Plasmacam is becoming a more popular term you read about on off-road forums and fabrication forums. It seems a lot of people are wanting to get into CNC Plasma Cutting. Most but not all of these people do not really fully understand the final price of the plasmacam machine and all the other requirements it has.
The single mot expensive item will be the plasmacam unit itself. The cost will vary depending on if you purchase new, need it shipped, etc. For this plasmacam price article we will say you paid between 5,000 and 10,000 USD for the plasmcam table.
The next most expensive item REQUIRED for using the plasmacam is the actual plasma cutter itself. For this article we will assume you want a good unit, and since hypertherm is a quality unit we will say you go with them. Now a hypertherm 600 will work fine and run you about $1600 + Tax/Shipping or around $2000 if you buy local. Or, if you want to cut thicker material you can spend up to around $4000 for the Hypertherm 1650. Keep in mind these are for standard hand torch plasma cutters not machine torch (which you can adapt to your plasmacam table). If you want a machine torch hypertherm add another 500-1200 depending where you buy it at.
Another large item in both cost and size is the air compressor and tank. For a CNC plasma cutting system such as the plasmacam you are going to need something larger than the 10 gallon craftsmen you got last year I would suggest an 80 gallon or 120 gallon tank with a TRUE 5hp motor and pump capable of at least 14cfm. Sure the plasma cutter (hypertherm) running at full power/pressure wont use more than ~8cfm but you don’t want to run your compressor the entire time and you want it to be able to build up pressure and to shut-off. So, lets say you buy your average low-end 80g air compressor for your plasma cutter from Lowes or Home Depot and that runs you about $800 out the door. No sense in ordering online unless you go with a much larger and nicer unit, maybe an IR that you get free shipping on or a Dayton on ebay. Either way the bare minimum a compressor will run you new will be right around 800 big ones. This can go up to 5,000 for an entry level screw compressor or around 1200-1500 for a high-quality 5hp 80gallon.
Next on the list of required items to run your plasmacam will be an air dryer, hose and all the fittings. The harbor freight air dryer for $300 is a great buy, cools the air, and is actually a quality item. After tax and shipping you are probably going to be in to it for around $325 this could vary if you get it on sale or not too. I would also suggest adding a MotorGurad M60 filter right before the plasma to make sure all particles and moisture have been removed. It cost more in the end to replace consumables than a filter in the M60. You also can’t forget the basic particle filters to remove the larger particles BEFORE going into the air dryer these two will run you $30 to $100 total depending on size and quality. Also, don’t forget those brass fittings for your air compressor, dryer, motorguard, hypertherm cutter, and any other place. I would budget $100 into the price of your plasmacam for small air fittings, adapters and hoses. I personally have more because I have a desiccant dryer as well as the evaporative harbor freight air dryer and a few other filters in there.
Now you have to decide how you plan to vent the plasmacam unit… you didn’t think you could breathe that dust now did you? Wow it’s nasty and can send you to the hospital! A water table will catch the large particles but WILL NOT stop the dust unless you make it so that the bottom of the plasmacam is sealed and the water can be almost directly under the steel. I suggest a water table at the bottom of the grates to catch large particles, and then an exhaust system to SUCK DOWN the rest of the fumes. It’s a bad idea to have the fume extraction at the top because then all the magnetized dust passes through, over and around the moving (read: expensive) plasmacam parts.
So, for your water table, and side skirts for the plasmatable (to make it sealed) you are going to need some steel. You can use 18ga or 20ga I used 20ga and it was cheaper and is working fine. Depending where you live this steel could run 40, 50, 60, 70 a sheet (5’x’10). So, lets say you need 4 pieces and go with 60$ each that puts you at $240 in steel. We wont go into making these items here but we will assume you have the tools to do this and wont add those into the price of running a plasmacam. Add some casters to your water table so you can slide it out for clean-up, patching, etc w/out moving entire plasmacam unit. Casters will run about $5-$30/each depending on size and quality. We will go with $10/each so $40 for the casters, and about $10 for 2 cans of truck bed liner spray. The bed liner spray is great to seal your welds for the water table.. oh yeah I hope you can weld
Next on the list is the exhaust system itself for the plasmacam. You will want to make sure you use at least 3500 CFM so that all the nasty dust from the plasmacam will be gone. When checking out fans be sure to read the rating with ducting and not just free-air. The cheap way to go would be to buy a squirrel cage fan or a Flow Pro from Northern or a knock-off from Harbor Freight and just cut out two holes and shoot the dust into your front yard, side yard or whever the opening is. The more expensive and nice way would be to build a duct system and vent it outside to a designated spot. The cost of the cheapest fans will set you back $500 and for a duct system around $200 (very basic). If you go with high quality exhaust you could spend around $2500 for fans, filters, etc. Some systems cost upwards of $5,000 to really CLEAN the air before putting it back out. This can get expensive and will depend where you live and what YOU want to do wtih the air. No matter what though you HAVE TO vent the plasmacam. If you have a 50,000sq.ft shop VENT or 700sq.ft garage VENT!
Now that you have the hardware setup for the plasmacam it’s time to buy a computer! Wait, what? A computer ??? YEP! You need a separate computer left in the garage/shop that you don’t care if it gets broken, fried, or randomly catches on fire! The computer will live much longer if you take care of your exhaust system! So, a cheap, basic computer with monitor will run you about $500. Make sure it has a CD burner or USB so you can back-up your drawings regularly.
Time to install all the big items together now
Plasma Cutter->PlasmaCam(You will need to splice into the wires or use the CNC port on the more expensive hypertherms)
Now that you are set up and running it’s time to buy some steel in the thicknesses you plan to cut out and learn how to use the machine by waisting the over priced steel with cut-outs of circles, squares, and random shapes so that you can understand how the machine works! So, add about 250 to 500$ for steel to cut up learning and testing. This could be less if you only do thin gauge or more if you are only doing 3/8″+.
Start cutting, learn the plasmacam machine and realize now that the plasmacam price is a LOT more than the original machine. It’s probably safe to say by the time you are finished properly setting up your plasmacam you will have more money into OTHER things than the plasmacam itself. So, if you look at it that way the plasmacam price is actually pretty good
Realize you need some type of clamps to hold down the material when it gets light, buy vise grips and modify to make custom clamps (Tutorial coming soon! thanks plasmapig). Then realize you need material handling tools to load that 4’x4′ piece of 1/4″ across the 4′ table by yourself.
It may seem like a lot of work, a lot of money but in the end you have an awesome machine that can cut anything your mind can come up with and you can put into the computer.
(This was written at 3:30AM and I may/probably forgot a few things!)
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