Getting Started in The World of CNC Plasma Cutting - Part 4

   Now that you know what CNC (Computer Numeric Control) plasma cutting table you are purchasing, its time to prepare the shop for its arrival. To prepare for the new table, you must make sure that the shop meets all the requirements to run the plasma table efficiently and properly. In this article, we will discuss the primary requirements for any CNC plasma cutting table. This will include the electrical and supplied gas requirements to run a CNC plasma cutting table.

Electrical Requirements.

   When your plasma table arrives, you will probably want to get your new machine up and cutting as soon as possible. To do this, proper planning will be needed. The first thing on your shop preparation list should be the electrical requirements. There will be a lot of amps being pulled to run your plasma table. This will include but not limited to your air compressor, computer, controller and plasma cutter. It is the responsibility of you the consumer to read the requirements given to you by the manufacturer to make sure your shop can handle the total amps that will be needed to run your machines. You need to make sure you have an adequate supply so that you don’t blow a fuse in a middle of a cut that could end up scrapping an entire part. Additionally, you will need to make sure you have the proper electrical service in your shop. Almost all plasma cutters run off at least a 220v AC service and can range higher into 575v. Thus, if you only have 120v going to your shop you will not be happy when you realize your new machine is now just a paperweight. It is recommended to have 120v and 220v service in your shop which will cover you for most CNC plasma cutting tables. Again, be sure to review the manufactures requirements, due to differences from manufacturer to manufacturer. The most common configuration will be a 120v service for the computer and controller for the table. As well, you will need at least 220v service for the plasma cutter and air compressor if air is going to be your supplied gas. Additionally, when dealing with electricity their will always be a need for a ground. When plasma cutting you typically ground the machine to your workpiece or another grounding point. However, manufactures of CNC plasma tables will require you to have a dedicated earth ground. This is commonly in the form of a long copper grounding rod that is installed into the ground. It is advised to have a licensed electrician inspect your plasma cutter and grounding rod for proper wiring and grounding. To recap, be sure to have the proper service in your garage. 120v and 220v supply will be needed. Additionally, be sure that your shop is rated to handle the amounts of amps being pulled on all your machines. It is always best to have more then what you think you will need. It is your job to review the manufactures requirements and determine if your shop is ready for your new machine. Whenever in doubt, be sure to consult with a licensed electrician and have them review your current service and determine if you meet your new shop requirements.

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Gas Requirements.

   When plasma cutting you will need a supplied gas to assist in the cutting process. This includes compressed air, oxygen, nitrogen, and argon-hydrogen mixtures. Each gas has its own benefit and excels at different applications. Oxygen produces clean cuts at higher thicknesses and can tackle stainless steel and aluminum with mild dross. Nitrogen is used for even thicker material and produces a considerable cleaner cut with little dross. Argon-hydrogen mixtures are reserved for stainless and aluminum and work best at keeping the cut edge clean on these materials. However, compressed air is the preferred choice for most shops due to simplicity and cost-effectiveness. When dealing with a material under 1-inch thick, compressed air is usually the choice of many. Compressed air is supplied by an air compressor and will be the driving force of the cutting process. However, if not properly set up, your air supply can be your shops one major handicap which can halt any plasma cutting setup. Your plasma cutter and cutting conditions will determine what type of air compressor you require. To operate your plasma cutter, you need to make sure your air compressor can deliver the required airflow. This is known as CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute). If your plasma cutter is not getting the required CFM through the PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) range your plasma cutter will die out. Additionally, knowing what type of cutting you will be doing on your table will determine the tank size of your air compressor. For instance, if you are taking small short cuts that require few pierces, a smaller 30-gallon tank is acceptable. However, if you have multiple parts nested on one sheet which require a lot of cut time, you will need a bigger tank. For long cuts and multiple pierces, a 60 to 80-gallon tank will be needed so that the plasma cutter can run through the entirety of the program. Plasma cutters are extremely air hungry machines and if you don’t meet your plasma cutter requirements your air compressor can easily be the biggest bottleneck in your cutting experience. Be sure to look at the plasma cutter requirements plasma cutter does not only need a lot of air, but it also needs dry clean air. This is a very important part of your plasma cutting table set up. It is known that humidity is in the air. When an air compressor compresses the air around itself it also draws in the humidity which is water vapor. When running your plasma cutter if this water works its way to the plasma cutter it can cause horrible cutting conditions and damage your plasma cutter. To combat this, you will have to install water traps. Water traps can be bought or made at home. Water traps work by allowing the water to cool down and solidify allowing gravity to pull it down into a trap and contain it from getting to the plasma cutter. The concept is simple but a very important part of any shop setup. Lastly, the air does not just need to be dry but also clean. This is also down by just purchasing a simple micron filter which traps the debris that can work its way through the air line to the plasma cutter.

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   A CNC plasma cutting table is not just plug and play, but rather requires research and understanding of what the manufacture requirements are and how to meet them. There can be a lot of confusing specifications and requirements but after reading this article it should be known what the manufacturer is talking about when referring to electrical and supplied gas requirements. Before purchasing your CNC plasma cutting system, take the time to complete your research and determine the manufactures requirements. Once completed, cross reference your shop's setup and determine if your shop is ready or what it needs to be ready. Buying a new machine can be a big task, but by taking your time and preparing your shop, can make installation stress free and a fun experience.

Nicholas Kinney,
Nicholas is employed at Diamond Manufacturing Company as a mechanical engineer. His responsibilities/experience include the CNC programming of their turrets and fiber laser. Outside of work, he enjoys machining, plasma cutting and working on his invention of an electromechanical anti-jackknifing system for tractor trailers.
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