As a child I was intrigued by all kinds of machinery. You could say I was mechanically inclined and liked to try to “fix” things like bicycles, mopeds, and even occasionally some small appliances. Whenever I was about to start a “fix-it” project my father would remind me, “You’ve got to use the right tool for the job if you’re going to do it right!”

After such a statement my father would disappear in to his workshop and return with the “right tool for the job.” Smiling, he would present the tool to me with a smile, exclaiming, “Now all you have to do is figure out how to use it.” Then he’d chuckle and disappear again.

Recently during a visit Behlen Industries in Brandon, Manitoba, I was reminded how important it is to have the right tool for the job and to be able to figure out how to use it.

Behlen Industries, founded in 1969, is Canada's largest producer of steel building systems, as measured by the number of units it produces annually. Behlen serves the industrial, institutional, commercial, and agricultural markets with systems sold and installed throughout North America and parts of Europe by a network of authorized builder-distributors. The builder-distributors are supported by regional Behlen sales and technical customer-service teams. Behlen is ISO 9001 certified and consistently listed among Canada’s best-managed private companies.

And, as a result of its success, Behlen is the largest user of steel in Western Canada, with consumption typically exceeding nine million pounds annually.

Putting the structure in place — My visit to Behlen followed shortly after it had invested in a new plasma cutting machine to replace a 10-year-old unit that had been operating around the clock. The replaced machine was no longer serviced or supported by its manufacturer and had reached the end of its reliable service life. After some research, Behlen purchased the new cutting machine from Linde Canada; their existing supplier of industrial supplies and gas. Linde Canada also provides service for the new machine, which was a major factor in the final purchase decision.

The newly installed cutting machine is equipped with integrated plasma cutting solutions from Hypertherm, including a HyPerformance® HPR260XD plasma cutting system with Autogas; an EDGE Pro® CNC; a Sensor® torch-height control (THC); and MTC’s ProNest® 2010 nesting and process optimization software. Speaking to the Behlen production team during my visit, I learned some of their purchase-related criteria.

Production manager Doug Riddoch observed that the plasma system is a vital component of the workflow at the company. “If it’s not working, it really affects the overall operation of the shop,” he explained. “It [the plasma] dictates the work flow, with 40 welders waiting for cut parts.”

Riddoch went on to say that “Quality and reliability were the big drivers for our purchase. The new machine was selected because we felt that it was more heavy duty than the other models we saw. Trouble-free operation is what we are looking for, and we'd rather spend a little more to get this, if needed. We purchased the machine with growth in mind. Knowing we had our last machine for 10 years certainly made capacity planning a little less difficult.”

Mike Trupp, a technical sales/automation specialist for Linde Canada, was involved in the pre and post sales process, including system installation and training. He made it clear that he takes his customer satisfaction responsibility very seriously. “The buck stops with me, as far as ensuring my customers’ machines are operational,” according Mike. “I have to be a one-stop shop to our customers, as much as possible.

“The relationship I have with Hypertherm makes that easier for me,” he continued. “Whether it’s a ProNest 2010 True Hole technology setup question or something related to the HPRXD plasma, I only need to make one call directly to Hypertherm, or via the machine manufacturer [OEM], and I can get the answers I need … instead of one component-supplier blaming the other’s component(s). I plan to start using the Hypertherm online Remote Help capability soon. It’s a win-win solution, for the customer and for us, the equipment distributor. Even though the new technology, like True Hole, is automated and simple for inexperienced programmers and operators to use, it also means that when there is a technical question those same operators may not be able to help diagnose the issue. Remote Help will allow me to resolve, or be a part of resolving, technical and applications questions right from my office.”

“The relationship I have with Hypertherm makes that easier for me,” he continued. “Whether it’s a ProNest 2010 True Hole technology setup question or something related to the HPRXD plasma, I only need to make one call directly to Hypertherm, or via the machine manufacturer [OEM], and I can get the answers I need … instead of one component-supplier blaming the other’s component(s). I plan to start using the Hypertherm online Remote Help capability soon. It’s a win-win solution, for the customer and for us, the equipment distributor. Even though the new technology, like True Hole, is automated and simple for inexperienced programmers and operators to use, it also means that when there is a technical question those same operators may not be able to help diagnose the issue. Remote Help will allow me to resolve, or be a part of resolving, technical and applications questions right from my office.”

“Another major impact [from the new machine] is the improved I-beam weld fit-up, based on optimized part quality from reduced edge taper,” Riddoch continued. “Now, I-beams are consistently fabricated to tighter tolerances, which helps our installers by reducing costly in-field rework. Other major process improvements include use of the new Hypertherm True Hole technology available with this machine. While we’ve not yet used it to its full thickness potential, because right now we mostly do very thin sheet work, based on the bolt-ready hole quality we’ve seen so far, we will definitely gain a lot of benefit from the technology in the future.”

While on-site, I also spoke with the company’s two nesting programmers, Chad and Dennis, who use ProNest 2010 every day to program Behlen’s cutting jobs. Programming includes using ProNest’s True Shape automatic nesting to achieve high levels of material utilization rapidly, without programmer intervention. Collision avoidance is applied automatically to each nest, yielding optimized tool paths, lead styles, and positioning. The resulting tool path translates to productivity improvements in cut-to-cut cycle time.

During our meeting, Chad remarked that “we also like the Common Line Cutting feature [which provides for cutting of two common straight-edges with a single cut] a lot, because it is so easy to use and improves the nest utilization a lot.”

Riddoch summarized Behlen’s results from the machine investment. “From the time we receive the paperwork on a job, we can be ready to ship the job [complete building, etc.] in just two days. Just by bringing some of the hopper-bin work in-house, we’ve seen a 40-percent cost savings on that product alone, as well as a significant savings in production lead-time. All of these changes to the way we process jobs using the new machine have helped us to improve our profitability.”

The team at Behlen Industries understands the importance of using the right tool for the job. Seeing this was a wonderful reminder of my childhood, and it was reassuring to see that some concepts stand the test of time. By successful implementation of groundbreaking plasma cutting technology and partnering with a dedicated equipment supplier, Behlen is saving money and improving profitability in a competitive market.


Derek Weston is the marketing manager for Hypertherm Inc.’s MTC Software Business Team. Hypertherm develops plasma-arc cutting systems, and MTC Software is a developer of computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs for sheet and plate processing that Hypertherm acquired in 2009.