Since Hypertherm doesn’t make CNC cutting machines, how do I pick the best system for what I do?

By Jim Colt, Hypertherm
Posted on 05/31/2019 in SPARK the blog, Plasma cutting

It’s common to feel confused and even overwhelmed about how to choose a CNC cutting table manufacturer for your Hypertherm plasma system. It’s no surprise since there are as many as 100 equipment manufacturers of CNC plasma cutting machines in the U.S. and Canada alone. Then add in the fact that these machines can range in price quite dramatically. A low-cost hobbyist toy machine can be purchased for about $3,000, while the industrial machines used in high-production settings can exceed $200,000. Lastly, every buyer has slightly different expectations about performance so that’s why there are hundreds of model options.

In order to know how to navigate the market, it is important for me to explain what Hypertherm does do. We build the plasma power supplies, which can range from 30 to 800 amps, and are integrated into these machines. Table manufacturers buy the power supplies, torches, and consumables from Hypertherm. We also make ancillary equipment like height control systems, CNCs, and the CAD and CAM software that drives this cutting equipment.

Next, for further clarification, we should break the X-Y cutting machines into three general levels:

Entry level

Entry level machines are ideal for the serious hobbyist and small business owners who are looking for good cut quality but don’t need the machine to run constantly. A standard office computer or laptop will operate these cutting machines while basic motion control software will drive the electronics and plasma torch. The size of the X-Y cutting bed for this type of machine will range from 2’ x 2’ to 5’ x 10’ with pricing starting at around $8,000 and going up to $24,000. Entry level machines are compatible with Hypertherm’s Powermax line of air plasma systems. Pick your Powermax system based on the thicknesses and production levels you need.

Light industrial level

Light industrial systems are sturdier and built for low-level to moderate production. These machines are solid and will hold up for several years with minimal downtime. Like the entry level machines, some use a standard office computer or PC to drive the system, but others use an industrial level interface and servo drives for better acceleration and speed.

The size of the X-Y cutting bed averages between 4’ x 8’ and 6’ x 16’, while pricing ranges from $24,000 to $50,000 or more. Hypertherm’s Powermax line of air plasma systems are ideal for these types of machines, provided the machines are limited to non-high frequency arc starting. In addition, the MAXPRO200, a conventional oxygen plasma, is a good choice when advanced productivity and cut quality is needed.

Industrial level

Industrial machines can run for multiple shifts a day in high production shops. These machines are the most complex but are the easiest to operate in thanks to the advanced software and controls used to drive the motors. All industrial systems use a servo drive system and have industrially hardened computer numerical controls. The X-Y cutting bed size can be as small as 5’ x 10’ or as large as 40’ x 350’. Pricing starts at $60,000 but goes all the way up to $1 million for the larger machines.

Hypertherm’s HyDefinition and X-Definition plasma systems, which come with a 100 percent duty cycles, are made for these types of industrial machines. Each HyPerformance and XPR plasma model is rated for cutting specific metal thicknesses, but all provide excellent cut quality and can lower operating costs in high-production environments.

Here are five questions to ask yourself and your answers will help you narrow down the options:

  1. What size cutting bed do I need?
  2. How thick is most of the metal I’m cutting?
  3. How accurate do my cuts need to be (keep in mind higher accuracy = higher cost)?
  4. How much time will I spend cutting per week (plasma arc-on time)?
  5. How much experience do I have with CNC machines and CAD?

If you do want assistance from Hypertherm, complete this form and include your answers to these five questions in the “message” box. A representative from Hypertherm will contact you.

Finally, authorized Hypertherm OEMs are trained by Hypertherm and approved to sell Hypertherm products but do your research and choose OEMs that you like working with.