How Does a CNC Plasma Cutter Work?

Plasma cutting involves using a hot plasma jet apparatus to cut through materials that can conduct electricity.

How Does a CNC Plasma Cutter Work?
Photo by Dries Augustyns on Unsplash

CNC, or computer numerical control, technology has been applied to a vast amount of instruments and machines. One of these includes the plasma cutter. Plasma cutting involves using a hot plasma jet apparatus to cut through materials that can conduct electricity. This can be done at a high speed and is incredibly efficient.

Of course, there's much more to a plasma torch than that simple description. Where does a plasma burner get used? Is it useful for sheet metal? What about a microwave plasma burner? To learn more about the plasma cutting process, here's what you need to know.

How does it work?

A plasma burner uses an electrode and nozzle and works by sending an electrical arc through a gas. This is sometimes a liquid hydrocarbon fuel that superheats when it is oxidized. The resultant gaseous hydrogen, combined with the electrical arc, is able to cut through solid metals. With a hand torch, the operator can control the flame volume of the burner as well as the temperature of the torch plasma flame. The high-speed plasma jet is then able to cut through metal, from a thin plate to even thicker materials. This is somewhat comparable to conventional drag torch technology, though a plasma cutter works a bit differently, especially due to the CNC component.

A CNC plasma cutter is essentially a microwave plasma torch that is carried by a machine. It's more effective than a kerosene torch and doesn't require so many liters of fuel to run properly. It can follow a path that is specified by a computer and is a much more efficient cutting method. The plasma arc is an incredibly effective workpiece that can accomplish cutting much faster than the human hand. It also removes the component of human error. On top of this, most any torch designed for a high level of manufacturing and cutting will incorporate both a mechanized torch as well as the plasma arc system.

Why is a CNC plasma cutter used?

A microwave plasma torch has numerous practical applications. Most commonly, it cuts metals that are then repurposed for a wide variety of uses. It can cut through sheet metal, straps, joints, pipes, bolts, and more. It can be used for gouging and even back-gouging weld joints through a microwave plasma burner is often used for removing defective welds as well. The CNC component is especially important for precise cuts that the human hand can't readily achieve. It's more efficient and more effective than letting an operator handle the cuts.

Especially with metal fabrication, precision is an absolute must. Faulty, imprecise cuts can cause structural errors and fabrication defects. These can cost a great deal of time and resources to correct. With the assistance of computer numerical control, the plasma cutter can more effectively handle accuracy and edge quality while ensuring they're both up to specifications.

What are the parts of a CNC plasma burner?

The CNC itself is more like a computer panel that has been designed to integrate with machinery. It will often come with a proprietary interface that allows for more precise control of the plasma arc. Some entry-level machines rely on laptops and desktops as their controllers though this isn't the case for many more sophisticated systems.

The system will also have an input/output controller that alerts the CNC to turn on at the appropriate times. The CNC reads the part programming, uses its I/O module, and can then begin to make cuts.

CNC plasma burners are incredibly effective tools that are helpful for wide-scale metal fabrication. As technology develops and CNC becomes more impactful, it's anyone's guess as to how it could impact hundreds of industries.

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Casey Chesterfield
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