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CNC Plasma System: Important Components for Smooth Motion

Plasma cutting systems are popular in industry because of their ability to make cuts of consistent quality without damaging or warping the surrounding material. But the quality of the cutting torch is only as good as the supporting components.

Plasma cutters rely on smooth motion to cut correctly. Any hiccups in movement caused by vibration or debris can throw a cut off, causing businesses to incur costs and interrupting their processes. Ideally, errors in cutting should be avoided.

The best way to avoid costly cutting mistakes is to choose a plasma cutter that has high-quality hardware that provides smooth motion. There are many important components for smooth motion that any manufacturer must consider before making a purchase.

The Type And Quality Of Bearings

The purpose of bearings in CNC plasma cutting systems is to allow the gantry to move smoothly in the X, Y and sometimes Z directions. Smooth motion prevents any vibrations or disturbances from affecting the torch head, ensuring that the cutting motion remains consistent.

The choice of bearings can make a significant difference to the operation of the device. Top models tend to opt for grooved bearings that run on interior rails. Grooved bearings are particularly useful because they help to sweep dust and debris off the machinery automatically, negating the need for regular cleaning, and making plasma cutters suitable for dusty workshop environments.

Grooved bearings that sweep debris off rails prevent any particles from upsetting the motion of the torch head, providing a consistent cutting motion where it counts.

The Quality Of Rails

Translating instructions from the computer into mechanical movements of the cutting system relies on the accurate construction of the system itself. Specifically, the rails and overhead gantry must be perfectly straight to provide a reliable, real-world representation of the computer design’s coordinate system. If the tracks are off by a fraction of a degree, then the plasma cutter will not accurately and faithfully recreate the computer CNC design.
High-quality rails are made from a single piece of extruded metal. Trueness can be checked using a laser guide or other implement. High-quality rails allow the gantry to move unimpeded along the length of the table, facilitating sharp cutting motion.

The Gearing System

Plasma cutting tables use gearing mechanisms to convert energy from motors into useful motion for the gantry. The action of the torch head is, therefore, dependent on the quality of the gearing system. Most gearing systems on plasma cutters use a combination of steel-reinforced plastic drive belts, and metal gear rings. The quality of both of these components has a significant impact on the final quality of the motion, with better materials yielding better accuracy and longevity.

The Feedback System

A motor on each axis governs the movement of the cutting torch. Feedback devices couple with these motors to provide the computer with information about how far the cutting head has moved. Lower latencies help plasma tables offer faster and smoother motion, especially when cutting tight corners and cuts in multiple dimensions.

How the CNC Drive System Influences the CNC Plasma Cutting Process

CNC plasma cutters allow manufacturers and workshops to make cuts of exceptional accuracy in their materials. But not all cutting tables are created equal: some are of a higher quality than others.

One of the most critical systems in the cutting table is the drive system. The drive system is the part of the machine that controls the movement of the cutting torch and is what allows manufacturers to exert fine control over their devices. Without a good CNC drive system, the plasma cutter cannot operate to its potential, and the quality and accuracy of cuts can suffer.

A typical CNC drive system comprises several components which much all work together to facilitate the movement of the device over the table below. Plasma tables come with individual motors which power the X, XX, Y and Z axes. The higher the quality of these motors, the faster and more accurately the torch head can move.

Many CNC plasma cutters also come with electronic proximity optical sensors. The purpose of these sensors is to provide information to the computer about the edges of the cutting surface so that the torch does not overshoot. These sensors can be calibrated to make sure that the gantry never goes outside of its predetermined specification, preventing damage to the cutter itself and ensuring that the table boundaries are well-defined.

Plasma cutters also frequently come with gearboxes. The purpose of the gearbox is to transfer energy from the motors to the drive system in a way that is useful for the particular application. Different styles of gearboxes cater to various markets, from cheap and cheerful to the high-end. Expensive gearboxes use components machined from single pieces of metal, providing exceptional longevity and performance.

When choosing a CNC plasma cutting machine, the choice of materials matters a lot. Higher quality, solid materials, such as cast iron and aluminum, help to minimize vibration during operation. Less vibration from moving parts – such as the motors – helps manufacturers achieve stunning cut accuracy. Some machines can achieve accuracies up to 0.001 inches, or a thousandth of an inch.

The quality of the gantry and side rails is also an essential part of choosing a good CNC plasma cutter. Side rails and gantries need to be perfectly straight so that when they receive instructions from the computer, the straight lines in the computer code can be translated reliably into physical cuts on the material. If the side rails and gantries are slightly warped or misaligned, costly cutting errors can occur, compromising the rest of your manufacturing process.

