The market for “entry level” plasma tables grew rather dramatically in the last 15 years, and we’re often asked for tips from people looking to buy one for their shop. It seems this growth is driven by the fact that home hobbyists, professional artists, hot rod gear heads, welding job shops, and construction companies now realize they can design and make their own parts.
As far as tips and pointers, here’s what we can offer:
Type of plasma
Air plasma systems, are nearly always used because this is the most economical option for an entry level table. Make sure the plasma you buy has a “blowback” start rather than a high frequency start, which will interfere with the PC based machine control and electronics.
Plasma power level and features
When choosing the type of plasma, first determine the thickness of metal you want to cut and the amount of cutting you need to do.
Most plasma systems have a 50% duty cycle, so if you plan to cut for a good portion of the day, we recommend buying a system rated above the thickness you plan to cut. That way, the system won’t need to work as hard and you can cut for longer.
Lastly, look at the torch options. Though some table manufacturers offer designs that allow you to mount and cut with a hand torch, we do not recommend it. Mechanized torches set up hassle free and will always be square to the plate you are cutting.
Torch height control
Some of these tables don’t come with a torch height control which makes the table cost lower. However, a good height control is non-negotiable since it is critical to edge angularity (good cut quality) and longer consumable life.
Hypertherm offers ProNest® LT CAD/CAM part nesting software subscriptions for entry level table users, but some tables do come with CAD drawing software, as well as post processor or CAM software that takes the drawing file from CAD and turns it into machine code.
Look carefully at the software packages offered by each table manufacturer before purchasing since the learning curve and time it takes to master it can differ greatly between softwares.
A ProNest LT subscription does also include training, automatic software updates, and unlimited tech support.
The most popular entry level table size or cutting bed dimensions are 1.2 m x 1.2 m, 1.2 m x 2.4 m, and 1.5 m x 3 m. You can buy a 1.2 m x 1.2 m CNC plasma machine, but we don’t recommend. It’s too limiting and you can’t buy steel plates to fit a 1.2 m x 1.2 m table. Also, the price difference between a 1.2 m x 1.2 m table and a 1.2 m x 2.4 m table will be marginal.
We hope this helps. If you still have questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.