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CNC Plasma Cutting Terminology 101: Lead-Ins & Lead-Outs


An investment in a CNC plasma cutting system can have a significant ROI for your business.  CNC plasma cutting systems increase efficiency, cut accuracy, and reduce material waste.  But, without being fully informed about the various facets of your CNC plasma cutting system and the methods and techniques used to fabricate materials, you cannot take full advantage of all that your system has to offer.  For this reason, we at Tactical CNC believe it is important to take a closer look at some common terms and phrases to ensure that our customers, and potential customers, understand all that is involved in CNC plasma cutting.  For the purposes of this article we will be exploring lead-ins and lead-outs.

Lead-ins and lead-outs are important because they are essentially the starting point of any project.  CNC Programming Techniques: An Insider’s Guide to Effective Methods and Applications offers some insight on what specifically lead-ins and lead-outs are, “The terms lead-in and lead-out refer to the programming method of moving the tool from a start position towards the contour (lead-in) and moving the tool from the contour back to the start position (lead-out).  Start position is typically located close to the counter but not touching the contour…By definition, lead-in is the tool path motion where the cutter radius offset is applied, lead-out is the tool path motion where the cutter radius offset is cancelled.  In practical terms, one motion is the opposite of the other motion.”

Lead-ins and lead-outs are very important because if they are too short or too long then the quality of the cut will be diminished.  There are different types of lead-ins and lead-outs but the automation that CNC plasma cutting provides makes it easy to get the best lead-in and lead-out for maximized cut quality.  The Fabricator explains how different lead-ins and lead-outs can impact cut quality, “Lead-in cuts determine the starting point of your cutting process. The lead-in and lead-out cut length is determined by the material thickness and the contour of the part being cut. Normally, longer lead-in and lead-out cuts are required for thicker material. The lead-in allows the torch to initially pierce the material, then ramp up current, gas, and speed before cutting the desired part or hole. The lead-in may be very important, but not as important as the lead-out which is about ¼” to ½” long. The lead-out is a straight or curved cut made at the very end of the part or hole which completes the cutting process. If the programmer makes the lead-out too long, the part may fall from the work piece as the torch is still looking for material to cut. As a result, arc stretching will occur damaging the exterior of the nozzle orifice and in turn negatively affecting cut quality.” If you have any question about lead-ins and lead-outs, we at Tactical CNC are always here to answer questions and assist you with your CNC plasma cutting needs.

CNC Plasma Cutting Terminology 101: Kerf-Compensation

While many experienced metal fabricators may be very familiar with the assorted terminology of the industry, there are often phrases or terms with which many are not familiar.  At Tactical CNC, we believe it is important that every potential customer, customer, and their employees be fully versed in all relevant terminology so that they can fully understand their CNC plasma cutting system capabilities.  While there are many different CNC plasma cutting systems on the market, not all are created equal and certain systems come with very few options while others are robust with features.  Tactical CNC plasma cutting system are ‘complete’ systems which means that our systems have all of the features necessary to begin plasma cutting right away without having to buy a lot of expensive add-ons, unlike many other systems.  For the purposes of this particular article we will be exploring kerf and what is often referred to as kerf-compensation to see what it means and why it is important.

What is Kerf?

Kerf is a term that is interchangeable with ‘width.’  And, while many people hear that, they may wonder what width to which we are referring.  Hyertherm provides further explanation of kerf ,”Kerf is the void created by the plasma cutting process, or the amount of metal removed by the plasma arc. The plasma arc is dynamic (it changes in size and shape depending on amperage, voltage, gas flow and velocity of the moving torch) and so as the plasma arc column changes so does the kerf. Nozzle size also has a direct affect on kerf width since the nozzle orifice constricts the plasma gas jet to a particular diameter.”

What is Kerf-Compensation?

So, if kerf is width, why does it need to be compensated for?  There are certain factors in fabrication that impact the kerf such as amperage, voltage, and consumable tips.  Depending on the material being fabricated and what the specific cuts are, adjustments (compensations) will need to be made to preserve the desired kerf.  ESAB explains what kerf-compensation is and why it matters, “When cutting parts on a CNC plasma or laser machine, you want to produce accurate cut parts, with final dimensions as close as possible to the programmed shape. So if you program a 6” by 6” square, and the plasma arc removes 0.200” of material, as it cuts, then the resulting part is going to be 5.8” by 5.8”. So the actual tool path has to be compensated by 0.100” to the side of the programmed path, all the way around the part.

