CNC Plasma Cutter Information (PlasmaCam/TorchMate/ETC)

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The CNC Plasma Cutter

The plasma cutter is a device that is able to quickly cut through metal surfaces by directing heated gas onto the surface. The cutting implement itself is sometimes called a torch, and it comes in different forms depending on the size and capacity of the cutter. High capacity plasma cutters can be quite large, but cutters can also be so small as to be hand held. The internal components are essentially the same in all plasma cutters. The key components are the electrode which serves as a torch, the electrical arc, the gas that is converted to plasma, and the nozzle through which it finally passes onto the surface to be cut. The gas is generally standard shop gas such as nitrogen, argon, or oxygen.

The cutter follows a process that super-heats the gas so that the gas is converted into a form of matter known as plasma. Obscure though this sounds, in fact, plasma is the most common form of matter in the entire Universe. The plasma cutting technology and process are not even new, originating during the Second World War and continuing since that time. Plasma is not commonly encountered on Earth, although it is found here in the forms of lightning, neon inside a light, and fluorescent lighting. Neon and fluorescent light are cool forms of plasma which would not be capable of cutting anything. Plasma inside a plasma cutter is heated to the point that it becomes able to cut through even dense substances such as steel. The gas is passed through a constricted opening, causing it to move at a high rate of speed. The conversion to plasma actually takes place when a powerful spark is created by contact between the electrode and the metal surface to be cut. The plasma is directed at the surface to be cut, where it makes contact with the spark and then becomes plasma. It is the colossally hot plasma which actually cuts through the metal surface. This plasma commonly reaches the temperature of 30,000 degrees Fahrenheit during this process.

The computer numerical control (CNC) plasma cutter serves to improve the plasma cutting process by using a computer to control the cutting head so that the dimensions of the cut can be precisely defined. These devices generally employ more exacting tolerances and they are normally larger and more expensive than non-CNC plasma cutters. CNC plasma cutters range in size from counter top devices on up to enormous machines operated by mechanical functions. The larger CNC plasma cutters employ a cutting table where the material to be cut is held. The cutting pattern followed by the CNC plasma cutter is controlled by software running in the device’s computer. This software manages and controls the cutting torch throughout the cutting process. The accuracy and precision of these machines is variable. Generally, less expensive machines follow lower standards of precision, and more expensive machines follow higher standards. Price is largely dependent on construction of the machine and accuracy of the software.

CNC plasma cutters generally cost a minimum of $3,000 to $4,000. Some people claim to have built their own CNC plasma cutter at costs of less than $1,000. Plans are available for these do-it-yourself projects, but even building a CNC plasma cutter for oneself can easily cost $3,000 or more. The cost to purchase a machine can be much higher, even up to $100,000 and more. In most cases, software is included with a purchase, although in some cases it is sold separately.

The most popular brands of CNC Plasma Cutters are the PlasmaCam CNC Cutting system and CNC Plasma tables from Torchmate in Reno, NV.

1 Comment »

  1. price of smallest cnc plasma cutter to use at home

    Comment by marius coetzee — February 27, 2014 @ 6:47 am

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