cnc plasmas

Why would you invest in a CNC plasma cutting machine, and not a laser or waterjet?

Every type has its strengths and weaknesses. And these are some of the pros and cons you’ll find with CNC plasma cutters:

Low Purchase Cost

Plasma cutters, like any other CNC machine type, can have a wide cost range, depending on the features you want. Generally, however, they cost the least to buy. Laser cutting machines are by far the most expensive to purchase, with waterjets being somewhere in the mid-range.

Low Operating Costs

Plasma cutting machines again win here. Remember, you must factor in the power, gases, consumables, abrasives, and routine maintenance of all machines you’re comparing your plasma cutter to. Plasma cutters tend to cost around $15/hour to maintain. Lasers are just slightly higher at $20/hour. And waterjets usually come in at the most expensive – $30/hour.

Production Rate

No cost comparison is complete without a production rate comparison. And here’s where CNC plasma cutters really shine. Typical cutting speeds range from 60 – 200 ipm. Laser is significantly slower at most thicknesses, as it cuts at round 20 – 70 ipm. However, waterjet is far and away the slowest of all. It cuts at 15 ipm at the fastest, and can fall to just fractions of an inch per minute.

Edge Cut Quality

Here, plasma cutters get humbled a little. Admittedly, waterjets do give the squarest edge cut, with absolutely no dross or pierce spatter. Laser comes in a close second because it can leave some dross and pierce spatter on thicker and stainless steel. Plasma tends to give the lowest edge quality. It leaves a slightly beveled angle, causes some dross, and creates more spatter than laser.

Precision Cutting

Here again, plasma cutters come in last. They create some heat distortion (which you can reduce by cutting under water), have a tolerance of +/- .020”, and a typical kerf width of .150”. Laser is the second most precise, with typical part dimensions being +/- .005”, and kerf being around .025”. Waterjet is again the most precise, as cut quality remains around +/- .005” and kerf width around .035”.

Does a CNC Plasma Cutter Make Sense for You?

Those are the facts about CNC plasma cutters. Like any CNC machine, they have their pros and cons. Now you know them and how they compare, and you can make the smartest decision for your business.


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