DISCUSS: Plasma Cutter and Sheet Metal Tools Vote in January

We have talked for years about wanting to add a CNC plasma cutter and sheet metal tools to Hive13’s arsenal. I’d like to propose that we plan for that to be our next big purchase, to be put up for vote in January. This thread is to get input on make/model selection and to narrow down exactly how much should be included in the vote.

There have previously been debates about how large of a CNC table we would want/need, with some folks arguing for a 5’ x 10’ table like the big wood router CNC, and others arguing that a small 24" x 24" table would be plenty to get us started. The following are a few different models that span the size range as well as representing various build quality and feature ranges:

It’s easy to see that the prices, sizes, build quality, and features vary significantly. All of the systems above would allow us to cut anywhere from sheet metal to at least 1/2" thick steel, capability we don’t have now except freehand. The features I see as essential for a quality experience at hive13 are as follows (but absolutely up for debate):

  • Table size of at least 36" x 36" to facilitate sheet metal signs and box flat patterns
  • Water table to keep sparks and dust to a minimum
  • Torch height control with a machine control plasma torch so that we do not have to hack a high voltage system like some DIYers do
  • controller accepts standard g-code

Please add to that list if there is something I have missed.

I would also suggest that to get maximum usage capability with this type machine that we also get a sheet metal brake (bender) and a spot welder. This would allow members to design flat pattern parts that can be cut out on the plasma cutter, bent into shape with the brake, then welded together quickly to make very fast metal brackets, boxes, covers, etc.

For the brake, I’d recommend getting at least a 24" width model, but again, they vary a lot in thickness capability, possible bend geometry, and ease of use. some examples:

For the spot welder, they are all fairly similar, just varying reliability:

I’d love to hear everyone’s input on what direction we go hear! My plan is to post a vote for this stuff in the first week of January, and I’d love to see some good discussion and build to a general consensus before the vote goes live.

Thanks,

Kevin

I’m not going to pretend to know anything about them but will say I have a friend who showed me what the one at the Manufactory could do and it was very cool. If someone puts on a presentation highlighting the capabilities of such equipment I would very much like to attend. It would also better educate the H13 masses as to what they might support.

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I agree with John. I would like to understand what this equipment can do. I would also like to understand how members will be able to learn how to use this equipment. Classes, instructors, etc. Unfortunately, our “do-acracy” concept doesn’t really work with equipment that requires certification. I’m suspect that a one hour orientation session will not be adequate for most of us. I really would like to know how to use this (along with other certification required equipment). Thank you.

The certification for a plasma CNC would be very similar to the laser cutter! They function very similarly, just the plasma cuts metal up to 1/2" thick!

I vote “yes”. I know, I know it’s not up for a vote. But if it were…

My only consideration is that the bed exceed 2’x3’ as I envision that as my personal need. However, I’m not an expert on what size plate is generally available in without cutting charges.

Regards,
James

This discussion needs to be broken into parts.

The plasma cutter is more complex than outlined in the initial post.
These subjects deserve separate discussion
• CNC Software and Training – CAD, CAM and Machine Control
o Inclusion of the Box Bender implies design of boxes.
 This requires a CAD/CAM suite to create flat sheet output.
• Water Table – Water to fill and HAZMAT waste stream
o Some water conditioners are caustic to skin. Others are expensive.
o The conditioned water needs to be pH monitored and maintained.
o Once used the water is Hazmat
• Air/Gas – The Plasma cutter needs either condition shop air or Nitrogen or Argon
o Shop Air needs to be dry and oil free.

Can you do outline shapes similar to a laser?
• Yes, but it’s not running Lightburn.
• The software is different.
• The machine has more operating parameters. It’s more like the CNC router.

https://partners.bobcad.com/?source=P_474463
Plus a design package like Solidworks
or
https://www.langmuirsystems.com/software/fusion
https://www.langmuirsystems.com/firecontrol/guide
https://www.langmuirsystems.com/software/sheetcam

Design and fabrication of parts on the Plasma Cutter will need members to know the software.
Further, the training cycle needs to be supported long term.
We now have the following CNC Devices which require certification.

Lasers
Embroidery Machines
CNC Router
Roland CNC mill
Lathey Boy and his buddy Mill
Shapeoko

We do not have a class program that supports these machines. There are very few members who are certified on these machines.
Fewer are able to train or certify others. This is a problem.

It’s not going to be as easy as the laser.

Dave, on the plasma cutter I see your points as valid, but aside from the water table it all seems like a separate topics. We need an air drier for the metal room period from what I’ve heard lately. We need to be better about having certification training more often period. We will have to learn any software for any device we have.

