How long has your company been in business?
We offered our first pantograph shape cutting machine in 1979. It used a magnetic tracing head to guide a manual oxy-fuel torch. We began selling CNC shape cutting machines in 1998, and we now have CNC systems throughout the U.S. and in 85 foreign countries, in addition to thousands of pantograph units in the field. Since 4 out of 5 new businesses fail within the first few years, don't buy a CNC machine from a new company that probably won't be there for continued support, parts, etc. Ask how long they've been in business.
What type of support do you offer after the sale?
We are proud to offer the best support in the CNC Cutting System business. We have a team of trained technicians whose sole purpose is to help keep your machine performing for years to come. We offer free unlimited support via telephone or email. We can do this, despite having thousands of machines in the field because they simply work. There is no greater testament to product reliability. Don't be limited by purchasing a machine from a company that only has one or two people available to support you after the sale. You will be losing money every minute that your machine is down. We make sure that time is as short as possible.
Why are your gantry units sold in kit form?
We sell many different models, some of which are available in kit form, and some in finished "bolt-together" form and some can be dropped at your location complete and ready to run. This gives our customers a choice of saving money by performing some of the fabrication themselves, or saving time by buying a unit that can be running immediately. An overwhelming advantage of the availability of a machine in kit form is that it can be made on a much larger scale than would be possible with a machine that comes shipped in one piece in a crate.
How big can a Torchmate machine be?
We have tables available in sizes up to 11' x 40' that can be shipped anywhere in the world.
What are the differences between the Torchmate 1, Torchmate 2, Torchmate 3 and Torchmate 4?
Do you have a video of your machine available?
It is our goal to give you a realistic idea of what you can expect from our CNC Cutting Systems. Professionally made video's can be deceiving. Rather than make a CD or DVD that you would have to wait a week to receive, we have developed a small library of film clips that you can see immediately. We will be adding other film clips over time.
Why are some of your accessories options, rather than being included in your kits?
Even $4,000 to $6,000 is a substantial investment for many people. Our accessories are modular, rather than being built in to our machine's design. This means they can be added when a customer's finances permit. A customer can start making money with his or her machine, and use that income to pay for subsequent purchases such as our torch height control or our automated Z axis for woodworking.
We want every Torchmate cutting system owner to be successful. If they become successful, they will buy a desired accessory later, plus they will be another Torchmate advocate. You can contact some of our customers and get their views. Give our sales line a call toll free at (866) 571-1066 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get a list of references.
How should I support the material being cut?
Any surface that supports your material is sacrificial, meaning that it will need replacement over time. The best way to support your material is through the use of individually replaceable strips of steel. The strips should be 3/16" thick, and at least 3" wide. As you use your plasma cutting table, the strips will eventually become badly damaged, and you can first simply invert them, and ultimately replace them on an individual basis. The strips are quite inexpensive, and you can have your steel supplier cut enough for you to complete your table, and some spares for replacement purposes. Stay away from one-piece support surfaces that must be completely replaced when only a small area becomes unusable.
We can supply you with 4' long slat supports, with 3/16" wide slots cut every 3 inches. The slat supports are priced at $47.50 each. You would need 4 of them for an 8' long table. The slat supports do not come in contact with your cutting arc, and will last indefinitely.
Why do your systems use stepper motors instead of servo motors with encoders?
You will see manufacturers of similarly priced machines argue the superiority of servo motors over stepper motors. They present an elaborate smoke-screen of technical talk in an effort to appear convincing. Both kinds of motors have a place in industry. The key to the matter is in the application.
We tested our machines extensively with closed-loop servo electronics and motors, and measured positioning and repeatability with a dial indicator that read tenths of a thousandth of an inch. We found the stepper based system to be slightly more accurate, more reliable, and more durable, with less set-up time. Both the servo and stepper versions were mechanically more accurate than the plasma process, itself.
We fitted our test machine with 264 oz. in. servo motors of an American manufacture. No accuracy or reliability advantage over stepper motors was observed. Operation was slightly quieter than with steppers, but control over torch movement when jogging was more difficult.
