Using Computer Numerical Control (CNC) plasma cutting to automate the machining process is a smart way to achieve consistency, precision, and efficiency in all of your cutting work. Plasma cutting is already thought by many to be a more efficient and precise method than working with oxy-fuel or high-pressure water jets.
In years past, CNC machinery was really only available for major industrial operations and the cost was incredibly prohibitive. Today, there are a range of CNC machines on the market to suit smaller shops. There are even entry-level units ideal for hobbyist use. When working with a CNC plasma cutter, it’s important to understand some of the related terminology and what accessories you may need to achieve optimal results.
CNC plasma cutting machines feature automated height control technology that helps ensure proper pierce and cut heights.
A gantry serves to form an X-Y coordinate setup which facilitates horizontal torch movement. A gantry features a heavy-duty rail system and is either floor or pedestal mounted. A gantry can also be built in to the side of a work table. Several sizes of gantries exist, from systems that offer a cutting area a couple of feet long to setups that span 100-foot gaps.
Cutting guides help you to create more precise cuts. Specific guides exist for lines, circles, and other specialized cut types. It’s a good idea to purchase a guide set that contains the most commonly used guides.
The filtration system on a plasma cutter is an important component, and serves to remove impurities and moisture that can damage the torch and produce poor cuts. Get a good filtration kit with a replaceable filter element and only use high quality filters that can remove particles down to .85 microns with a high efficiency level.
Certain safety gear is always necessary when running any type of plasma cutter. Wear a pair of heavy duty leather gloves made specifically for high-heat applications, as well as sufficient eye protection. Always follow proper safety procedures when operating a CNC plasma cutter. Also, make sure your work area is sufficiently ventilated.
Certain parts, often called "consumables,” will need to be replaced from time to time due to normal wear and tear. This includes shields, electrodes, swirl rings, retaining caps, and nozzles. It’s a good idea to keep a parts kit on hand so these items can be changed out quickly to minimize downtime.
Appropriate software is an indispensable element of CNC machining. Many computerized plasma cutters have built-in programming such as basic shape libraries. Additional software can be used to create customized designs. Modern CNC software programs can not only convert your drafts and sketches to machine instructions, many will also analyze material data — including cost and waste, to help you increase efficiency and productivity.
Downdraft or Water Table
To control damaging fumes and smoke that result from using a plasma cutter, downdraft tables or water tables are often used. A water table is simpler to maintain, but can cause sub-par cuts if dirt particles become mixed with the water. Downdraft tables process smoke and fumes through a series of filters, which must be changed out regularly. Shops that do a high volume of plasma cutting work usually opt for the downdraft table method since they tend to offer a more reliable level of consistency.
The plasma cutting experts at Mark Tool can work with you to find the ideal setup for your operations.