Torchmate finds growth niche with small CNC system
Introduction of a low-priced cutting machine for small-shop fabrication and an eye toward expanded product lines could spell big changes for Torchmate of Reno, a maker of computer-numeric-controlled cutting systems.
Torchmate in 2009 released a small, two-foot by two-foot CNC plasma cutter perhaps the smallest in the industry, Chief Executive Officer Bill Kunz says and the machine has since become the company’s best-selling product. Sales of the two-by-two and two-by-four plasma cutters have helped Torchmate rebound from the soft economy of 2008, when Kunz was forced to trim a quarter of his workforce. Torchmate has since ramped back up to a staff of 46 employees at its South Rock Boulevard headquarters.
Kunz says though there are about 100 U.S. companies making CNC cutting tables, the majority are large custom fabrication shops that assess a client’s needs and build machines to suit and price accordingly. Torchmate found a niche in the industry by offering a standardized CNC cutting machine at much lower price points.
“We took a more assembly line approach,” Kunz says.
The company’s largest customers include schools, the U.S. military, shipbuilders, and “anybody who needs to make anything more than once,” Kunz says. A few of Torchmate’s more notable customers include equipment manufacturer Case, Raytheon and Boeing.
Since the inception of the two-by-two cutting table, which sells for between $3,000 and $5,000 depending on how it’s outfitted, Torchmate has begun to push the constraints of its 30,000-square-foot manufacturing center. Kunz and the company’s engineering team of three designed the machine, which is a smaller version of its top-of-the-line cutting machine, which runs about $30,000.
“We spend a lot of time with R&D and coming up with new machines,” Kunz says. “We tried to spread out the product line so we would have a little more reach. The two-by-two has had a great impact on our volume. Our company has always been about bringing automation to people for less, and the two-by-two has been an evolution of that.”
Torchmate has shipped cutting machines to destinations ranging from Florida to Canada, Venezuela to Iraq. About one-quarter of the company’s business comes from international sales. Kunz says one of the hardest things about making inroads into international markets is letting prospective customers know about the small Reno company.
“It is hard enough in the U.S. to make it clear that you don’t have to spend $150,000 to get this technology,” Kunz says. “Our closest competitors cost about twice as much, but we have driven them to where they are trying to come down to our price range because they are starting to lose volume.”
Bill Kunz, Sr. founded Torchmate in the late 1970s by selling a cutting machine that customers assembled. However, as the company grew, customers began demanding more complete machines, which led to the evolution of today’s product line.
Torchmate formerly had other local fabrication shops build its CNC machines, but it now uses its own equipment and staff to manufacture and assemble its products. It still outsources work to Advanced Powder Coat & Sand in Sparks, as well as minor aspects of fabrication to local machine shops, but Torchmate may control those functions as well in the future since bringing work in-house gave the company much greater control over lead times, cost and quality assurance.
Another one of the company’s biggest advantages, Kunz says, is its technical support staff of seven, which provides buyers with expertise in setup and use of the cutting machines.
Kunz proudly touts the expertise of his fabrication group, many of which have extensive racing experience. However, employees typically are trained in-house since most workers don’t have experience assembling CNC machines, which typically are built with plasma cutters or oxyacetylene torches to cut steel plate.
Torchmate’s fabrication team usually builds a race car every year from the ground up using its own equipment which provides the fabrication group with relief from the monotony of production building. Kunz expects Torchmate will take on a much different look over the next few years as it branches out into production of laser and water-jet cutting machines.
“There is a lot in the works for us, including some partnerships with other companies where things should be getting much bigger much faster,” he says. “We have some new products coming that are going to put us in a new category.”
Allan Swan, President of Panasonic Energy of Northern Nevada, Swan was the speaker for the 2019 UNR College of Engineering Distinguished Lecture Series Nov. 20. He addressed a crowd of roughly 185 about the “Next 100 Years” of the company.