More and more UK and Irish structural steel companies are investing in their own CNC plasma cutting machine. This allows for procedures that may have previously been outsourced to be brought in-house, resulting in greater control over their production.

What is our top recommendation when purchasing a CNC plasma cutting machine as a structural steel company?

Purchasing a CNC plasma cutting machine is often a large investment for a business and with so many different options out there it is important to choose the best option for you and your production requirements. With the right plasma machine and source you can expect to breakeven on your investment within as little as 2-3 years.

It is easy when comparing the different options to focus primarily on acquisition cost, opting for a lighter duty machine with a Hypertherm plasma source such as a MAXPRO200 or Powermax. However, this decision could end up costing you more in the long run than you initially realise.

One of the main causes of this unwanted additional cost is a result of imperfect hole quality. This will often require manual or automated secondary operations which are, of course, costly, time-consuming, and overall suboptimal.

“Bolt-Ready Holes” form a large part of the cutting requirements for a structural steel company therefore it is important to buy a plasma system that can deliver.

How can I achieve “bolt-ready holes” first time with minimal operator input?

Hypertherm have developed a specific patented technology called “True Hole” which is only available on their XPR and HPR plasma systems. This technology enables bolt-ready holes first time with minimal operator input, that are perfect for structural steel companies.

Difference in Hole quality between with True Hole and without True Hole
Are you a structural steel company who needs to cut holes with a thickness to hole diameter ratio of 1:1 or bigger in mild steel sheets? If this is the case, you need a robust plasma cutting table with the right plasma system, and a CAD/CAM software to match. With these ingredients, you’ll be able to achieve superior hole quality for most mild steel applications and you might even save a lot of money and frustration in the long run.

In the post below we explain everything in more detail.


Hypertherm offer a wide variety of plasma cutting systems. Read here to find out more about each range including the Powermax, MAXPRO200, and XPR that we discuss in this article.



Both systems have a tendency to produce a tapered cut because they do not have an autogas console capable of altering the parameters during the cut process. This taper can be just enough to prevent a bolt from fitting.


'Ding' as an effect of straight lead-ins

Tapered Hole in 10 mm MS using MaxPro200 Air/Air a) Top of Cut, b) Bottom of Cut

Further, the resulting plasma cut holes often have a “ding”. A “ding” is observed when a small amount of material is left protruding into the area of the hole during the lead-in/out. This small amount of material, again, can be just enough to prevent a bolt or pin from being inserted through the hole.


'Ding' as an effect of straight lead-ins

Inferior hole quality because of a “ding” – not bolt ready

One option to counter the above problems would be to output a larger diameter hole from your CAD/CAM software. However, this can produce a loose/tapered fit that is often unacceptable for structural steel companies.


It’s not just the hole quality that could hold you back but the cut surface. Cutting with air plasmas, such as the Powermax, can reduce the weldability of the cut edge. The nitriding and oxidation that occurs at the cut edge will often need to be grinded off prior to welding to prevent porosity in the weld.

What is Hypertherm True Hole?

As mentioned above, one of the major drawbacks of a Powermax/MaxPro200 plasma source is their inability to produce “bolt-ready” holes. So to address this, in 2008, Hypertherm introduced its True Hole technology to eliminate the need for any costly secondary operations.

This innovative technology adjusts various cutting parameters such as gas flow, amperage, and cut speed to enable high-performance plasma cutting machines to produce plasma cut “bolt quality” holes, 100% of the time, and without any additional operator intervention.

If you are interested in learning more, we have written a separate post on how True Hole Technology can benefit your business.

What is the best CNC plasma cutter for structural steel?

Structural steel companies should opt for a CNC plasma cutting machine that is robust, reliable, and equipped with Hypertherm True Hole technology.

Where possible it is advised to avoid cheaper and less robust machine designs as they might not be up for the task of your application resulting in poor cut quality and proving costly in terms of maintenance.

When comparing different manufacturers’ machines, we have highlighted some of the key things to look for when assessing the robustness of a machine in the image below.

'Ding' as an effect of straight lead-ins

What to look for in a Robust CNC Plasma Machine

Unexpected machine downtime can have a dramatic impact on production lines and often for structural steel companies, downtime is simply not an option.

Always select a manufacturer you feel will be able to offer fast customer support and machine services as a preventative measure but will also provide a fast response in the event of a breakdown.

Finally, a supplier which has easy access to both spare parts and consumables will be key to maximizing the use of your machine.


Hypertherm True Hole Technology
True Hole technology is currently only available on CNC machines fitted with Hypertherm’s High-Definition XPR or HPR plasma systems.

'Ding' as an effect of straight lead-ins

True Holes in 10 mm MS using XPR130 a) Top of Cut, b) Bottom of Cut

The XPR range represents some of the best plasma cutting technology ever, offering significant improvements on other earlier series. Some of the major advantages are listed below, all of which can increase productivity and reduce costs for your business.

  • Superior cut quality on mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminium
  • Faster cut speeds, increasing productivity
  • Increased piercing capability
  • Longer consumable life

High-Definition plasma technology is not only beneficial to those in the structural steel industry but can be very useful for those in the yellow goods industry and those involved in heavy and general fabrication.


To achieve superior cut quality, longer consumable life, and increased pierce consistency, an investment in high-definition plasma may be required. For an XPR system on a heavy-duty machine, the investment will start around £80,000 – £90,000. Not having these features, i.e. with a light-duty machine and a Powermax system can start from as low as “£28,000 – £29,000. The increased price of an XPR system will very likely pay for itself, however, with the increase in productivity achieved through lower operating costs(i.e. consumables and faster cutting speeds).

If you want to learn more about the price ranges of different types of plasma cutting machines, check out this handy price comparison table.

'Ding' as an effect of straight lead-ins

Mild Steel Cutting Speeds for Different Plasma Systems

Who can you contact if you need expert help?

If you are considering purchasing a CNC plasma cutting machine, it is always worth talking through your requirements with an expert. Here at Esprit, our team of experts would be happy to help you decide what machine and plasma system would be best for your business and applications.

Esprit have experience with all of the Hypertherm plasma systems including the Powermax, MaxPro, and XPR ranges discussed above. We are also able to offer a range of different machines suitable for a first-time plasma user through to the highly experienced. Our team of experts will gladly discuss your unique requirements and identify a tailored solution to your needs.

You are warmly invited to visit our facilities where we would be happy to show you the excellent cut results and hole quality of an XPR during a live demonstration.

Contact us today for more information or to book a live demo


Hypertherm, HyDefinition, HyPerformance, HPR, True Hole, True Bevel, XPR, X-Definition, ProNest and EDGE are trademarks of Hypertherm, Inc. and may be registered in the United States and/or other countries.

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