CNC Plasma Cutter Guide

Today, we are going to place the focus on a particular machine tool, the CNC plasma cutter. In the modern manufacturing and engineering sector, machining is a fundamental approach to create parts and components for numerous applications. Machining is a term broadly describing the techniques that fabricate a component by cutting the unwanted materials away from a workpiece. CNC Plasma cutting is a relatively new technology, at least compared to more conventional machine tools that perform similar machining tasks including mills, drills, presses, lathes, etc.

What is a CNC Plasma Cutter?

A plasma cutter machines a workpiece by means of thermal energy, as opposed to mills or lathes that cut with a cutting bit. Characterized by the way it cuts, it is more like an EDM machine. They both cut materials with energy and they can only cut the electrically conductive materials. Plasma cutters are highly developed and usually incorporate the CNC system to assist the process.

How does it Work?

The traditional cutting bit is replaced by a nozzle that ejects a high-definition plasma torch. It acts as the cutting tool that forms. It is a high-precision, effective, yet cost-saving method. Based on the materials to cut, a plasma cutter could utilize compressed air, nitrogen, oxygen, methane, or argon-hydrogen mixtures.

The plasma torch generated with compressed air is a low-current cutting process that can cut workpieces with up to 1-inch thickness. Nitrogen and methane torches work well when cutting thin stainless steel. Oxygen torch is ideal for cutting mild steel, but it leaves rough marks on the cut surfaces. The argon-hydrogen mix torch is capable of high-quality cuts and leaves smooth surfaces. Further, it processes materials more than 3-inch thick.

How does Plasma Cutting Work, Hypertherm Asia Pacific


Plasma Cutting Mechanism Explained

The cutting process starts with the machine forcing compressed air or gas through the nozzle at a predetermined speed. As the air passes through the nozzle, an electric arc is introduced to the air. The electric arc combining the compressed air generates the plasma torch. The plasma torch (with extremely high thermal energy) melts the material almost as soon as they make contact.

One of the key features of this cutting method is that it generates very few chips during the process (since the materials are burnt and vaporized). Therefore, chip evacuation is less of a concern. Moreover, because there is no rotating cutter involved, tool runout or drift is no longer an issue, ensuring a more accurate and precise cutting environment. Here is a video explaining how the plasma torch is created in detail.

How does CNC Assist the Process?

CNC (computer numerical control) is a common and necessary element in today's precision machining sector. And plasma cutters are no exception. To control the process with CNC, the variables and parameters such as power, direction, path, speed, etc. should be pre-programmed. After these parameters are set, the CNC system can control and monitor the cutter to execute the operations automatically.


Since the invention of plasma technology, it has been used in the industry for about five decades e. Though this can be difficult to manage, it ensures a very efficient and precise cutting process. CNC plasma cutters can handle almost all electrically conductive materials, including steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and copper. These are the most common materials in industrial practice.

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