CNC Plasma Cutter
CNC plasma cutter tables can add a huge amount of flexibility to a business or a home workshop. They are fantastic bits of kit that provide an excellent way of producing repeatable cuts in metal.
Not only can they increase productivity in your workshop, but they can also make you some serious money too. Let’s look at CNC plasma cutters and find out what they can do for your workflow.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is CNC plasma cutting?
- 2 Which plasma cutter is best suited for a CNC plasma table?
- 3 1. Machine Torch
- 4 2. CNC Interface
- 5 Why Would You Buy A CNC Plasma Cutter?
- 6 What are the best features to look for in a CNC plasma cutter system?
- 7 CNC plasma table vs. a CNC router?
- 8 How much can they cost?
- 9 How do you make money with a CNC plasma cutter?
- 10 Pros And Cons Of Using A CNC Plasma Cutter
What is CNC plasma cutting?
CNC (computer numeric control) plasma cutting utilizes a computer and a plasma cutter to make precise cuts through electrically conductive materials, namely metals. CNC plasma cutting uses an accelerated jet of hot plasma which is directed precisely at the material being cut by the computer system.
The plasma cutter is mounted to a gantry that is controlled by the computer element. CNC plasma cutters can cut steel, brass, aluminum, and copper, as well as a handful of other materials.
CNC plasma cutters offer an incredibly precise cut, but also have a far steeper learning curve than a normal plasma cutter. You see, with a normal plasma cutter, particularly plasma cutters with built-in air compressors, they are pretty much plug and play. Meaning you can get one of these plasma cutters set up quickly and start cutting metal.
However, with a CNC plasma cutter, setting them up takes a lot longer as most you have to build yourself. You then have to learn the computer software that enables you to utilize the cutter properly. So, unless you are computer-minded, CNC plasma cutting can be very intimidating to a beginner. But CNC plasma cutting does offer huge benefits, which we’ll get to later.
Which plasma cutter is best suited for a CNC plasma table?
Most CNC plasma tables come with a dedicated plasma cutter in the kit which is designed to work well with that plasma table. However, most companies do offer upgrades for the plasma cutter in the kit. For the most part, the plasma cutter in the kit will be more than enough power for most applications. But some companies or even hobbyists may want to upgrade if they notice that the kit plasma cutter is struggling.
Rather than looking for the best plasma cutter for your plasma table, it is better to focus on the plasma table itself. CNC plasma table kits are widely available from different manufacturers, so make sure that you read the specs of each plasma table before investing. You can then be sure that the plasma table you are investing in meets the specifications you need it to now and will continue to be a valued part of your workshop as time goes on.
But what if you are building a more customized setup and looking to purchase the plasma cutter separately?
In which case you need to know how to select the correct plasma cutter that is compatible with the CNC table. There are two things to consider here:
1. Machine Torch
CNC tables use a Machine Torch. These torches are easily distinguished by their vertical design so they can be easily attached to the table's frame.
2. CNC Interface
Another difference with CNC enabled plasma cutters over handheld ones are that they have a CNC interface port. This allows your CNC to control the operation of the torch.
Going back to the original question of which plasma cutter is best suited for CNC application. You would then look at the environment you are using this in. Is it going to be for industrial use or home/hobby ?
Why Would You Buy A CNC Plasma Cutter?
Most companies and hobbyists invest in CNC plasma cutters because they offer far more control than a normal plasma cutter.
Rather than being handheld, a CNC plasma cutter is moved around by a computer. Thus, the system:
No matter how skilled an operator of a handheld plasma cutter is, they are only human and can easily slip or introduce an error into the work. The errors can only be introduced in the programming side of a CNC machine.
So the setup of the design in a CNC plasma cutter is the most important step. If you have the programming right, you can get extremely precise shapes quickly and easily and repeat them over and over again. This is perfect for production pieces or even sculptures that have a lot of detail.
Most of the time is spent creating the design in the computer. Of course, the CNC can be running a different program during this stage, so there isn’t any wasted time. The machine can also cut far quicker than most handheld plasma cutters and beat out even the quickest person.
