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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.

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