#1 - Stability: Is the cutting table fully-welded and rock solid? Can it easily handle heavy plate (2 inches and more) on a daily basis? Or does it wiggle when you start cutting? Stability of the cutting surface allows all of the components to work together as accurately as possible. Look for a machine that is specifically designed to be heavy-duty, not one built as inexpensively as possible.
#2 - Easy to Use: How productive is a plasma cutter if it is difficult to use? Sophisticated machinery and software doesn't have to be difficult to operate. Pay attention to which nesting software is included. High quality machinery is paired with high quality software, which will allow you to take full advantage of the capabilities of the equipment. Although a CNC machine may seem complicated, the CNC software will take most of the guess work out of set-up and cutting. Even a first time operator (with just a little training) is capable of producing outstanding results. Increase your productivity and your bottom line with a machine that is easy to use and incorporates cost-saving features. Look for a plasma cutter that is simple to learn and operate.
#3 - Durability: The best plasma cutters are designed and built to exacting machine tool quality standards. They are built to be strong, heavy duty and durable. A precision designed, fully welded plasma cutter is built to hold its' advertised speed and accuracy both when new and after many years of heavy service. Look for a one that will outlast the competition.
#4 - Speed: With a CNC plasma cutter, no preheating is required, so the torch can begin cutting immediately. It also must have tight integration with nesting software to be as fast as possible. Depending on the material being cut, look for speeds up to 500IPM (inches per minute).
#5 - Accuracy / Precision: Pairing state-of-the-art software and high precision components, costly secondary operations are nearly eliminated. The torch head is computer controlled, creating clean, sharp cuts. Parts are cut accurately the very first time. Look for a plasma cutter that has had all of the guide surfaces machined in a single setup. The resulting machine is not only very heavy duty, but very precise.
By choosing a cutting machine that incorporates these five items, you will have a high quality machine capable of offering near-laser cut quality and accuracy at a fraction the cost.
Like anything else, you get what you pay for. Be willing to pay a little more for a high-quality CNC plasma cutter and you will have an accurate, reliable and profitable machine which makes money, year after year. Buying quality is never a mistake.