Plasma, the fourth state of matter, is a hyper-energized beam formed by heating gas with an electric arc. It possesses the highest state of energy and can slice through the toughest of metals with ease. Given this property, specialized CNC machines are available to harness plasma cutting capabilities.
CNC Plasma Cutting Range.
CNC plasma cutting machines utilize a plasma torch that moves according to the CNC programming. Operators can design programs to cut through conductive materials like copper, brass, steel, aluminum, and stainless steel. The machine finds widespread use in fabrication, industrial construction, automotive repair and restoration, and scrapping and salvaging operations. However, you may also find it with hobbyists and small workshops.
Let us take a look at the CNC plasma cutting machine and the appropriate software to operate it.
Parts of a Plasma Cutting CNC Machine.
CNC is the controlling unit that plans, prepares, schedules, and executes all the tasks necessary to obtain the desired output. A CNC software program functions as an interface between the tools or machine and the operator. It converts the CAD/CAM inputs into G-codes and M-codes that the CNC understands and acts upon.
A plasma torch carries out the cutting action of the equipment. The CNC regulates the movement of the torch. The program codes tell the torch when to turn on, when to turn off, the direction of movement, the nature of the movement, the coordinates for movement, and other such metrics.
The drive amplifiers, cables, encoders, and motors constitute the drive system.
Typically, the CNC plasma cutting machine contains a minimum of two motors for movements across the X and Y axes. Each motor comes equipped with a dedicated driver amplifier that amplifies low power signal to high power signal. The encoders act as a feedback mechanism to trace the movement of the torch. Finally, the cables carry signals from the motor to the amplifier or from the encoder to the CNC.
CNC plasma cutting machines possess an electrical system to monitor the input and output. It receives signals from the CNC and regulates whether the torch is on or off, along with its corresponding intensity.
Functioning of a Plasma Cutting CNC.
A plasma cutting CNC machine functions just like any CNC machine, except that its tool is the plasma cutting torch.
The plasma torch contains a conduit for cutting gas, which gets charged with a torch electrode. Combining the two results in the ionized plasma formation, which forms a focused beam after passing through a constricted opening. This nozzle also increases the pressure and speed of the plasma passing through.
Since the workpieces are generally conductive metals, the plasma arc transfers to the material, melting it upon contact. The torch tool also emits a high-velocity shielding gas, which protects the cut and blows away the material through the cut. In contrast, a non-transferred pilot arc may be used to score the workpiece without cutting across.
Components of a CNC Plasma Cutting Software.
A CNC plasma cutting device is a powerful piece of equipment - and with such power comes the responsibility of operating it safely.
While you may take necessary precautions through eye protection, face shields, leather gloves, etc., the number one consideration should be the CNC plasma cutting software and your grasp over the same. A user-friendly CNC plasma cutting software minimizes risk and enhances operability. Let’s see what comprises a CNC plasma cutting software:
Most G-Code generators come with a library of commands, built-in files, and default shapes. Alternatively, you can create your custom DXF file to import the desired cutting parameters. With the G-Code generator, you can control:
- Material thickness
- Part to cut
- Kerf compensation
- Lead ins
- Lead outs
- Cut speed
- Cut height
- Pierce height
- Pierce delay
- Automatic torch height control
Once you have your design ready, you need to save it as a DNC file before sending it to the Job Console.
Job Consoles open DNC files and allow you to set table boundaries, sheet size, table layout, and cut file layout. Most Job Consoles are available in a user-friendly graphical interface where operators can control torch positioning and movement with a click of a button.
Motion mechanics are generally library packages that schedule tasks and turn on and turn off system settings according to the timeline. It also allows the operator to set the table dimensions, which issues the boundaries along the X, Y, and Z axes.
What to Consider While Choosing a CNC Plasma Cutting Software?
There are several options available while deciding on a CNC plasma cutting software. You would want something that simplifies the CNC plasma cutting techniques by making them more intuitive than user-driven. An application with a graphics-heavy interface would mask the complexities and make CNC machine operation easier. Furthermore, look for a software provider that offers training, onboarding, and customer assistance.
The above points are merely jumping-off points in your hunt for the perfect CNC plasma cutting software. At the end of the day, you would have to choose something that fits your budget, your requirements, and the level of skill or expertise of the operator.
Author Peter Jacobs
Peter Jacobs is the Senior Director of Marketing at CNC Masters. He is actively involved in manufacturing processes and regularly contributes his insights for various blogs in CNC machining, 3D printing, rapid tooling, injection molding, metal casting, and manufacturing in general.