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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.

CNC Plasma Cutting Terminology: Torch Lifter

At Tactical CNC, we believe in providing our clients with the best CNC plasma cutting systems on the market and along with that, we believe it is important to provide our clients with useful education.  All industries have unique technology and terminology and it can feel complex and overwhelming to not only understand CNC plasma cutting but also the intricacies that come along with unique terminology.  For this reason, from time to time, we like to take a closer look at CNC plasma cutting terminology and for the purposes of this article, we will be looking at torch lifters.

At Tactical CNC, our CNC plasma cutting systems come with all the components you need to complete the cuts you want with accuracy and precision.  The Z axis movement of the torch lifter is done with rescission guides and linear bearings that are fully enclosed for a smooth and precise motion.  The Fabricator further elaborates on what the torch lifter’s important role is in CNC plasma cutting, “Now is a good time to review the condition of the lifter. In plasma cutting, the lifter correctly positions the torch for piercing and keeps it at the correct height while cutting… Depending on the control system being used, the lifter’s settings can be integrated into the CNC or in a stand-alone control unit. Either way, the lifter is the middle man between the CNC and the plasma. The lifter usually is the device that tells the plasma power source to start after the pierce height is found, typically with a contact closure; it then receives a signal back from the power source indicating the plasma torch is up and running, again typically via contact closure.The lifter also receives a voltage signal proportional to the torch height. This voltage is usually scaled down to a safer level via a voltage divider card. If the lifter system uses a voltage divider card, it needs to be removed from the old power supply and mounted and wired into the new power supply.More times than not, the lifter has three pairs of wires used to interface with the plasma: start/stop, OK to move, and arc voltage.”  The torch lifter helps you maintain an ideal height between your torch and the material being fabricated and will ultimately heavily influence the quality of your cuts.  For this reason, it is important to choose a high-quality CNC plasma cutting system that comes with an exceptional torch lifter.  Tactical CNC systems come with high-quality torch lifters and, should you opt for the HD series, your system will come with a heavy-duty torch lifter.

Introduction to Dynatect Cable Tracks

Every component of a CNC plasma cutting system influences the ultimate quality and accuracy of the cut achieved.  At Tactical CNC, we know just how important it is to have a complete, high-quality, and durable CNC plasma cutting system and we know that attention to every last detail matters.  For this reason, we have used only the most durable and high-quality materials when constructing our plasma systems and we have worked with some exceptional industry partners to help create the ideal CNC plasma cutting system.  One of those partners is Dynatect.  Our systems use American-made Dynatect cable track enclosures for our cable harnesses and wiring.  These wiring harnesses with solid locking connectors keep all of the electrical wiring neat and able to move easily and smoothly within the Dynatect cable track. This makes it possible for our CNC plasma cutting systems to have smooth and frictionless motion during the cutting process.

Dynatect’s cable track enclosures are designed for optimal durability and strength so that they can handle the vibrations experienced during the cutting process.  Dynatect elaborates on how their cable track enclosures are uniquely well-made and assist in improving the CNC cutting process, “For heavier loads, Dynatect’s metal carriers offer longer unsupported spans and greater strength. Some steel carriers have been specifically designed to outperform plastic in terms of strength-to-weight ratio and unsupported span, while remaining cost competitive. Should the cable package should be accessible or enclosed? Open-style carriers make it easy to inspect cables and hoses for signs of wear. Enclosed-style carriers protect against sparks, shavings, and hot chips. Dynatect offers both tube-style carriers, bolt-in lid, and snap-in lids to satisfy enclosed-carrier requirements.”

Dynatect’s cable track enclosures help guide and protect the cables in your CNC plasma cutting system so that they can withstand regular use and so that your system can provide you the longest lifespan while minimizing the need for repairs or replacements of components.  At Tactical CNC, your CNC plasma cutting system is always a ‘complete system.’  By ‘complete system,’ we mean that it contains everything you need to start cutting as soon as it is installed.  And, while our systems are competitively priced, the quality of every single component that makes up a Tactical CNC CNC plasma cutting system is exceptional.  Further, we believe so strongly in the quality of our systems that we offer a 1 year warranty on all parts.

 

Which is the Best Plasma Cutting Fume Control Method: Water or Downdraft?

One of the biggest concerns with plasma cutting safety is fume control.  Without proper fume control and ventilation, the working environment may become hazardous.  When it comes to plasma cutting, there are different options for fume control and ventilation.  As anyone that has ever fabricated metal knows, when using a plasma cutter there will be a lot of smoke, fumes, and particles.  All of that has to go somewhere but which is better and more effective method of ventilation and fume control, water tables or downdraft?

Water Tables for Fume Control

Water tables filter fumes and particles without the use of filters.  Rather, water tables use a sealed frame that holds water and the water level is just below the material that is being fabricated.  During the cutting process, kinetic energy forces the fumes and particles into the water that captures and removes dust, debris, particles and fumes.

Downdraft Tables for Fume Control

Downdraft tables filter fumes and particles by circulating the air through perforations in the table and pulling out the dust and particles to remove them from the cutting area.  Those fumes have to go somewhere to be ventilated so a full ventilation system must be in place that takes the fumes out of the shop.  While the method is effective, you will have to change the filter every time you change the material that you are cutting because different materials require different filter settings.

Who Wins for Plasma Cutting Fume & Particle Control? Water Tables or Downdraft Tables?

While there are advantages to both options for plasma cutting, when looking strictly at fume and particle control, water is the more effective and less expensive method as The Fabricator points out, “Depending on the material being cut, cutting amperage, and the water level, a water table can capture 90 to 95 percent of the smoke and dust generated by plasma cutting. Cutting with the water level about 1 in. below the bottom of the material contains most of the smoke and dust. A dust collector is not required. If an air curtain is added, the plate can be fully submerged under 2 to 3 in. of water, so that the water traps almost all of the smoke. The air curtain uses compressed air to create a bubble around the front end of the torch, protecting the precision arc from the water. No matter the size of the plate on the table, underwater plasma cutting captures the same amount of smoke and dust…The downdraft table captures nearly all of the smoke and dust, provided certain criteria are met. Filters must be in good working condition. Also, sufficient air velocity must be moving downward into the open area of the table to prevent the smoke from billowing out and escaping capture. Downdraft tables and dust collector systems are designed with specific minimum coverage percentages, typically between 50 and 75 percent. The downdraft system is most effective when a full-size sheet is on the table, as this provides plenty of downward-moving air velocity because there are no open spaces. But when smaller sheets are used, or if much of the sheet has already been cut and removed, more of the table is exposed, and air velocity is reduced, affecting the table’s ability to contain smoke and dust.”

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…)

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