Assembling a complete plasma cutting system can be quite a formidable task and requires a lot of careful consideration and planning. This guide aims to simplify the process.
A complete plasma cutting system comprises the following components:
- X-Y table
- CNC System – Table & Cutter
- 3D Software
- Ventilation system
- Other mechanical components
X-Y Table: An X-Y table is a cutting surface that includes drivers or motors to provide accurate and coordinated motions for the plasma torch. X-Y tables have come a long way since the 90s, when only high-end industrial varieties were available for heavy duty applications in the heavy equipment and shipbuilding industries. These machines were robust to withstand decades of rigorous usage and produce several tons of metal parts at high production rates with very little maintenance.
Today, there are many kinds of X-Y tables available in the market. However, with the advancement of technology and availability of many styles, the prices of the X-Y tables have also fallen and they have become more affordable. These affordable systems have opened doors for small and medium enterprises and hobby shops to use CNC machines for all their cutting requirements.
CNC System: A CNC system is a large industrial computer with machine control and internal motion control software. This is the brain of the CNC machine that controls the entire cutting process. The CNC converts the program for cutting into electrical instructions that enable control of the cutting speed and direction. The CNC system also gives operational instructions to the plasma cutter, height control mechanism and to the peripheral equipment.
Software: CAD and CAM software have become an indispensable part of the CNC plasma cutting process. While the CAD software is used for designing purposes, the CAM deals with the actual manufacturing of the required part. The CAM determines the pierce location, kerf width, lead-in and lead-out details and this information is fed to the CNC to make the part. In some machines the CAD and CAM functions are combined to allow a seamless designing and cutting process. The software for plasma cutting is quite easy to learn and use.
Ventilation System: Plasma cutting generates lots of smoke and fumes that can be quite harmful. The plasma cutting system requires an efficient fume control mechanism that captures particles of all sizes.
There are two types of ventilation systems used in plasma cutting:
- Downdraft tables
- Water systems
Downdraft Tables: These tables need a powerful flow rate that can remove even the heaviest particles through the duct. Many times a cold air duct is placed near the table that uses outside air rather than the shop air to vent the fumes. Some large tables have zoned sections that have movable louvres and the suction removes the air from only the area where the torch is cutting and not from the entire table.
Water Systems: There are two types of water systems: water trays and water tables.
- Water Tray: This usually is located beneath the workpiece. The water touches the table and the pressure from the plasma jet forces the particles into the water where they cool down and sink to the bottom. Water trays are effective, simple and quite inexpensive.
- Water Table: A water table is deeper than a water tray and allows cutting under water. The water level in the water table can be adjusted so that it traps the fumes effectively and also does not splash onto the metal.
A CNC plasma system has other mechanical components such as:
- The gantry
- Torch carriage
- Torch height control (X, Y and Z axis)
Putting together a plasma cutting system is a very important and critical decision. Not only does the choice of the cutting machine and its components affect the quality and precision of work produced, it also has a direct bearing on the efficiency, productivity and finally on the profitability of your business.