The way the gantry and torch move over the table is important. If the movement isn’t smooth or is interrupted by the presence of dirt on the rails, this can make cuts less accurate. Sophisticated drive systems feature grooved bearings which automatically sweep dirt and debris from the tracks, keeping the torch true.

The CNC drive system has a profound impact on the plasma cutting process and influences its quality. Prudent manufacturers check the drive system before installing machines to ensure that it can tolerate their particular working environment.

5 Industrial Applications In Which CNC Plasma Cutting Is Used

Ever since the 1960s, industry has been using plasma cutting technology to cut through difficult-to-cut materials. Plasma cutting provided a way of efficiently cutting through materials while saving on the costs of things like worn out blades. Plasma cutting does not rely on friction, and so has brought down the cost of cutting through material considerably. Today, plasma cutting is used in dozens of different operations. Hers are five industrial applications in which industries, like yours, may use plasma cutting.

Creating Parts For HVAC

Plasma cutting is a particular type of cutting technology that prevents heat overload to the surrounding material. It is, therefore, especially useful for creating some of the small, intricate parts found in HVAC systems. HVAC manufacturers want components that can be manufactured reliably and offer consistent quality. CNC plasma cutting is used to provide brackets, ducts, fittings and flanges for these systems, allowing quality to remain high.

Cutting Plate

Manufacturers will often supply plate metal in a predetermined set of sizes. These might not always be suitable for another manufacturer’s application – say an automaker, for example – and so require cutting before entering into the manufacturing process. Cutting metal plate can be an expensive and time-consuming process using traditional methods, but with a plasma cutter, it becomes a lot easier and cheaper.

Aerospace Industry

The aerospace industry needs parts that are cut to fine tolerances. Accuracy matters a lot when constructing complex machines, like aircraft and helicopters. Not all cutting technologies, however, provide the exceptional level of precision and control needed to machine these specialist parts. Plasma cutting, however, offers extraordinary accuracy, allowing manufacturers to choose sub-millimeter tolerances, even when cutting large pieces of metal. Plasma cutters, when paired with CNC technology, give manufacturers the ability to shape metal in whatever way the designers deem best.

Automaking

The automaking industry relies on the use of large sheets of metal for car bodies. These pieces of metal must be shaped according to strict processes to ensure strength and quality. Before these pieces are shaped, they must be cut in such a way that retains the integrity of the material. Plasma cutting eliminates the risk of warping because it does not transfer heat to the surrounding metal significantly. Thin metal materials, like those used to form the chassis of vehicles, keep their original chemical properties.

Shipbuilding

Plasma cutting is one of the best cutting technologies because it cuts down on the need to invest additional labor in refining cut surfaces. Plasma cuts are smooth as if the metal had been sheared. For industries, like shipbuilding where costs matter, this can be a real boon. Shipbuilders can benefit from the fact that there is no need for filing down of rough edges or removal of shards of metal sticking out of the material.

Plasma cutting provides clean cuts on the metal used for ship hulls, ensuring that the integrity of the material is not compromised during the cutting process. This type of cutting allows ships to withstand high water pressure beneath the surface.

Determining Optimal Table Size for Your CNC Plasma Cutting Application

CNC plasma cutting devices have been used for decades for all sorts of applications in the shipbuilding and manufacturing industries. But thanks to advances in technology, they have become far more accessible, and their costs have come down considerably. Now it’s possible to pick up an excellent CNC plasma cutting device for just a few thousand dollars.
Whereas in the past, many CNC plasma devices were large and specialist, the greater choice on the market means that companies can now choose optimal table sizes for their particular application.

The table on a CNC plasma cutting devices refers not only to the X-Y surface which provides a basis for the cutting area, but also the surrounding apparatus which makes cutting possible. These apparatus include the cutting head of the device, the fume control system and all of the various mechanical parts and rollers that allow the torch to move in all directions over the surface of the plane. Some more sophisticated tables allow the height of the cutter to be raised or lowered, depending on the topology of the material.

Size Of Cut

Choosing the optimal table size for your application depends on the kind of work that you’re doing. Small cutting jobs usually require only a small table, even if you have high throughout. You may need a larger table, however, if you need to machine larger pieces of material for a particular product. The size of the underlying table determines the area that can be cut in a single operation.

Cost Of Machinery

The price of servos, motors, computer drives, and plasma cutter heads have all come down considerably over the last few decades. What was once the preserve of heavy industry can now be found in workshops and garages of hobbyists all over the country.

