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Electric cooperatives rely on crucial materials to maintain the safety, reliability, and resiliency of their electric system. Supply chain delays are creating new challenges for most industries, but it’s been particularly difficult for electric utilities facing weeks-long delays on parts and materials necessary to ensure a properly functioning system. 

“We’re experiencing six- to eight-week delays on standard maintenance materials, like mounts and brackets,” said Curtis Subia, United Power’s Vice President of Asset Management and Supply Chain. “It may be tempting to waive off something as small as a bracket if other materials are available, but without these brackets, projects come to a standstill. Even small pieces are absolutely essential to safely building our infrastructure.”

With uncertainty surrounding how long supply chain issues may persist, United Power purchased a new piece of equipment that will help the cooperative bypass delays and fabricate whole parts in-house without having to wait for backorders to be filled. A mechanized plasma cutter (pictured right) can precisely cut pieces out of sheet metal in just minutes. The pieces it produces are often ready for immediate use in the field. 

“We could either wait weeks for orders to be delivered or we could figure out a timely way to make them ourselves,” said Subia. “We can’t shut down projects because the supply chain can’t keep up with demand, so we had to come up with a solution.” 

United Power mechanics suggested the plasma cutter as an alternative. They have been fabricating parts for years when something is unavailable or if they need a custom piece. However, manual fabrication is slow, lacks precision, and is dangerous. The plasma cutter can be preprogrammed with almost any design and ready to use in just a few minutes. Once a design has been stored, the software can recall it again at any time. It’s a safer option for the mechanics and frees up their time to be spent on other projects. 

“It can do things the human hand can’t do,” said Kevin Isham, a mechanic at United Power. “It can cut a piece over and over with precision and perfection in half the time it would take one of us to create a single piece. Having it makes our jobs quicker and safer.”

There’s no sign supply chain issues are coming to an end anytime soon. The plasma cutter represents another innovative solution United Power has adopted to meet the needs of the cooperative and its members in challenging circumstances.