Hypertherm was founded in 1968 by Dick Couch, who is still actively involved as Chairman of the Board. Today, the company belongs not to Mr. Couch but to its associates.
“All of our associates share in our stock program and therefore jointly own the company,” says Regional Director EMEA Theo Cornielje. “This offers tremendous advantages for our associates, of course, but their increased motivation and sense of ownership creates huge benefits for our customers too. Mr. Couch’s motivation was never purely to maximize profit. It was also to secure the long-term existence of the firm through the well-being of staff, their communities and the environment. This philosophy is fully anchored in the company. Today, every associate is given four paid days to undertake community work. Over time, this has created a huge level of pride, and our associates continue to support local causes enthusiastically and with a real sense of pleasure.”
Hypertherm Europe is responsible for sales and marketing, customer service and technical support, logistics, and finance across the EMEA region. The company supplies plasma cutters for metal.
“Unlike laser or waterjet technology, plasma cutters use gases heated to extremely high temperatures,” explains Mr. Cornielje. “Different gases – known as ionized gases – are selected, depending on what type of metal is to be cut. For example, to cut steel, oxygen is heated to a temperature of 30,000 °C. The temperature leads to an ionization of the gas, causing the metal to melt, and superfluous material is removed.”
In contrast to other technologies, plasma equipment can cut thick metals at high speed, offering the customer a significant increase in productivity. “Today there is a clear shift in our internal development,” Mr. Cornielje points out. “The way the equipment will be used is central, and we try to design products that are application specific. This has enabled us to develop a wide range of standard machinery.”
Digitalization has also made its mark. “Digitalization is starting to impact every manufacturer,” continues the Regional Director. “Accordingly, we have to prepare our tools to deal with this. The best solution would be if machinery had just two buttons – on and off – but, unfortunately, we are still a long way from that situation. Nevertheless, we recently presented new software at the Schweissen & Schneiden trade fair in Düsseldorf, which enables important data to be reviewed, for example, how many hours the appliance has operated, what has been replaced, and when the next service is due. We are working with different end users to assess the impact of digitalization so that we can anticipate what will be required.”
R&D is a critical element of the firm’s activities. From the outset, Mr. Couch insisted that at least 10% of the company’s staff should be engaged in R&D so that plasma technology could be optimized and quality assured. As a result, its innovative products make its customers’ work easier.
This approach has secured Hypertherm’s ranking as market leader for plasma cutting equipment. Hypertherm supplies machinery for many different industries, including shipbuilding and construction – any application where metals are used.
“We sell our products predominantly through two channels,” notes Mr. Cornielje. “Firstly, we supply via wholesalers specializing in welding and cutting equipment, and secondly we sell to OEM businesses, who integrate our products into their own equipment to sell them as part of a complete solution.”
Mr. Cornielje sees Hypertherm’s prospects very positively. “Now that foreign labour is no longer as cheap as it was, we are seeing manufacturers bringing production back to Europe, enabling them to monitor quality more effectively. Many producers are seeing double-figure growth, and I see this continuing until at least the end of 2018,” he says. “Of course, this doesn’t automatically mean that we will profit. It is down to us to implement the right strategies to lead the market and not just react to it. We are investing heavily in our waterjet cutting range, with the aim of becoming a multi-technology company and broadening our portfolio. We are also developing additional software applications to optimize our equipment. Our central focus remains the use of our products and adapting them to new applications.”
The company is in constant dialogue with end users to understand their future challenges. “Shipbuilders, for instance, tell us that ships will be lighter and more energy efficient,” continues the Regional Director. “Accordingly, our tools will have to be capable of dealing with new forms of metal. Overall, we are in a strong financial position and have no intention of selling the firm. As a result, we offer a secure future for both our customers and staff.”