Cost, however, is still a consideration when considering the optimal table size for your plasma cutting operation. The price of small plasma tables is surprisingly low, and some can be found for less than $4,000. Larger tables cost more, so it’s important to think carefully about how large a table you need. It does not make sense to buy a table that provides larger cutting dimensions than you need. Carefully consider the size of cut strokes that your business requires. Think also about any benefits you may derive from having the flexibility of a larger table. A larger table may allow you to adjust your processes more easily without having to update or upgrade machinery.

Reliability

Plasma cutting was initially introduced in the 1960s because of its superior reliability. Since then, the technology has been refined, and systems improved further. Larger tables tend to, on average, be more durable than smaller tables. But with that said, almost all tables are designed to withstand heavy usage in demanding environments.

The optimal CNC table size for your application depends on three main factors: the size of the cut you need, your budget constraint, and your reliability requirements. Larger tables are more expensive, but provide more substantial cuts and, often, higher reliability.

Introduction to Plasma Swirl Ring

Plasma Table Gantry

When we discuss CNC plasma cutting there are a few common topics that tend to come up.  But, because of that, some important smaller components of the system do not get examined as closely as they perhaps should be.  It is always a good idea for a fabricator to fully understand not just how the complete system works, but how each component of the system works in conjunction with the other components to achieve the final precise cutting process.  The plasma swirl ring is one of those components that may not always be closely looked at but every fabricator should know what it is and why it matters. (more…)

The Basics of CNC Plasma Cutting

CNC Plasma Table

When you start out in metal fabrication you always need to start with the basics of what the plasma cutting process is. And, even highly experienced metal fabricators sometimes need to go back to the basics of CNC plasma cutting.  You must understand first what plasma cutting is and why it is used and then understand why a fabricator would opt for a CNC plasma cutting system rather than handheld plasma cutting.  Lincoln Electric provides us a description of exactly where we need to start, with what plasma cutting is, “In simplest terms, plasma cutting is a process that uses a high velocity jet of ionized gas that is delivered from a constricting orifice. The high velocity ionized gas, that is, the plasma, conducts electricity from the torch of the plasma cutter to the work piece. The plasma heats the workpiece, melting the material. The high velocity stream of ionized gas mechanically blows the molten metal away, severing the material.” (more…)

8 Important Features of CNC CAD/CAM Software

CNC plasma Cutting

CAD and CAM software are a critical component of any CNC plasma cutting system.  Without software, the controller would not be able to tell the torch where to move and what cuts to make.  There are many different CAD and CAM software options but they do not all have the same features and some are easier to use than others. So, how do you know which software you need to efficiently and effectively run your CNC plasma cutting system, which Fabricating & Metalworking notes, “The software that runs the equipment and designs the drawings is arguably the most important component of your CNC plasma table setup. The software performs two distinct functions: designing the piece to be cut, and controlling the table and the plasma cutter. Although high-end design software like AutoCAD is perfect for creating high quality designs for a large number of applications, be careful you’re not using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. AutoCAD and the like have built-in functions to handle extremely complex requirements, and often those extra functions can distract the user and actually inhibit the creation of perfect cut-paths. A better option is to look for software specifically designed for creating CNC plasma cutting drawings. This software is optimized for making perfect cut-paths, and can do so quickly and easily. Controlling the table and the plasma cutter must be performed by the software that came with your table. The best software will be created to maximize the characteristics of the table it’s running on. Be sure to look for software created and optimized specifically for your table. Ideally, the software running the table should be written by the same company that makes the table.”  Even the most seasoned of fabricators want a system that is robust, easy-to-use, reliable, and ultimately, that produces the cuts they want.  (more…)

What is a CNC Plasma Water Table & How Does it Work?

When you invest in a CNC cutting system you will determine whether you want to utilize a downdraft, water table, or hybrid downdraft/water table.  The material you tend to cut and a few other factors will influence which option you choose. For the purposes of this article, we are going to look more closely at what a CNC plasma water table is, how it works, and why you would choose it for your means of fabrication. (more…)

A Closer Look at the Hypertherm Powermax85 Plasma System

CNC plasma Cutting

At Tactical CNC, we have worked hard to research and develop outstanding CNC plasma cutting systems that are durable, long-lasting, and produce the highest-quality, most accurate cuts.  We know that every single component of a CNC plasma system influences the quality of the final cut which is why we have opted to only work with the industry’s best-of-the-best, such as Hypertherm, for components of our plasma systems.  There are many different Hypertherm plasma cutters and they each have their own unique benefits but for the purposes of this article, we will be taking a closer look at the Hypertherm Powermax85.