On the actual topic of this discussion. I am strongly in favor of a turnkey package system for a CNC. Any size argument will need to accept that no matter how big you go, there is always something that won’t fit. So let’s be realistic in size. (We don’t need a 8ft X 14ft table)

As far as a metal break goes, I was firmly in the camp that mag breaks were needlessly complex. Then I saw a demo of the baileigh mag and it was pure sex. The BIGGEST advantage of a mag break for us is, that with a traditional break you have to plan your bends so that to don’t block yourself being able to do the next bend. With a mag break this is WAAAY more forgiving. You can do internal bends after an external bend. For those of us that don’t have years of fabrication experience, it will save a lot of projects the “wait, oops.” gremlin.

Spot welders… I’ve seen lots of videos on building them and we could for pretty cheap… or we could throw $200 at the solution and be done. We’d have one that is perfectly fine, because they are all petty much fine. IF we find that we use one so often that a basic model can’t perform to our needs or we burn it up from overuse… we could look at going up the scale to something beyond being perfectly fine…

I’ll try to cover these in categories:

CAD/CAM/Certification/Operation

  • Plasma CNC’s really are just like a laser, the operating parameters you control are Speed and Power, beyond that they just follow a contour. They also are less sensitive to alignment and cleaning/maintenance than the lasers are.
  • The free hobbyist version of Fusion 360 includes sheet metal design tools that work great, as well as toolpath generation for plasma cutters. The Langmuir machines even have a pre-configured post processor for it that ensures full compatibility without having to tweak the g-code.
  • there is also a nice low-cost 2D design and CAM package called SheetCAM that is similar to V-Carve that works with these machines, it is only $110, and I plan to include it in this vote.
  • Certification will be just like we do for every other similar machine. anyone who is familiar with running the big CNC will be able to very quickly get up to speed on these machines

Water Table

  • There are plenty of non-hazmat options for water table fluid. The one I found quickly that seems appealing is LubeClean GreenCut Plasma Arc Fluid.
  • The GreenCut fluid is specifically non-irritant, non-hazmat, and biologically friendly. Their literature states specifically that it may be disposed of in sanitary sewer.
  • It prevents corrosion, blocks bacterial growth, and eliminates smells form the water table.
  • With circulation and filtration it does not need to be replaced regularly, you simply add more water and concentrate as it evaporates to maintain tank level and PH. They state that they have multiple industrial customers who have not had to empty the tanks in 5-10 years of operation.
  • I will include the fluid (quoted at $207 for a 5 gallon bucket, gets mixed 20:1 with water) in the vote, as well as a circulation pump and filter

Plasma Air Supply

  • I will include a coalescing filter/separator and desiccant dryer in the purchase vote to be mounted on the machine
  • We can easily use the flexible hose air line that is already run to the welding shop, but it will certainly make sense to add a dedicated drop when we eventually decide to install a proper air distribution system

Plasma System Selection

  • I agree with Will that turn-key is the way to go here, because of that, the Langmuir Crossfire XR is the machine I’m leaning towards.
  • the XR is huge, at 4 ft. x 8 ft., which I actually think is bigger than is ideal (if it was available in 4ft x 4ft, that’s what I’d reccomend), but the fact that it is a 100% complete system, including controllers, computer, and plasma cutter all spec’d to work together makes it very appealing, particularly at less than 1/3rd the price of the lincoln machines.

Brake and Spot Welder

  • I think Will is spot on here
  • The mag brake is extra fancy, and costs more, but will greatly improve the accessibility of this stuff to members doing it the first time. It really make it easier to take an idea and make it reality without having much design background
  • The HF spot welder should do just fine, I see no point in spending more, as all reviews seem to indicate that it works great for low-duty use cases like ours.

You discuss the air supply. Your statement that a dryer/filter would be mounted on the plasma system, is premature. The whole air compressor need a good air dryer/filter system. I have been hampered now, when I try to sand blast. The system that we now use is very inadequate. When I start to sand blast I drain both the manual and automatic water separator, and by the time I have tried to use the blaster 10 minutes , both need to be drained again!

Easy enough to get and install. Just need to do it :+1:

I just found this company which has some really appealing plasma table models. They are similar is style to the Langmuir ones, definitely oriented towards the high end hobby market, but they have a 5’ x 5’ model, as well as having fully welded frame options for improved rigidity, durability, and table capacity.

Premier Plasma seems like another similar design machine with a 5’ x 5’ option: Premier Plasma CNC FT6060 Series 5'x5' CNC Table - Premier Plasma CNC

I am hoping to be at the Tuesday meeting this week to discuss CNC plasma cutter capabilities and collect/answer questions on this topic, please come with your curiosities!

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Before I put too much effort into finalizing a product list for a vote on this, I just wanted to get a temp check. Is this something folks are excited to see put up for vote?