Servo motors rely upon encoders to provide feedback to the computer as to their position. The computer then constantly corrects positioning errors. Stepper motors suitable to the application do not get out of position in the first place.
Following directions to a location in a strange city is an analogy. A servo motor would be constantly calling in it's location, and constantly being told where to go from there. A stepper motor would start off with a detailed set of driving directions, and would not need to call.
The argument that a stepper motor loses steps is pure bunk. This is no more likelihood of this happening on a properly functioning system than an encoder on a servo motor mis-communicating its position. If the machine runs into an obstacle and is stopped, a stepper motor will skip steps until you pause the machine. A servo motor will stand there and fight itself, possibly burning up or breaking a gear tooth.
Stepper motors' torque is good even at the low RPM required for CNC plasma cutting. The torque decreases as RPM increases. Servo motors, particularly tiny ones such as the recent crop of "Intelligent Motors" you may have seen recently, must be run at very high speeds through planetary gearboxes to produce sufficient torque to move a machine's gantry. That is like driving your car around in low gear all the time so you could climb hills. This produces motor wear, and can generate distorted cuts if the gearboxes have too much backlash.
While servo motors are necessary on heavy machinery for which sufficiently powerful stepper motors are not available, they have no advantage over stepper motors on a CNC gantry cutting table like Torchmate.
Manufacturers who use servo electronics as a marketing argument are likely offsetting their cost by cutting corners elsewhere in the machine. The additional cost of servos could be much better spent on the physical machine, itself.
I would like to see one of these machines in operation, if it is at all possible. Where can I go to see a demonstration?
The costs of having dealers throughout the Country with demonstration machines on their floors would probably triple the price of our machines, if it could be accomplished at all. It is a rare welding supply distributor that can take a customer into a back room and demonstrate any CNC plasma cutting machine. They simply don't stock them. In some cases, a sales person will take a prospective customer to the site of an existing owner for them to take a look at an operational machine. This takes a half day of the salesman's time, which the customer ultimately ends up paying for.
We have dealt with this need by asking our existing Torchmate CNC machine owners to volunteer for our manufacturer's representative program. Those selected for participation will have their name and phone number added to our customer demonstration point map at the address below. We try to avoid selecting multiple customers within a commuting area.
For each person receiving a demonstration who ends up purchasing a system, the rep. who provided the demo will be sent a check for $100.00. This only applies to program participants. We now have approximately 22 such demonstration points throughout the Country. We hope the number will continue to grow. We make every effort to respect the privacy of customers who have not volunteered to contribute their time in this manner. View our demonstrations locations map. If you are interested in making your shop a demonstration shop, please contact us.
I have seen machines that let you use your manual plasma torch. Why do I have to purchase a machine torch If I buy your kit?
Vertical machine torches have been the industry standard for many years, and are the most convenient torch to use in a coordinate drive shape cutting machine. Their rack and pinion type mount makes it easy to adjust your tip height even while cutting. The tip of a machine torch is clearly visible, so you know exactly where you are going to start cutting, and can easily watch your tip-to-work distance.
Another important advantage is that a machine torch is always perpendicular to the material being cut. If a torch is even a couple of degrees from the vertical position, the cut will be affected. While a manual torch might look like it is aimed straight downward, it could be off vertical by as much as 10 or 12 degrees. It is necessary to periodically change the electrode and nozzle in your plasma torch. With a machine torch, all you have to do is raise it and replace these parts in seconds. There is no need to physically remove the torch to change consumables.
Manual torches are designed with a head angle that enables you to hold the torch easily in your hand. It is an extremely awkward design for mounting on a machine. The collection of brackets and clamps necessary to somehow rig a manual torch on a machine often obscures the tip of the torch. That is a terrible handicap. Also, some means of adjusting the tip height of a manual torch must be built into the machine. You probably end up paying more for the hodge podge of brackets and fixtures to mount a manual torch than the cost of a machine torch and torch holder. You are paying for the shop time of the manufacturer instead of the right torch. Again, compare the bottom line price of the systems.
