CNC Plasma Cutter: Everything You Need to Know
Choosing a plasma cutter can be a daunting task - but not anymore. We lay out a simple and comprehensive guide so that you can learn everything about CNC plasma cutter. We start by educating you about the different components of a CNC machine. When using a CNC plasma cutter, it is essential to know what factors will contribute to a perfect clean cut.
The Top 3 Best Plasma Cutter For CNC On The Market
Let’s have a look at some of the best plasma cutters for CNC machines.
1) Hypertherm 088016 Hypertherm 088016 Powermax45
Hypertherm is a reputed brand which manufactures top-notch quality products. Although this beast here is a bit expensive, it is the right fit for your CNC plasma cutter machine. This bad boy is not only good for hobbyists but also fulfills all expectations of industry professionals.
Its maximum clean cut thickness is ½”. It means that you can cut ½” without any hassle very fast. However, its maximum severance thickness is 1”. It means that cutting beyond ½” and upto 1” will take some effort and patience on your part.
It consists of dual angle design, which makes the torch usable for longer time duration. We always recommend getting long cables, and the torch cable in this unit is 20 ft. long. One great plus is the robust handle, which comes handy while moving the unit inside the work area.
Some plasma cutters demand previous cleaning and grinding of metal for edge preparation. But the Powermax 45 is made to work right when you pull the trigger.
For a CNC plasma cutter machine, this beast is the perfect fit as it has the right performance along with other essentials like cheap consumables.
Hypertherm Powermax 45 boasts of its patented drag cutting technology, which lets you zoom through the material while cutting. This is especially beneficial for beginners and hobbyists who don’t have the expertise to make the fine or decorative cuts.
Severance Cutting With A Hypertherm PowerMax 45 (Soure: youtube.com)
2) Miller Spectrum 625 X-treme Plasma Cutter w/ 12' Torch
Weight and Thickness
Miller is another good brand in this plasma cutter guide that is bound to surprise you. There are many things that will sweep you right off your feet. First, it is very lightweight despite being a powerful machine. It only weighs 21 pounds and is much lighter than the powermax. It has a maximum cut thickness of 5/8” unlike the powermax which has ½” of maximum clean cut capacity.
Miller is a reliable company, just like Hypertherm. But the Miller 625 is different in certain aspects and we will lay out those differences in detail. First off, it is the lightest unit in our cnc plasma cutter list weighing only 21 lbs.
How it Stands out
Miller also gives a carry case with this one which make it stand out. Because it does at par with the Hypertherm in terms of performance, the carry case make it a better deal. But don’t make the decision yet, it comes for a couple hundred dollars more. So decide how much you want to spend, and if a few hundred dollars don’t change the deal for you, then go for the Miller.
It cuts 5/8” clean and hassle free, which is more than the powermax. Although in our review, both cnc plasma cutters have the same performance capability. Cable lengths are 20 ft. for torch and ground clamp, which is more than sufficient.
The only drawback of the miller is that its consumables are expensive, and it comes for a few hundred dollars more than the hypertherm powermax. It also provides auto-line circuitry which help you switch between 120V or 240V without struggling with wires.
What makes the Miller stand out is the carry case and its spectacular performance. It cuts ⅝” hassle free unlike any of its counterparts. Customers have reported time and again that the Miller always exceeds their expectations and never stops surprising them with its perfection.
However, if you want to work on DIY projects, the Miller might seem too expensive to you. That is okay, as we too recommend getting a cheaper unit to hobbyists. Though for industrial projects which are heavy duty and demand the perfection that CNC plasma cutters offer along with their automation, you must choose this beast right here.
3) Hobart 500566 Airforce 40i Plasma Cutter
Another powerful beast for CNC plasma cutting machine is the Hobart Airforce 40i. Its can sever mild steel upto 7/8” of and it can cut ⅝” of steel without any hassle. It works at 240V and delivers 40A. Its duty cycle is 50 percent. Although it is portable too, it is heavier than the other two in our list. Its weight is 31 pounds. Its weight is more, but the size is smaller than the other two because of its inverter design.
One outstanding advantage of this plasma cutter is that it has a built in compressor, hence you don’t need to spend the extra bucks on getting an external one. It can be used for both light-duty and heavy industrial projects. However, CNC machines are generally used in industrial or professional settings only.
You don’t need to manually adjust the air pressure while working on the machine. Simple automation like this can save hours lost in manually adjusting all configurations. However, if you plan to use it as a CNC plasma cutter, everything will be on automation.
Hobart 40i plasma cutter review (Soure: youtube.com)
Essential Components of a CNC Machine
Whether you have a high end CNC machine worth a million dollars, or an entry level machine, the following components are essential for every kind of them -
Height controller is an integral part of the CNC plasma cutter machine. The best part of having a CNC machine is automation. You don’t have to work for long hours on cutting a single piece of metal. You just feed the instructions on the CNC control, and it does rest of the job for you.