Rather than re-program the part at a different dimension, the CNC will take care of this automatically just by telling it which direction to offset, and by how much. Most modern CNCs take the actual kerf amount and automatically offset the tool path by 1/2 of that amount, so that the finished part comes out very close to the programmed dimensions. That is why the kerf value is often referred to as “kerf offset”.”  Fortunately for anyone that invests in a Tactical CNC plasma cutting system, our systems automatically adjust to provide the needed kerf-compensation for any cut you desire.

CNC Plasma Cutting Terminology 101: G Code

At Tactical CNC, we like to take a closer look at many common CNC plasma cutting terms and phrases.  We do this for two reasons, to provide helpful education for prospective CNC plasma cutting system buyers and for in-depth knowledge for existing customers.  We believe in providing our clients with what we call a ‘complete’ CNC plasma cutting system.  By complete we mean that when you buy a Tactical CNC plasma cutting system you will have everything you need to accomplish the exact cuts you want on your assorted materials with precision and accuracy.  You will not need to get add-ons or go through additional expenses to complete your plasma cutting system, you will have exactly what you need.  And, the knowledge and education we provide is simply an extension of that ‘complete’ system and the level of customer service we are dedicated to providing our clients with.  For the purposes of this particular article we will be exploring G Code – what it is and why it matters in regards to CNC plasma cutting.

What is G Code

At it’s core, G Code is a language that you CNC plasma cutting software uses to assist you in completing your cuts with precision and accuracy.  Autodesk explains what specifically G Code is, “G-code is a programming language for CNC that instructs machines where and how to move. Most machines speak a different “dialect” of g-code, so the codes vary depending on type, make, and model. Each machine comes with an instruction manual that shows that particular machine’s code for a specific function.G-code stands for “geometric code,” and follows some variation of the alpha numeric pattern:N## G## X## Y## Z## F## S## T## M##…Every g-code tells the machine which variation of these basic motions to perform, and how to perform it. X and Y are Cartesian coordinates for horizontal and vertical position, and Z represents the depth of the machine. These alpha numerals will follow the motion/function command (G) to declare the position of the machine.Next, F determines the feed rate (for feed moves or circular moves), while S determines the spindle speed. T is used to select a tool. Other alpha numerals used in programming might include I, J, and R, which have to do with arc centers and radii.”

Why G Code is Important

G Code is possibly one of the most important aspects of CNC plasma cutting.  Without G Code, the CNC of CNC plasma cutting, aka the automation component of cutting, might not be possible.  If your plasma cutting system does not come with software (and thus the G Code language your system needs to understand what you want to accomplish) you will have to make a separate investment to be able to actually run your CNC plasma cutter.  Our CNC plasma cutting software is exceptional and very easy to use!

What is the Plasma Cutting Duty Cycle & Why Is It Important?


As with any specialized mechanical process, there are certain phrases or terms that only an insider would know and understand.  If you are new the plasma cutting process you may not be familiar with what the plasma cutting duty cycle is and why it is important.  But, it is most certainly important.  Hypertherm explains what exactly a CNC plasma cutting duty cycle is, “Duty cycle tells us how long a machine can operate within a 10 minute period. In theory, a system with a 100 percent duty cycle can run for 10 out of 10 minutes, while a system with a 50 percent duty cycle is designed to run for 5 out of 10 minutes, and so on. In reality, though, duty cycle can’t simply be listed as a percentage of “on time” in a given period. Many factors, such as the output power of a system, the thickness of the metal you are cutting, ambient temperature and more, go into determining duty cycle. For example, your arc is longer and therefore arc voltage is higher when cutting thicker materials, and shorter and lower when cutting thinner materials. This makes it possible to run at full output amperage when cutting gauge material without exceeding the duty cycle of a plasma system, even if the system is said to have a 50 percent duty cycle.” (more…)

How Important is CNC Plasma Pierce Height?


