Investing in a plasma cutting system will lead to significant gains in productivity, product quality, and long-term cost-savings for many businesses. Here are seven questions to consider when considering the purchase of a CNC plasma system:
1. What thickness of metal will you cut most frequently?Plasma cutting power sources are rated by their amperage and cutting ability. If you cut mostly thicker material you will need a higher amperage cutter. If you cut thinner material, you can specify a lower amperage system. Therefor, making sure you get the recommended amperage for your material thickness will assure you of getting the best cut.
2. What kind of material will you be cutting?Most standard-definition plasma cutters do a good job with mild steel. High-definition plasmas are much more capable on mild steel, stainless steel and aluminum.
3. What will be your best cutting speed?To best answer this question, consider whether you are doing faster cutting of large pieces or slower cutting of smaller production parts with better quality holes. In a large faster-paced cutting environment, it will probably be a good idea to select a machine that can handle about two times your required cutting thickness.
4. Is duty cycle a factor?The duty cycle of your plasma cutter is something to consider in an automated process if you’ll need to perform time-consuming large, fast cuts. A duty cycle is the length of time you can continuously cut before the torch requires a cooling break to avoid. So the higher the duty cycle, the longer you can cut without taking a break. While most entry-level air plasma cutters run on an 80% duty cycle at full amperage, high-end production units typically run a 100% duty cycle.
5. Will I want a machine designed and built to mitigate high frequency issues?High frequency can be a significant issue even with low cost, entry-level air plasmas and is a major issue with high definition plasma cutters. Most low cost machines are not designed for use with high frequency plasma power sources. Therefore, a high-quality industrial system is designed and built to mitigate high-frequency issues.
6. Do I want a water or downdraft work table?
Water tables use a very efficient water bath to collect the smoke and dust created by a plasma cutter. A well-designed water table enables the water level to be adjusted simply by the introduction and expulsion of compressed air, with no water pumps or rubber bladders required. They also feature an upper deck located just below the cutting slats to collect the small parts that fall through the slats. When the water is lowered, this upper deck is drained and the parts are easily removed without fishing.
Downdraft tables require an external exhaust blower and ductwork. As the ductwork is usually routed through a dust collection system, the overall cost can be high. Unless the exhaust is cleaned and returned to the factory floor, a significant amount of conditioned environmental air is lost. Large downdraft work tables must be zoned to work at all. Zoning means the exhaust collection system must be divided into sections with only one section opened to draft at any one time. While downdraft systems do collect most of the smoke and dust created at the bottom of the work piece, they do little to capture the smoke and dust created on top of the plate.
7. What will the plasma cutter consumables cost be?Consumables are the wear items associated with plasma cutting torches that require replacement. When purchasing a plasma cutter, consider the amount of consumables it will require. The number and cost of consumables will affect operating costs. When comparing machines, make sure the data you are reviewing is comparable. Manufacturers may rate consumables differently. For example, some go by hours of cutting, while others go by number of starts or pierces as the measurement standard. As a result, considering the number of pierces is a far more accurate method.
Discuss these questions with the manufacturers of the plasma cutters you are considering. They will have extensive knowledge and experience, and will assist you greatly in choosing the best system.
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