Automated plasma cutting is a very competitive field. The industry is flooded with low-cost manufacturers and integrators. Competition is great for the consumer because prices are at an all-time low for plasma cutting machinery, including automated plasma cutters.
Plasma cutting results from the super fast flow of plasma out of a nozzle onto a surface that you want to cut. The plasma is inert, ionized gas at around 15,000 degree Celsius. The plasma flow is focused with the use of a tiny hole in the nozzle. The highly focused stream of plasma is want enables such precise cuts. An automated plasma cutting machine falls into one two groups: conventional and precision (high-definition). The precision machines are able to cut much faster than the conventional machines. They can also produce tighter tolerances and less kerf (the amount of metal removed by the plasma cutting process) and bevel. The precision, machines being much more accurate than the conventional machines, tend to be much higher in price.
One thing you have to watch out for is manufacturer mismatches. Often, the incorrect power source is matched to a machine. The results can be very expensive, so you want to make sure the matches are correct yourself. This type of thing happens because the manufacturer is too focused on providing the lowest possible price and not pay attention to the buyer’s requirements or asking if buyer’s have access to OEM power sources.
The most common automated plasma cutting machine build is gantry or bridge-style. They are usually from fabricated steel or extruded aluminum. The machines built from extruded aluminum are found in the realm of the hobbyist. They are not up to the task of industrial applications. The fabricated steel automated plasma cutting machines are the work horses. They can be used for continuous cutting processes. You can obtain auxiliary heat shields for these machines, which protect the plasma cutting system and its parts from heat damage.
Automated plasma cutting machines have motors to drive each axis. There are various drive systems you can take advantage of including a single side drive, a single motor dual side drive, a double motor dual side drive, etc. The type of motor system used depends in part on whether you have a conventional or precision machine. For the conventional machine a single motor dual side drive is adequate. For the precision machines which demand much more accuracy a two motor dual side drive system is required.
When automated plasma cutting machines are built the size of the gear box has to be taken into account. If the motor is undersized it will not be able to effectively counter the momentum of the gear box. So, if you want high cut and traverse speeds a properly weighted gearbox is a must. Otherwise, the cutting quality will not be uniform and the corners will be washed out.
The plasma cutter of an automated plasma cutting machine uses rails to move around. It is best to have very rugged rails in order to maximize the life of your plasma cutter. You can find rails with self-cleaning wheels which is very important since bumps in the tracks can cause inaccuracies in the machines cutting.
The CNC control is what ties all of the components together. The two major providers of controls for automated plasma cutting machines are Burny and Hypertherm. Their terminals have touch screens that can be encased to work even in harsh environments. You can find controls that are preprogrammed with specific routines and you can program your own custom routines with relative ease.
Make sure that you clean your machine regularly; preferably, every day. Automated plasma cutting machines are built with hard metal (fabricated steel) that can withstand the heat of molten metal. Clean the fallen metal off of your machine every day.
Lastly, make sure you follow proper safety procedures. No matter what anyone says, your health is more important than production quotas.