Auto Racing-World Manufacturer Cuts New Path to Profitability with Automated Metal Cutting

Switching from CNC machining to automated plasma cutting drastically reduced cycle times

By Derek Weston, Hypertherm
Posted on 06/18/2020 in SPARK the blog, Nesting software

Borla Exhaust Systems.jpg

If like me, you’re interested in anything related to race cars, you’ve heard of Borla Performance Industries Inc.

Borla is a leading supplier to the racing, street, and off-road markets. Launched four decades ago in Brooklyn, N.Y., the award-winning designer and manufacturer of exhausts, universal mufflers, tubing and hardware, polished tips, and inductions is a globally renowned family-owned and -operated business.

Apart from flanges, which have proven not to require it, products are made of aircraft-quality austenitic stainless steel. The racing world’s top engine builders rely on Borla products for maximum performance.

More than 200 employees work at a 100-acre plant in Johnson City, Tenn., making the company one of the region’s largest employers, and at a research-and-development center in Oxnard, Calif.

Time-Consuming Three-Stop Programming Process

Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about Borla’s advanced manufacturing techniques. When I sat down with veteran engineer Jim Smail to introduce technologies that allow for future product innovations, I asked about his recent challenges.

“Our programming was more manual than we wanted,” he said. “First we’d design the parts in CAD software to include the required holes. Then the CAD operator would ask a specialist in the machine shop to convert the design into machine code. Only then could the operator cut the job.”

More than 150 parts were produced this way, so you can imagine how much time the three-step programming process consumed every week, month, and year.

The company was using a traditional CNC machine, which became an expensive proposition because of the short tool life. Machine maintenance – regular removal of swarf from the inside of the pipe – also ate up valuable production time.

Out with CNC, In with Plasma Cutting

“My background involves software, so this was a logical place for me to look for efficiency enhancements on the production floor,” Smail told me. “The engineers I partner with wanted to automate the design-to-cut process as much as possible as well as improve fit-up for welding and installation to the customer’s vehicle.”

Borla decided to replace a CNC machine with a custom-built machine equipped with a Hypertherm automated Powermax65® plasma cutter and Rotary Tube Pro™ software. A complete design-to-cut solution for automated tube and pipe part production that includes a nesting module, the software allows users without 3D CAD experience to import files from 3D CAD or use the parametric input to easily create new tubes and branches. Side-wall cutouts can be selected from a list of predefined shapes or added from CAD.

Upskilling Employees, Bringing Work In-House

Smail trained an employee who’d never used a computer to program the plasma cutter in a very short period of time.

“It’s hard to believe, but it’s the truth,” he said. “We transferred an employee from the manufacturing floor to the design lab, and now that person is programming complex jobs in addition to operating the machine.”

Increased productivity is another benefit. For one high-volume muffler component, the new process saves 10 minutes per pipe. Including time saved on secondary deburring and cleanup, cycle time fell from 600 seconds to 7 seconds – a 98.83% decrease.

Borla has also bought a flat-sheet plasma cutting table to cut flat parts using Hypertherm’s ProNest® programming software.

“This allowed us to bring outsourced work in-house and take full control of the process,” Smail said.

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Thoughts That Resonate

My takeaway is that Borla is positioning itself for a bright future by making strategic investments in the right places. It’ll be interesting to see what the next 40 years bring. If the words of Sales & Marketing Vice President David Borla are anything to go by, they’re going to be fun.

“We’re a company of motorheads; and it shows in our products, customer service, and culture,” he says. “On weekends, the employees who built your order or helped you with technical support are competing at tracks, drag strips, off-road events, and car shows.”