Our newest tool at MakeICT is a CNC plasma cutter, built from scratch by Curt Gridley our CNC lead and Jeremiah Burian our metal shop lead. We’re using it to cut precision designs through thick sheets of metal (3-20mm) that our laser cutter could not get through.
We’d been talking about a plasma CNC and its capabilities it was soon decided that we would ask members if it was something they would rally behind. We held a meeting for anyone interested and put a call out for ideas, concerns, and requirements. We knew we wanted to seek donations to purchase the actual plasma cutter. Multiple members stepped forward and raised $3,050 for the purchase. The components for the CNC Table were donated by Curt. We had multiple members step up to help run new electrical, work on individual parts of the table, and help move things around to get ready. Thomas Bloom worked on the LinuxCNC programming and interface.
None of us had ever built a plasma cnc before and we had little to no experience running one, so we ran into some hurdles, but now it is set up and working out wonderfully. Our advice for other maker spaces is just to do your homework if you decide to take on a project like this. Decide size, drive line, what programs you plan to use and plasma cutter specifications before anything. Our build process was over a 3 month period. If you need to get something up and running as soon as possible there are manufactured tables and kits on the market.
For members of MakeICT – Don’t be intimidated, you can learn to use this machine over time. First you’ll need designs made up in svg or dxf format. Inkscape is our favorite free open source tool to create designs, but there are lots of programs that can make DXF files. This machine only cuts in 2D, like the laser cutter. The ShopBot CNC router in the woodshop is known as “2 and a half D” because the router bit moves up and down at different depths in the material.
Using the plasma cutter requires metalshop safety authorization and then a special tool-specific authorization. Look for the CNC Plasma Class on our calendar.