Plasma Cutting FAQ’s

What is plasma cutting?

Plasma cutting is a process in which an accelerated jet of hot plasma cuts through metal.

How does plasma cutting work?

Plasma cutting generates an electrical channel of superheated, electrically ionized gas, or plasma. The gas, which can be shop air, nitrogen, argon, or oxygen, creates an electrical arc that conducts itself through a constricted opening on the torch head to cut the metal. The torch is mounted on a CNC table, or XY table. A CNC controller programs the torch to move in a specific profile or pattern to cut the part.

What are the basic components of a plasma cutting system?

A plasma cutting system consists of the plasma arc power supply and torch, and the CNC controlled table. The torch is mounted onto the table and the CNC controller moves the torch around in x-y axes. Often the CNC can also control the torch in z-axis for full 5-axis cutting.

What type of gas does a plasma cutter use?

The type of gas depends on the metal being cut. For mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, etc., the gas is usually oxygen (O2), nitrogen (N2), or other mixed-fuel gasses (hydrogen, argon, nitrogen, etc.).

How hot is a plasma cutter flame?

While it’s impossible to measure, theoretical calculations have shown a temperature of above 40,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than the sun. Anything in its path is disintegrated.

How much maintenance does a plasma cutting machine require?

There is very little maintenance required with a plasma cutter.

How long does a plasma cutter tip last?

Plasma parts should be replaced every 3-4 weeks.

What is the initial capital investment required for a plasma cutter?

The initial capital investments to purchase a high-definition plasma ranges from $100,000 – $400,000, depending on the size of the machine.

What are the operating costs of a plasma cutter?

Operating costs consist of electricity, water, compressed air, gasses, and consumable parts. Plasma cutters cost approximately $5 – $6 per hour to run.

What part sizes can a plasma machine cut and at what accuracy?

Plasma is ideal for cutting larger parts, typically ranging from 1 inch up to 20 – 30 feet, with accuracies ranging from +\- .15-.020.

How thick of a material can a plasma cutter cut?

By nature of the plasma technology, plasma is limited to cutting about 2 inches of mild steel. In stainless steel, the plasma can typically cut up to 1 ½ inches.

What applications are best suited to plasma cutting?

Ideal applications for plasma include cutting steel, brass and copper and other conductive metals for use by fabrication shops, automotive repair and restoration, industrial construction, and salvage and scrapping operations. Stainless steel and aluminum can be cut by plasma, though are not ideal due to the reflection of the torch and low melting point of the plasma cutter.

Can a plasma cutter do secondary operations on a pre-cut part?

Yes. Through the AKS laser alignment tool, an operator can load the table with an existing part located through the laser alignment tool and cut additional feature into the part.

Can plasma cutters etch material?

Yes. In plasma cutting, recent improvements with the Hypertherm XPR, using argon, offer excellent etching into mild steel, stainless steel or aluminum. Previously, nitrogen etching was available, but results were less accurate.