ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Thermadyne's new tool takes cutting to a deeper level Christopher Boyce
Friday, Nov. 16, 2007
When Thermadyne Holdings Corp. opened its booth Sunday in Chicago at the largest welding trade show in North America, officials hoped to start a buzz with the company's new metal-cutting system. While a buzz-worthy product at a welding trade show may not sound exciting to many, the Chesterfield-based company is plenty excited about the torch-like Cutmaster True Series plasma cutter from its Thermal Dynamics division — a new product expected to bring $5 million to $6 million in sales to the company in 2008. The tool, used to cut metals in construction and other industries, offers advances in portability and ease of use not previously available. Yet even with its new features, perhaps the most creative aspect about the tool may be Thermadyne's marketing. The company is going against the industry practice of emphasizing the tool's maximum work capacity, by instead touting its recommended capacity. "You can buy a machine that's able to cut a certain thickness, but you wouldn't recommend doing that all day," said Wes Morgan, director of global communications for Thermadyne. "I don't want to suggest the industry is dishonest, but there's a lot of different users out there."Users who regularly test the limits of a cutter's stated capacity are sometimes disappointed," Morgan said. The Cutmaster will have a series of models, each designed to cut metals of different thicknesses. The truth-in-advertising slant is the inspiration for the tool's "True Series" moniker. Essentially, a model designed to cut through a three-quarter-inch thick piece of steel will do that regularly, and advertising will concentrate on that figure. However, the model will have the ability to cut up to 1 1/2 inches on a less-frequent basis.
The cutters are often used in various construction applications, for instance, to put bolt holes in steel beams and bevel pipes. They also are used in auto body shops and by hobbyists. Last year, an earlier model of Thermadyne's plasma cutters was used by emergency services personnel to cut open a soda vending machine when a 12-year-old got his hand stuck in it. Cutting products comprise about 15 percent of Thermadyne's $451 million in total sales for 2006. That percentage should grow if the product achieves its expected popularity, said Kent Swart, market manager for Thermal Dynamics, which has its engineering and manufacturing locations in West Lebanon, N.H.. The new plasma cutter — which looks something like an industrial strength pressure washer — is equipped with an LED panel to notify users of the proper conditions for use, such as having necessary air supply or having the proper connections for the torch, Swart said. Users will be able to self-diagnose and, in some cases, fix problems that might otherwise interrupt their work. The manufacturer also has shed the weight of five models of the tool, with most dropping to around 50 pounds from more than 80 pounds for some models. Swart said that weight reduction allows for portability that could make the cutter a hit for Thermadyne.
"I don't know if it's an iPhone, but it's at least a (Motorola) Razr," said Swart, a former mechanical engineer, making a comparison to the well-known cellular products. "The technology isn't changed. … But when I was purchasing equipment, it was always about ease of use and keeping it running."
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