This site has been getting a lot of visitors from the search engines due to my previous posts about the PlasmaCAM CNC Plasma Cutting Machine.
These visits have translated into quiet a few questions coming in via my contact form. Several people considering the purchase of a PlasmaCAM have received the DVD from them and have been asking me how much of it is true. After all, Stan makes it sound so easy to start creating anything you can imagine from metal with this machine. ;-)
As a result, I’m going to walk you through the video step-by-step and provide analysis to help separate fiction from fact.
If you’d like to print this out to keep handy while you are watching the video use the Print this Post feature (also at the bottom of the article) to format it a little better for that purpose.
For convenience I’ve embedded an excerpt of the video from the DVD.
If you would like the full DVD please contact PlasmaCAM and I’m sure they’ll be happy to ship you one out.
Let’s Get Started!
Below you’ll find the time marker in minutes and seconds, followed by my opinion on the issue presented at that time.
0:00 – 1:00: The DVD starts off with some shots of a wide range of parts and completed projects all cut by the PlasmaCAM.
Yes, it did cut all that stuff, though the pieces you are seeing have also been welded, finished and powder coated.
1:15: We first hear Stan Ferris’ voice asking:
“Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make these kinds of products with only a small amount of effort?”
Well, yes Stan, that would be nice! But frankly you can’t. Most of the projects shown required a considerable amount of artistic creation, which translates into hours and hours of digitizing followed by a considerable amount of cutting, welding, grinding and powder coating.
Metal fabrication is a dirty, sweaty, hot, dangerous, capital intensive business and should only be attempted by people who have adequate training.
Personally I’m a trained welder, blacksmith, bladesmith and power hammer operator. I had over a years worth of experience operating a plasma torch before I ever purchased a PlasmaCAM, and without it I’d have had major problems getting this machine to operate at times. I’ve also taken college level AutoCAD courses and am an expert with CorelDraw for graphic illustration.
1:51: Stan introduces himself as a:
“…nuts and bolts kind of guy…” who “…under normal circumstances I would not have tried to operate a computer controlled machine….”
Well, here are a couple of comments to get us started:
- If you are not computer savvy, do NOT purchase a PlasmaCAM. There is very little instruction regarding the use of the actual software, and the info provided comes in the form of a written manual.
There is a small amount of video instruction, but PlasmaCAM desperately needs to create video tutorials on how to use the features of this product. There is simply nowhere near the amount of training material available that I think there should be.
- I highly recommend experience using AutoCAD if you are going to do parts production, or CorelDraw (or another vector editing software package) if you are going to create artwork.
You are not going to want to use the PlasmaCAM software to create designs unless you absolutely have to. Think of it just as a clean-up and cutting package.
“The robotic cutting table plugs into your computer just like a printer.”
Not true anymore.
100% of the printers sold today plug into your computer using either a USB, Ethernet, or Wireless connection. The PlasmaCAM plugs in using the old style parallel port connection, and when I was setting my machine up this was the greatest source of issues. I had to call and get support from George (who is awesome!) to get mine working.
This is a bigger problem than you might think… Since the machine requires a parallel port you have to use a computer that has a parallel port built in. This will exclude many of the PCs available today and all of the laptops.
You cannot use a USB to Parallel port converter as it won’t work. If you purchase a PC without a parallel port then you’ll have to order an add in card, and these are almost impossible to find now days as well.
Make sure you have this covered before you purchase a PlasmaCAM!
PlasmaCAM is well behind the curve in the connectivity arena. Not only should the machine offer USB connectivity, it should really have a wireless NIC installed that allows us to control the machine over 802.11x.
Either of these would bring the machine into the modern age, but wireless would be vastly preferable.
“The machine uses your ordinary plasma torch to do the cutting. It’s easy to remove in case you need to cut by hand.”
Well, kind of. If by “easy” you mean “possible”. But it involves disconnecting cables, cutting plastic tie downs, plugging in adapters, remounting and calibrating things… You’re not going to really want to remove the torch unless you absolutely have to.
3:32: What Stan is demonstrating is not something you’re ever going to see happen in the real world. He’s taken a perfectly printed photo of a single leaf, on a completely white background and scanned it. He is then converting all of the colors except the white background to black, essentially creating a single filled in shape.
- After scanning it on my Canon MP830 I saved it as a bitmap and imported it into the PlasmaCAM software. At this stage I had to select all of the different shades of white on the right side of the screen to use as the background color – in other words, things not to recognize as completely black.
- Next, you select the size of “holes” for the software to try to fill in, and the size of random “speckles” for it to delete.
- Next you choose the resolution and smoothing for the image, which in this case won’t make a bit of a difference.
- Finally you have the imported image which, in this case – and most others, is going to require a LOT of editing before it is even close to ready to cut. We’re talking about hours of editing.
This whole process can be completed in 1/10th the time using CorelDraw. So if you don’t know how to use it go find a graphic art course at your local community college and learn Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw.
3:55: Scaling, rotation, cut path creation, copying and moving the image are actually as easy as they say. That is not to say they couldn’t use some improvement…
One of my biggest disappointments is that there hasn’t been a single software update since I purchased the machine, despite the fact that there are a number of areas that could be improved.
This fact, combined with the lack of USB or wireless connectivity support leads me to believe that software development at PlasmaCAM has ceased.
And this is one of my greatest sources of concern for the longevity of this product. All of PlasmaCAM’s competitors release frequent updates and improvements to their installed user base.
