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Last Updated:  05-20-14

Baker's Gas & Welding CandCNC Corel Free DXF HYPERTHERM LubeCorp Manufacturing Inc. ARTSOFT MACH3 PRECISION PLASMA LLC Steel F/X SHEETCAM COPYRIGHT 2014 DESERT FABWORKS LLC - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED- WEB DESIGN BY: DESERT WEB MARKETING LLC    -     Contact Us   - Cascade Metal Designs RESEARCH

Doing your homework and researching will save you money and time in the long run.  Here is some info about our research and what we found along the way and some ideas that may help you in building your CNC Machine.

We knew that we wanted a new CNC Plasma System and outlined the items that it must have:

4 x 8 minimum edge to edge cut capability

Torch Height Control

Water Table

Capacity to cut and piece up to ½ Steel

Reliable / Accurate

Easy to operate and maintain

Backed by reputable Company(s) with real support options

How and Where to Research the components:

Internet / Google

Web Forums -  Plasma Spider, CNC Zone, Pirate 4x4, Welding Web, Practical Machinist Get on these forums search, read and ask questions,  they are a great resource.

Visit your local welding supply store if you have one.

Trade shows - SEMA,  Fabtech,  CNC West

Email Questions to the companies and ask questions

Phone -  Call and talk to the manufacture or tech support.

In person -  If your lucky enough to live close by drop in for a visit.

There are so many options and reasons to choose one part or brand over another.  We do not know what your situation is and what is best for you so we are presenting some points to ponder, questions and ask and documentation of what we did and why.

When we started looking and doing our research for our new system we used everyone of the items above except in person visits.  

Plasma Cutter

When it came to the plasma cutter selection we were lucky that we are close to Las Vegas the home of the SEMA show and Fabtech occasionally.  What is nice about these shows is that you can see all of the different products in one place. At the last SEMA show we were able to handle and cut with plasma torches from Hypertherm, Miller, ESAB, and Thermal dynamics.  

It one thing to see the units and read the specs its quite another to use them, pull out the consumables, check out the components and talk to the reps and pick their brains.  I like to ask them why is your better than theirs? She what they say and pit the reps against each other.  When you start talking about the higher end units your looking in the $3 -5 K range so you want to get it right the first time.

Why did we pick Hypertherm?  Click here to find out.

Plasma Table

When it came to the plasma table we had a few options.  We could build a table ourselves being a welding shop that would be pretty easy, then just buy a gantry to mount on it, or get a table and gantry combo or build it all ourselves.  If you don’t have a decent set of fabrication equipment / welder and time I would not recommend the build your own table option.   

We searched the web and Forums and looked at the options.  We read a lot of posts in the Forums and called and emailed the manufactures of many of the table and gantry systems.  Most of the smaller table manufactures will not be at the trade shows.   I think I have only seen Plasma Cam at the trade shows so its tough to compare in a hands on setting.  Several of the companies we tried to deal with did not have time to talk to us and seem bothered by all of our questions. Some took weeks to get emails back from.   If the customer service at this point is sub par how do you think it will be once they have your money.   There are a lot of good tables and gantry systems out there.   Here are some things to look for when it comes to the tables:

What is it made out of:  Steel / Aluminum - and what gauge

Does it come complete?  What else do you need to buy

Size -  What sizes do they offer and what are the axis travel distances.  Be careful here we saw some that were called a 4x4 table but had a cut area smaller than 4x4.

What type of drive system does it use - gear and rack, belt, or a combo.  We chose a gear and rack system with the option of doing a belt reduction kit later to increase accuracy if we so choose.  

Look at gantry, what are they using, wheels, bearings, bushing, tracks, linear guides, there are a lot of options, some are better than others and depend on the weight of your gantry and the amount of use the unit will see.

What is the weight capacity -  Pick the thickest material you would ever cut get the weight for a full sheet 4x4 or 4x8 add in the weight of the water if you have a water table and find out from the manufacture can it hold it.  What good is a 4x8 table if you can only put a 4x4 sheet on it?