The Hypertherm Powermax85 plasma system can be paired with any of our plasma tables to create a powerful fabrication tool.  Hypertherm describes the Powermax85 plasma system and what sets it apart, “The premier system for cutting 25 mm (1″), the Powermax85® has the same features and options as the Powermax65®, but with more power from an output current of 85 amps. Designed to maximize uptime and productivity, the system offers the latest technological innovations, such as Smart Sense™ technology to automatically adjust the gas pressure. With a variety of Duramax™ torch styles, operators can easily select exactly the right tool for the job: hand cutting or gouging, portable automation, X-Y table, and robotic cutting or gouging.”

The Hypertherm Powermax85 plasma system offers a number of benefits to the user.  Any metal fabricator that can complete jobs more quickly without sacrificing accuracy and precision knows that they will be able to ultimately increase profitability.  Fortunately, the Hypertherm Powermax85 is able to finish jobs faster with cut speeds that are two and half times greater than oxyfuel on 12mm mild steel.  Further, the quality of the cut and gouge achieved with the Hypertherm Powermax85 is far superior so it allows the fabricator to spend less time on grinding and edge preparation.  Also, the Powermax85 plasma system has multiple torch styles that are easy-to-use and allow the user to tackle a wide variety of jobs using the same system.  In fact, the Powermax85 is so easy to use that the user does not need to change the air pressure because it is equipped with Smart Sense™ technology which ensures that the air pressure is always correctly set.  Additionally, the plasma system is equipped with SpringStart™ technology which ensures that the torch consistently start and is also more reliable.  And, we know that all fabricators want to reduce dross.  The Powermax85 is able to drag a cut at full output with a patented shield.  This reduces dross buildup for smoother cutting.  The Hypertherm Powermax85 is ideal for applications that include drag cutting, extended reach cutting, extended reach gouging, fine feature cutting, flush cutting, marking, max control gouging, max removal gouging, and mechanized cutting.

What Sets High Precision CNC Plasma Cutting Apart

CNC Plasma Table

When it comes to fabrication of any kind, precision and accuracy are always a priority.  But, every fabrication shop and every piece being fabricated are different.  What one fabrication shop needs in terms of cut quality, vs. what another shop needs, may vary significantly.  At Tactical CNC, all of our CNC plasma cutting systems are complete systems that come with everything you need to start cutting right away and achieving the excellent cut quality that you want.  But, you may have seen the term ‘high precision CNC plasma cutting’ and wondered if that is any different.  The answer – yes.
There are ‘high precision’ or ‘high definition CNC plasma cutting torches and systems that take cut quality, precision, and accuracy to the next level.  AZO Materials explains the difference between traditional CNC plasma cutting and high precision CNC plasma cutting, “Plasma cutting employs gas heated by an electric arc (50-400 amps) to offer a focused plasma beam (highly energetic mixture of ions and atoms) that can rapidly melt a metal. The cutting mechanism is provided by a combination of high energy plasma and the pressure of gas stream. As the plasma beam melts through the steel’s thickness, the gas pressure pushes the molten metal aside. Usually, plasma cutting is chosen for cutting stainless steel, mild steel and even copper because of the oxides formed in flame cutting that slow down the cutting process…In the past, difficulties were faced with profiles cut with plasma systems including imprecise bolt holes and edge.”  AZO Materials goes on to note that precision plasma cutting advantages include “Cuts smaller holes due to a lower kerf (width of cut)…Provides a cleaner cut dross free edge and precise bolt holes…Conveys less heat into the profile steel and this leads to a reduced Heat Affected Zone on the cut edges.”

Every high precision CNC plasma cutting torch and system is different so the specifics should be closely examined before making an investment to ensure that it will meet your needs.  Not all CNC plasma cutting systems, and high precision plasma torches are created equal and it is not enough to just have one element of a system be high quality or high precision, the entire system must work together to provide the type of cut quality and accuracy that you want, as The Fabricator notes, “A fully integrated system includes the plasma power source, CNC, torch height control, torch lifter and its associated motors and drives, and an automatic gas control console. Some fabricators have the misconception that using a high-precision plasma power supply will allow them to save on other components. In an automated plasma system, integrated components work seamlessly to control cutting amperage, torch height, speed, and gas pressure. Some fabricators also balk at the cost of CNCs and associated software. But their capabilities provide fast payback, especially if a company lacks operators with programming skills and plasma cutting experience (both of which are otherwise essential without a CNC).”  At Tactical CNC, our CNC plasma cutting systems are complete with all components, including software and training, that you need to achieve the high precision plasma cutting that you want.

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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