine’s CAM software so we loaded our technical office with jobs estimating and the like. I had to prepare the quotes myself, so I couldn’t delegate this task to anyone because all the pricing criteria was only in my head! I spent many years without being able to spend a single day without sending quotes… including holidays!”

Lechuga says that, because ipLaser’s software was specifically built for laser-cutting job shops by people involved in this market, it adapts to users’ needs better than any other multi-purpose tool.

“A screwdriver will always work better than a Swiss knife – it is perfected for the job!” says Lechuga. “Also, our software works with any brand of machine you have or may have in the future. This way, we can grow with our customers no matter what machine they decide to buy in the future.

“Our new ipLaser software Toolbox is a suite of tools that are simple yet powerful, and it’s permanently growing in its features and capabilities. It is supersimple to set up – and flexible. In the Americas, there is a wide range of different job shops with different needs, so the modular concept of Toolbox makes it very easy to tailor the set of tools that each particular customer may need. Plus, new tools can be accessed by the customer if they need them further on.

“All of our customers throughout the Americas will always have the latest version of the software and no investment needs to be made up front! Everyone has access to all of the new features, and we help them grow, as we grow with them.”