5:10: Frankly I do not believe that they were able to cut that entire sheet of leaves out automatically and unattended.
- Small or intricate parts tend to fall partially through the grates, but not completely. This leaves them sticking up and in the way of the torch head which in turn rams into it bending the part, knocking the torch out of alignment and often damaging the cutting tip.
- This happens constantly with my little Plasmites (hand cut prototypes here) if I don’t baby-sit the machine. The only way I’ve found to avoid this is to cut the parts and remove them one, or a few, at a time. This is probably why we don’t see the machine cutting more than 2-3 leaves.
5:17: Interestingly, I can’t find Cash Metals on the Internet anywhere. I must have Googled for 15 minutes with no luck. I even paused the video on the pages of their catalog and searched for product names, but nothing turns up.
Despite that, I believe that everything John Cash stated was accurate.
6:35: It’s really a shame that they don’t have a video library that shows how to use all the features they are demonstrating here. It would have made learning how to use the software so much easier…
9:05: Ok, this is important to note. Between the times the machine cut the sign out and Stan picked it up, it was obviously moved from a production area machine to the machine in the video.
The plasma cutting process spits out dust and smoke in copious quantities! The floor beneath the machine would be burned and filthy, and there is no ventilation system present. Finally, without gloves, Stan would not be able to pick up that metal seconds after the machine finished cutting.
You need to be aware that any plasma cutting process, including the PlasmaCAM, puts out a ton of airborne particulate matter that requires adequate ventilation.
When I went to the PlasmaCAM headquarters outside of Denver and got a demonstration of the machine they had it in a really cool little room that had ducting which vented the machine to the outside of the building.
If you are going to get a plasma cutting machine you need to plan to put it in an area where you can blow all of the smoke and dust either outside or through an expensive air filtration system.
9:10: Here’s a link to find more info about Dan Romano. He’s a metal artist and the things he makes are close to what I do. I agree with everything he said.
11:22: This is the best example in the video of what I was talking about when I said that small or unusually shaped parts would not quite fall through the grates. Notice that the piece which was just finished tilts up and is sticking up above the surface of the original material.
If the machine attempts to move over that area, which it might well do on its way to cutting something else, it will collide and screw everything up royally.
A collision of this sort will bend the piece that is sticking up, knock the torch head out of alignment, move the base material -making it difficult to line back up and restart cutting, and potentially even ruin the torch tip ($15 wasted instantly). I’ve also had the entire torch head assembly pop off the unit during one collision with thick material.
Bottom line, this is not good… the only way I can think of to solve this issue is to have a tighter mesh of grates to hold the material, but neither PlasmaCAM nor anyone else I’m aware of have yet solved this problem.
11:39: I’ve not yet tested the indexing of parts longer than 4 feet yet, mainly because I’m scared of ruining a large, expensive piece of steel. Whenever I do test it, I’ll post about it, but if anyone else has tried please provide some comments below.
Remember, you can cut things longer than 4′ but not wider than 4′! So, a 3.5’x7′ sign would work, but a 4’2″x 5′ would not. The table is a square 4’x4′.
13:21: Stan claims,
“This part is being drawn to exact dimensions in only 14 seconds.”
There is something strange with the video here, because Stan claims it’s just 14 seconds, but when I play it back it’s more like 11 seconds. This makes it seem as if the video has been time compressed.
Additionally, they would have to be typing in lengths – while creating the part – in order to make it “exact”, so I just don’t see anyone being able to go that fast.
11:15: Some people have asked about the thickness capability of the PlasmaCAM. Here we see it cutting 3/8″ thick material. Later you’ll see 1″. The thickness of cut is going to be determined by your selection of plasma torch, not the PlasmaCAM.
I use a Hypertherm 1000 which will cut at least 1″ thick material. But keep in mind that the thicker the material, the more it weighs. And you have to be able to load the sheet on the machine…
14:02: Jim LaTour from Turbo Engineering Corp provides good examples of what the machine can do. For his type of business the machine is perfect.
There is far more content on the DVD that I’m not going to go through. But if you are interested in seeing it, by all means contact PlasmaCAM and order the DVD. They’ll be happy to send it to you.
Now, I know this review comes across as being fairly harsh on the PlasmaCAM video, but please keep a few things in mind:
- I own one of these machines. I love it. You can take it from me when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.
- As a former VP of sales for a major multi-national company I think this is a fantastic marketing video. They have done a great job of emphasizing all of the strengths of this little machine.
- Since the video is so well done I worry that people with no welding, fabrication or plasma cutting experience will be lulled into a false sense that they could actually operate this machine. Trust me… you can’t!
- The PlasmaCAM is a serious hobbyist level machine that will perform admirably for people who are comfortable with computers, know how to use graphic design programs or AutoCAD, and have general fabrication experience.
Frankly, there is a short list that will let you know if a PlasmaCAM is right for you:
- Do you have space restrictions? If so, this is one of the smallest machines you can get.
- Do you have a forklift handy? If not, this machine is one of the only ones you can actually unload, build and move yourself (~300 lbs.)
- Do you need something reliable and simple to operate? With a little practice the PlasmaCAM becomes second nature.
- Do you want to wait 2-3 months to get a machine? My PlasmaCAM shipped one day after ordering. Other machines I was considering would have taken months to deliver after I paid for them.
I hope that this information was useful. If so, please drop me a comment below to let me know. :-)