There are two types of height you should know about - pierce height and cut height. Pierce height is the height of the torch from the metal surface, when you start piercing the metal before actually cutting it. On the other hand, the cut height is the height of the torch nozzle from the metal surface, when it is actually going inside the metal.
The third mode of cutting is the X-Y cutting mode. The cut height was the height while the torch goes up and down. In this mode, the torch moves in horizontal direction instead of vertical.
The primary function of the height controller is to take care of all cut height, X-Y mode and pierce height. If the pierce height is too low, the nozzle and other consumables can get damaged.
It is only because of a quality height controller that you can manage to make thousands of cuts without even spending time with the machine. Just feed in the instructions and come back to a beautifully designed metal.
CNC control which stands for Computer Numeric Control is the brain of a CNC plasma cutter machine. It takes the instructions from the user and monitors motion control and machine control to give precise and decorative cuts. This is achieved by the use of CAD software on the CNC control machine.
It uses the software to monitor height control, drive motors, amperage and other settings. In entry-level CNC machines, the CNC control is done via a PC or laptop. However, in high-end machines, CNC control is done on an exclusively designed robust machine that can stand heavy-duty work environment with all the dirt and electrical noise.
PC and laptops are not suitable to work in such heavy-duty environment. As the electrical noise from other components can distort the information stored on CNC controls. Hence, you should use PCs or laptops only in small-scale shops, or hobbyist projects.
Moreover, you should make sure that your plasma cutter doesn’t use a high frequency starting method. Use a plasma cutter that employs a ‘blowback’ torch starting method. Blowback starting causes less interference which doesn’t damage the CNC configuration on CNC controls.
One important aspect of CNC machines is the user interface. As every small thing on high-end machines is made of a thousand dollars, the user interface is also a thousand steps ahead. These machines have more intuitive and user-friendly design interface than the entry-level CNC controls on PCs or laptops. PCs and laptops demand complex software instructions which further translate into specific instructions for height control and other components. Moreover, one uses the keyboard and the mouse in PCs or laptops, while high-end machines have touch controls.
Another important element is the choice of software. You should use softwares that are exclusively made for CNC machines. Generic software which is made for routers and millers is not that adaptable as the specific software.
Another integral part of the CNC machines is its mechanical components. These components include the rail axis or gantry, the cross axis and the Z-axis. Entry level machines have small and low-cost components that just do the job, while high-end machines have top-notch quality components that are made to work non-stop without any error.
Drive components are essential for the working of the CNC plasma cutter. Think of drive systems as the pedals on a bicycle. They rotate in circular motions to ‘drive’ the bicycle ahead. Similarly, the motors attached on the axis, drive the torch in the required direction.
Entry level machines have stepper motors for the drive system, while high end machines have servo motors. Advanced servo motors have more speed and torque capacity which makes them better than stepper motors. But the fact is that, even stepper motors are equally effective in the entry level segment where there is no heavy-duty work.
Fume Control System
Plasma cutting operations release fumes and gases which have to be absorbed out of the whole environment or they can damage the plasma cutting machine. This is done by using either of the following two types of tables: Downdraft table or water table.
Water tables are less expensive than downdraft tables and have different attributes which may or may not appeal to you. Water tables absorb all the noise and smoke that is produced by plasma cutters. But the dirt gets mixed with water which can lead to poor cuts and torch damage. Downdraft tables have many filters which need to be replaced from time to time. But they are more reliable and produce cleaner cuts. Hence, the latter is preferred by most people.
In short, if you working on light-duty projects and can take care of the water table as and when required, go for the water table. However, if your work goes round the clock and the water table can create the above mentioned problems for you, go for the downdraft table.
CAD and CAM software
CAD stands for Computer Assisted Drawing, and CAM stands for Computer Assisted Machining. Both softwares are essential for entry-level CNC machines. Basically, you draw the electronic sketch of the required shape using the CAD software, then the CAM software converts the sketch into machine instructions for the mechanical components of the plasma cutters. These instructions include kerf width, pierce and cut height etc.
Modern CAM software does much more than simple conversion to machine instructions. It acts as an analyzing tool and computes all the costs, metal waste and productivity. Hence, having a modern CAM software on your machine can do wonders for you.
Now you have a detailed understanding of the different components and their significance.
The best plasma cutter in our review list is the Hypertherm Powermax 45. It offers brand reliability, extraordinary performance and cheap consumables. If you can spend a few hundred dollars more, consider buying the Miller. The Miller has the carry case and the shoulder strap too!
But as budget is the major concern for most people, carry case can be ignored to put the Hypertherm at the number one position. The best plasma cutter had to be good for both industry level and hobbyist projects, and hypertherm proves itself in both fields.
If you’re going to work on a CNC machine, learning about the different components such as CNC control, mechanical components, height control etc. is necessary. Because when it comes to finding the best plasma cutter, knowledge is power!
Image credits: Amazon.com
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