Plus, you can arrange the pieces that need to be cut in such a manner that you are saving the most amount of material too. On top of that, there is much less clean up to be done with a CNC plasma cutter because of how precise the machine is set up. All of this saves a company a lot of time and money making CNC plasma tables a huge asset to any business or workshop.
What are the best features to look for in a CNC plasma cutter system?
The best features to look for in a CNC plasma cutter depends greatly on your experience with these machines. If you’ve never used a CNC plasma cutter before, ideally you want a very user-friendly machine. Some points to look for are:
- Do you receive training
- User friendly software
- Size of the plasma table
- After sales service
- and the plasma cutter itself
Training and Software
Some CNC plasma table companies offer training on their machines so they can train an operative that can then train other people in the business. Other companies have created easy to use software which is perfect for beginners.
If you have a lot of experience with CNC plasma cutters, then this stuff may not be needed. So it's worth shopping around for the most versatile CNC machine possible for your business. If you are a metal shop, chances are you’re going to want to cut a bunch of thicknesses and different materials on your new CNC plasma table so making sure the table can cut all this before you invest is a great idea.
Plasma Table Size
Another thing to look for in a CNC plasma cutter is how well it’s made. For most companies and hobbyist, once they own a CNC plasma cutter, most projects start on the plasma table, so you’ll want a machine that can keep up with your workload. This may mean investing in upgrades to the table and the plasma cutter so that you can keep the machine running all day and it never bats an eye at the workload.
One way of finding the best CNC plasma cutter for your needs is by asking around at local metal shops in your area. Chances are they have a CNC machine that does everything they need it to. Have a chat with them and ask them why they decided that machine was best for their workload. Have a think about your needs and from there, you can make an informed decision as to which CNC plasma cutter is right for your shop and your business.
After Sales Support
One feature of CNC plasma cutters that isn’t mentioned enough is the aftercare service from the company itself. This is just as important as the machine. CNC plasma cutters are very complex pieces of kit and this can lead to the owner of the machine having questions during set up and use. So, buying a CNC plasma cutter from a company that has exceptional aftercare services and support is vital to the operation of the machine!
CNC plasma table vs. a CNC router?
Let's clear things up a little. Both these system use a CNC (computer numeric control). In laymen's terms that are controlled by a computer. The main differences are in their application:
CNC routers are mostly used for wood nowadays. They can cut metal, but they take far longer to do so than a CNC plasma table. Cutting metal on a CNC router is a long process, but a CNC router can cut thicker metal than a plasma table.
Typically, CNC plasma tables are used to cut sheet material that can then be welded together to create a structure, for example. A CNC router can be used to carve metal. You can also buy upgrades to make a CNC router into a CNC lathe of sorts too. So think of a CNC router as more of a CNC mill and lathe combined (if you buy the upgrade) and a CNC plasma cutter the best way of breaking down sheet goods into useable parts. Both can be a great addition to a metal shop, but it depends on what processes will benefit the metal shop more.
How much can they cost?
A CNC plasma cutting table kit can cost anywhere from around $5,000 to $300,000. There are some smaller machines that hobbyist may consider, but this is a general ballpark.
I have also seen cheaper imported cnc systems on the internet, that maybe more suitable for a smaller scale operation.
How do you make money with a CNC plasma cutter?
Making money with CNC plasma cutters is easy if you have an imagination. For example, a CNC plasma cutter can cut custom signage all day long without breaking a sweat.
It can cut badges, pieces of complex structures (I have seen someone create the Effiel Tower out of parts cut on a CNC plasma cutter before) and, of course, metal art.
Metal animals and Effiel Towers can easily be cut on a CNC plasma cutter and then welded to create a stunning work of art that can then be sold.
There are also thousands of uses for CNC plasma cutters in the commercial world too. One local company to me makes parts for metal table legs with a CNC plasma cutter than they sell for big money! The possibilities with a CNC plasma cutter are really endless!