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Shopping for a CNC Plasma Table?

Here is a Guide for what to look for

As I have said before on this website, I just purchased my 3rd CNC plasma table.  So I have a little experience when it comes to tables. I have learned a lot over the years and when it came to my 3rd table purchase I was very particular.  I knew what I wanted and what I did not want from my time and experience using my other two tables.

There are so many choices when it comes to tables, fully DIY, Kits, Turnkey and blends of all of those.  No matter which way you go everyone wants something that is going to work good, be reliable, and turn out a great product, Right?  Every table manufacture will tell you there table does this.  How do you sort through all of this?  Here is what I did when I set out on my quest for my 3rd CNC plasma table.

Start off by making a list of features you want -  Use this website and the Basics tab to learn the lingo and differences. Water or Downdraft, size, air scribe, budget, turnkey, kit, DIY, accessories, plasma cutter size and brand, software preferences, bolt together or welded, bearings or linear guides, ect.  Once you have compiled a list of your ideal plasma system you can start your quest.  

Find table Manufactures - Google,  Plasma Spider,  Facebook, are all resources to start looking for Plasma Table Manufactures.   There are no shortage of them these days so start picking them, write them down on your list and then head on over to the manufacture websites for these brands.  Compare their tables to your list and start eliminating companies that don’t match up to your list.  Don’t spend time looking at or reading reviews at this point.

When I did this I narrowed my search down to about 15 tables brands.

If you have any questions about the tables in your narrowed list, start calling or emailing the manufactures.  Pay attention to how quick they respond and how well they answer your questions.

Reviews - Be careful and keep an open mind.  There are a ton of opinions out there and you need to sort though, opinions, fact, fiction, and experience.  Just because someone does not know how to use something does not mean the product is bad. There are a ton of Facebook groups and website Forums out there.  Use Google join the groups and forums and lurk for a bit use the search function, read, watch the posts and start to form some options.  Don't go on there and say I’m new to this and want opinions on tables, its already been asked, search first, ask later.

Table visits - At this point you should have some standouts in your mind and be narrowing the list a bit more.   Seeing the tables in person is a must.  You will not be able to travel to every manufacture but there is a good chance someone has a table near you that you can go take a look at.   Contact the manufacture and get references or visit the manufacture in person and come prepared with a list of questions a note pad, camera ect and be ready to right down notes while you are there.  Ask a ton of questions and make sure you can see the machines run and work.   Take a look at the software they use and what’s involved from start to finish.

I live here in AZ and visited nearly every table manufacture in the state of AZ as well as NV and some in CA.  I went and saw tables from manufactures I was not even considering just to get information, opinions and see different designs operate. Since I could not visit every manufacture I sought out shops that had tables I wanted to see and scheduled times to drop in and pick their brains.   This can be a touchy thing so be considerate and careful.   Calling up a guy down the street and telling him that you want to come see his table because you want to start a Plasma cutting business down the street likely will not be well received so keep this in mind.  Over the years I have had many people, fly and drive to my shop to see my operation and learn about the process.   If this is something you would like to do EMAIL me.

Samples -  After all of the above steps I had a pretty short list of about 4-5 tables I was seriously considering.   So the next thing I did was request samples.   Being this was my third machine I had an eye for cut quality and I knew that I wanted a Hypertherm Plasma cutter.   So I created a small sample design and sent the file to the manufactures and told them to cut this on your table with a Hypertherm Plasma cutter, don’t finish it or remove the dross cut cut the samples in 18g, 14g, 10g, ¼ in steel and ship them to me.   I always offered to pay for shipping and materials.   Most never had me pay a thing.  When I got the samples back I compared them closely to the same thickness samples I cut on my machine.  Since the plasma cutter, file and material were all virtually the same it came down to the table in most cases.   It was amazing to see with almost every variable eliminated how different the cut results were.   Any samples that I received that were worse than my current table were eliminated as candidates.  After this step I had my list down to 3 tables.

Trade shows - This is a great option so get to see several tables and manufactures in one spot.  Some of the trade shows that I attend are:  SEMA, Fabtech, PRI, Offroad Expo, Shot Show, National Hardware Show.  Most manufactures will list what shows they attend on their websites.  If one manufacture is there your pretty likely to find others.  

Repeat previous steps -   Now that I’m down to the final three I concentrated on these manufactures and looked again at the websites, table, data, reviews, options, price, and all of the other variables I looked at before.  Asking more questions, doing more visits and getting more info where ever necessary.  

Take all the information that you get with a grain of salt and review it all carefully.   This is a huge purchase and one that you do not want to make a mistake on or repeat down the road.  

Other things to Consider:

One other thing I would mention is try and get or use a sample version of the software that each manufacture uses and play with it a bit and see if its something that works well for you and has a logical flow.  There will obviously be learning curves with any software package and this should not be a make it or break it deal but there are lot of software options and some are much easier to use than others.   

Support -  During the other steps if you found that you could not get a hold of the table manufacture or did not get calls or emails back this is a big red flag.  You are going to have problems and questions after the purchase.  Look at the support options available, hours, after hours, phone, email, remote log in capabilities.   These are critical components of the purchase ensure these are good and in place.

Warranty -  Is there a warranty, what does it cover and, how long does it last.

Budget -  Many table manufactures these days offer in house financing and there are always, banks, loans and business equipment finance companies.  Carefully review the terms and conditions and weight the cost of finance over purchase.   I get asked all the time if CNC Plasma cutting is profitable, and can it pay for the table and equipment.  Absolutely it can but just like anything else its dependant on you and how hard you work.   You get out what you put in.  I have used 0% credit card terms or partial loans on all of my tables to some small degree.  I do not like operating on credit or making payments so I ensure I have a plan and a very limited window of payments or loan term.  Minimizing dept is critical for operating a business. Delaying a purchase and saving up a bit is a wise and safe bet.

Summary -  Getting into CNC Plasma can be a big and costly step and you need to make the best decision the first time around.   Make sure you use multiple sources for your decision making, take info with a grain of salt and consider the source. Taking info as gospel from someone with no experience on their first table can lead you down the wrong path.  Go see the tables in person when ever possible.  Its so much different in person.  Ask lots of questions, confirm, compare and challenge anything you hear or see.   I hope you use this website as well since that is the whole idea behind it to gather information to help you make a decision.   If you have questions or want honest answers about my experiences you can always email me, call me or set up and in person visit to my shop.

Thanks for reading! And happy hunting!

Brian - Desert Fabworks LLC