Thoughts on adding a router to your CNC plasma table or purchasing a combo system

By Jim Colt, Hypertherm
Posted on 06/28/2019 in SPARK the blog, Plasma cutting

Some customers consider adding a router to their plasma machine, and they ask for my opinion on it. Although there are OEMs who make plasma machines that include a router, I’m personally wary of this kind of combination system. It’s because the mechanics and motion of a router and the Powermax are very different. The CNC drive systems, motors, electronics, and z-axes needed for each process are not the same.  

More specifically, a CNC plasma machine needs to glide with even motion. The torque of the drive motors must accelerate smoothly, but also quickly, to reach optimal cut speeds. Since the plasma arc is electrically charged gas, it melts metal, so a high tool-to-work torque is unnecessary. The heat of the plasma arc liquefies the metal and the secondary plasma gas blows the molten metal away from the plate.  

For CNC routing, it’s the total opposite. Often compared to milling, routers need high tool-to-work torque.  These power tools can drill, bore, and cut multi-dimensional groves, but materials must be clamped down to the cutting bed. The force of the router can push or shift the material out of place. Since routing grinds away material, tool speed is just a fraction of what automated plasma requires.

By choosing a combo CNC plasma and router machine, this usually compromises either the plasma system or the router, and in some cases both tools are compromised. Again, the drive motors, gear reductions, and material holding methods are different. My advice is to purchase two separate systems. You’ll gain improved system performance, reduce machine wear, and neither system will be in competition for cut time.