Look at the Z axis - How much travel does it have, is it a floating head that will work with touch and go height sensing?  Is it compatible with your THC.

Are their options and upgrades?

How are the cables and the Torch leads run?

What other systems are compatible and not compatible with this table.  Its important to find out if they recommend a certain electronics package to go with their table for compatibility reasons.

In the end with all of the choices we chose the 4x8 Iplasma table from Precision Plasma  Click here to learn more

Electronics package

When we were looking for our electronics package we knew we wanted a one company solution for all of the electronics controls.  We wanted integrated torch height control and we wanted a packaged that could interface with our plasma cutter and make use of all of the automation features built into the Plasma cutter.

We found some really high end system that were great but out of the range of a small fab shop like ours.   We found that most were sold as part of a complete turnkey table option and not sold by themselves.  When looking for an al a carte electronics package the one that was everywhere and had great reviews was the Dragon Cut system from CandCNC.   Every forum we went to every one we talked to kept pointing us to CandCNC.    

They had everything we were looking for:  THC , CNC automation integration between our plasma cutter and their electronics.  They used the same software we were already using it was a good fit.  The table manufacture Precision Plasma was very familiar with the product and said it was fully compatible with their Z axis and floating head configuration.

To learn more about the Dragon Cut system from CandCNC please click here

Computer

One of the components in a CNC Plasma system is a dedicated machine computer.  This is not just any computer there are some special requirements for this computer.  Not really something you have to worry about in a turn key system but if you are building a system like we are make sure you know what work and what does not work.

Your computer should be a dedicated computer that is only used to control the machine.  You should not be running your  CAD or art software or games or other unrelated programs on this computer.  It is also best to avoid laptops for this as well due to the way some of their ports are configured.  Make sure to check with your electronics supplier and your cam and machine software supplier on what they recommend.   Mach3 has some pretty specific requirements.   For more on these requirements click here.

Software

We discussed software a little before.  Basically there are three programs that you use when working with a CNC Plasma Machine.  A drawing / CAD program like the very popular Corel Draw to design a part or an image.  That file is usually saved in a file format called dxf.  Then another program called a CAM or Computer Aided Manufacturing program comes into play.  You import your dxf file into this program and it prepares it to go from a drawing to tool paths that the torch will follow. You can program in and control direction of cut, speeds, lead ins, pierce delays.  You can array parts and nest parts in your cutting area.  After you complete this process with the CAM program you export your work in the form of G-code to a program that will use the G-code and tell the motors when and where to move and when the torch should turn on and for how long.

While simplified that is the basic idea.  Obviously there are many different manufactures of each of the three programs.   There is a lot of personal preference and past experience that comes into which program you go with as well as how big is your budget.

You can purchase a CAD program for several thousand dollars or get Corel Draw for a few hundred and do most of the same things.  One factor you have to consider is what type of work will you be doing?  Home shop, or business?  If you are dealing with industrial clients who are sending you parts designed and created in Auto cad or Solidworks it would be best if you had those programs.   There are free options out there that work decent for some applications.  Click here for more info on software.

Our first CNC Plasma machine can pre installed with SheetCam for the CAM Program and Mach3 for the machine control program.  We found these programs extremely easy to use, very inexpensive and capable of doing everything we needed.  We wanted to stay with this programs to save from having to learn something else new and for the fact that they worked so well there was no reason to switch for us.

Make sure what ever programs you do choose that they work with the other components in the system.

We were fortunate that our Dragon Cut System from CandCNC was configured to run with SheetCam and Mach3.

Summary

Once you get a list of all of the components you think you want talk to each manufacture and ask does it work with these other components. If they don't know watch out!  Do your homework check the forums and make sure before you buy anything.   All of these components have to come together and work flawlessly for you to get good results. For more info on the product we choose check out the Components of this build Page