A manufacturer who designs a CNC cutting machine around a manual plasma torch is targeting hobbyists and other non-commercial users. We now have available a new 4' x 4' Small Shop Machine that can be supplied with a specially designed manual torch holder that overcomes many of the drawbacks described above.
What sort of guarantee is given on your electronics?
The electronics have a 1 year manufacturer's warranty. The rest of the machine consists of mechanical parts designed for far more severe applications than ours, and do not require a warranty. Almost all the machine's mechanical components are readily-available "off-the-shelf" items available from industrial supply companies.
Do I need your automatic torch height controller?
It is impossible to level a 4' x 8' steel plate to the extent that the torch tip will maintain approximately 1/8" tip-to-work distance. This is particularly true when you are cutting thin plate that reacts to the heat by bowing up or down. You can either follow the torch around and adjust the torch holder knob as necessary, or purchase this accessory that does it for you with no involvement on your part.
Our automatic torch height controller constantly monitors the distance between the torch tip and the work, and makes adjustments without any human intervention. We do use an intelligent servo motor in our height control, since the torque requirements for raising and lowering a torch are limited. Our height controls are produced for us exclusively by a professional engineering firm.
Don't confuse our automatic torch height controller with our optional automated Z axis, which uses your PC to control a router, or a similar device that requires coordinated x, y, and z motion. The automated Z axis is not intended for plasma applications.
What kind of computer do I need?
It is best to use two computers, one in your home or office to develop your shapes, and another computer in your shop that is dedicated to your machine. The shop computer can either be a desktop or laptop model, and should be at least a low-end Pentium running Windows 2000 or better. When used with a Hypertherm Powermax series plasma cutter, there is no high frequency interference problem.
Installation of the Torchmate driver software is a 10 minute chore, and generally requires no additional configuration.
I have noticed that some manufacturers use a spring loaded device to hold their drive gears against their machine's gear rack. Why is that?
Standard gear rack is produced with a square cross section, when viewed from the end. The vigorous machining involved in cutting the teeth on the rack can warp it so that it has an almost imperceptible bow in it. It is also necessary to bolt or weld it to some sort of support base, since it is too flimsy to support itself for any distance. Some manufacturers deal with this by spring loading the drive gears to hold them against the rack, even if it isn't totally straight.
Torchmate uses proprietary gear rack in which the teeth are cut into the edge of a 1 1/4" cold roll steel bar. This thickness prevents warping when the teeth are cut. The rack can be adjusted on the machine to be uniform throughout the machine's length. This avoids the binding and possible tooth jumping associated with spring loaded gear engagement. The ends of each gear rack section are machined so they can be butted together without the spur gear detecting any joint.
Can I use your CNC system with oxy-fuel?
Plasma is essentially a thin material process, and oxy-fuel may do a better job when cutting mild steel thicknesses above approximately 1/2". It can easily be performed with our system. You merely have to purchase a 110 volt a/c activated solenoid valve, which we can supply. This will permit the computer to control your cutting oxygen. You must use a 3 hose oxy-fuel cutting outfit, so your pre-heat oxygen can be independent.
A bit more on the subject of plasma vs. oxy-fuel: When you mount a plasma torch in a machine, the piercing capacity is reduced by about 50%, because you can't tilt the torch head. You just have to blast your way straight through. If the plasma cutter doesn't have the amperage to do this, molten metal splashes up and fouls your electrode and nozzle. Starting at a drilled hole or an edge allows you to pierce at full capacity.
Plasma is faster than oxy-fuel on thinner materials, but that speed advantage drops off sharply as you get into 1/2" and thicker material. Another factor is the 3 or 4 degree bevel that plasma produces in the cut face. This is not particularly noticeable in thinner material, where the bevel does not have as far to travel. A 1" diameter hole cut in 1/2" plate may well be 7/8" at the exit point. Oxy-fuel does not produce this bevel.
Of course, a cnc plasma cutter can cut aluminum, stainless steel, and other non-ferrous metals. Oxy-fuel limits you to steel with a carbon content.