newbie question-plasma cutter and CNC systems

Hi all,
I am brand new to this listserve. Hopefully, this is the right avenue for advice, if there is a more specific newsgroup I should check, please
let me know!
I am a metal artist and find myself increasingly interested in a plasma cutter. I don't work in or own an industrial shop, I am a small time artist looking to increase my abilities w/ limited space and resources $$$. Can anyone recommend a good place to start for a plasma cutter and CNC system?
I have a bunch of questions... Can you find these things used and if so where? I have been told that Hypertherm makes a good plasma cutter compatible w/ most CNC systems. Anyone have experience w/ these? Any model recommendations? I'm thinking about the 600. Has anyone tried the kits such as Torchmate. How difficult is it to put those together? Has anyone had experience or can recommend a company that sells CNC systems? Aside from the kits which require major assembly and additional materials, can I find a CNC package for less than $7k? Would I be able to do work w/ just a plasma cutter and not a CNC? I'm guessing it would be difficult to manually cut out any intricate designs. Whether I cut manually or w/ a CNC how clean is the cut--how much grinding will I have to do after? Finally, I see a lot of cheap (price wise, not commenting on the quality) metal crafts at local craft fairs--you know things like wall mounted key holders and welcome signs w/ western theme cut outs. I have a hard time believing all these folks have plunked down $8 to $10k for a plasma cutter/CNC system to make all this stuff. Are there other options?
Thanks in advance for any advice or other resources! Heidi
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Hi Heidi You could buy the PlasmaCam software, design the items you need and have a PlasmaCam owner cut them for you.That would save you about $9000.00 in cutting table and plasma cutter costs not to mention dust control measures. I think quite a few craft type items are done to use up partial sheets left from cutting items for manufacturing. Sven

systems?
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Hi Heidi,
I have a plasmacam system that I'm very happy with so I'll try to answer some of your questions.

Few and far between, heavy industrial cutters are available but the smaller machines don't sit around long if at all.

Hypertherm makes a good product that's well supported, I have a 350 (replaced with the 380) that works with my table. People also speak well of Thermal arc products. For CNC you need a plasma cutter that does not use a high frequency start because it won't get along with the computer very well. You want to get a model that will cut thicker then your needs to allow for breathing room.

I looked at Torchmate and some other kits and also considered scratch built. I decided that I had enough projects awaiting my attention so I'd be better off buying a complete machine.

systems?
I can recommend Plasmacam.

Not that I'm aware off and If you do find one be sure to closely examine the quality of the parts,duty cycle, and the software.

Yes, people work with hand held plasma cutters all the time, and with practice cut to a high level of accuracy. You can also use patterns and a variety of fixtures for guidance.

Dross is a fact of life. Different materials and thickness' all have a "sweet spot" based on amperage, cutting speed and air pressure. When you find the right settings the dross will be minimal and just about fall off the work. I use a grinder with a cupped wire wheel to clean up most of my work.

The items you see at craft fairs are not necessarily made by the people selling them. Many things can be purchased or imported in quantity to make them cheap. I produce a number of items for local crafts people that they fold spindle or mutilate into the final product.
Be sure to consider the software packages, as they are not all created equal. The plasma cam software is easy to learn and use and has lots of features; but its more then you'll need if you are going to send things out to be cut. I can import files in a variety of formats as well as creating my own drawings. If you decide to design your own parts and have them cut, contact the person doing the cutting and see what file format they can accept. Some shops can accept files in a wide variety of formats (others have specific requirements) so you don't necessarily need to spend lots of money on a cad package. Other things you will need if you buy a cnc table are: a computer to run it, a good supply of dry compressed air, and last but not least ventilation and dust collection (the dust will destroy the computer, other machinery in you shop, and your lungs).

Enjoy the hunt
Andy
--
www.evolutionironworks.com




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