When it comes to CNC plasma cutting, there are many factors that influence important things like cut quality and consumable life.  The initial pierce that your plasma torch makes is important because it is the beginning of your project.  If you do not have proper piercing technique then you may be burning through your plasma torch consumables more quickly than necessary which wastes money.  The correct pierce height is determined by where the torch is placed which is why automated torch height control is very important and makes the cutting process much easier and accurate. (more…)

5 Things to Consider When Choosing Your New CNC Plasma Cutting System

If you have already determined that investing in a new CNC plasma cutting system would be beneficial for your business, you may have begun researching about which plasma system would be best to accommodate your unique business and needs.  You will quickly find that there are many different CNC plasma cutting systems at a huge range of price points and accompanied by a huge array of features.  Some systems may appear to be a great deal but may not have many features that you need to achieve the cuts that you want.  Conversely, some systems may come with an overinflated price that doesn’t match the value that you receive in your system.   Because we at Tactical CNC know that the decision can be confusing, we have provided some helpful tips to consider when choosing your new CNC plasma cutting system. (more…)

How CNC Plasma Cutting Systems Increase Workshop Safety

A workshop, industrial setting, or any other place in which fabrication occurs tends to be a rough and often dangerous environment.  There are many ways to increase safety and reduce the risk of worker injury.  While handheld cutting works for metal fabrication, there are certain hazards involved with the job.  When your hand is on the torch there is always a risk of burning or injury.  Further, by being so close to a plasma arc, you could potentially damage vision or even die if an arc flash occurs.  Needless to say, the closer you arc to the plasma torch, the greater the risk of injury.  By opting to use a CNC plasma cutting system that automates plasma cutting, it reduces the risk of injury for workers significantly. (more…)

Don’t Outsource Your CNC Plasma Cutting – Invest in One for Your Shop


There are many industries such as HVAC, automotive, and more in which small parts and general metal fabrication are needed on a daily basis.  Depending on the size of your shop and your unique business, you may think that the best option is to outsource your CNC plasma cutting needs rather than invest in a system for your own shop.  Many business owners mistakenly assume that they either don’t have the manpower, knowledge, or need to have a CNC plasma cutting system in house.  But, when you outsource your CNC plasma cutting needs, you are left at the mercy of the subcontractor.  You will have to wait on them to complete the cutting and hope that the cuts are accurate, precise, and up to your standards.  It is inefficient at best.  Further, if you have proprietary parts/information/drawings, you will likely want to protect that intellectual property rather than expose it to subcontractors. Rather than outsourcing your CNC plasma cutting needs, it is far better to invest in one for your shop. (more…)

10 Features You Can Expect from a Tactical CNC Plasma Cutting System

CNC plasma cutting systems include a table and a plasma cutter, but a truly ‘complete’ system should include so much more!  Tactical CNC plasma cutting systems come with everything you need to complete the cuts that you want.  We carry many features that you will not find on just any CNC plasma cutting system.  We want our systems to be useful for fabricators that need to execute a few precise and intricate cuts or for high-volume industrial cutting. We carry 3 plasma cutting systems as a part of our Tactical CNC Advance Series and 2 plasma cutting systems as a part of our Tactical Advance HD series to ensure that we can accommodate any customer’s needs.  When you invest in a Tactical CNC plasma cutting system there are certain features that you can count on to come with our systems. (more…)

Introduction to the Hypertherm Powermax125 Air Plasma Cutter

Choosing the right plasma cutter system components such as table, software, and other features is an important step in getting the most out of your investment.  We believe that our customers should be well-educated about the different components, such as plasma torches, to ensure that they are getting a system that will be able to achieve any of the cuts they want and not just achieve them but provide pristine, outstanding cuts.  We offer our clients a selection of various Hypertherm plasma cutters including air, mixed-gas, and Hy-def options.  Hypertherm explains the advantages of choosing an air plasma cutter, “Air is the most versatile plasma gas; it produces good cut quality and speed on mild steel, stainless, and aluminum. Air also lowers the cost of operation because it is not necessary to purchase gases. However air is not free. Shop air must be cleaned to remove contamination such as particulate, oil mist, and moisture. The best solution for air plasma systems is a good-sized, dedicated air compressor, a refrigerated dryer, and a bank of filters to take out particulate, oil mist, and any remaining moisture…The problem is usually corrected by simply using good quality weld wire with denitriders and deoxidizers. For versatility, good speed, low dross levels, and parts life up to 600 starts, air is a good option for many shops.”  The Hypertherm Powermax125 is an air plasma cutter that offers the largest maximum pierce to clients – as well as many other features. (more…)

Latest News

Still need an oxy-fuel station for the really thick plate?
Not a problem.
Tactical CNC introduces a single oxy-fuel station to compliment your plasma cutting system.
With the new Tactical 5 software, oxy-fuel parameters are also loaded for operator convienience.

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2 weeks 4 days ago

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