Laser and Plasma Cutting Help Drive Manufacturing

Laser and plasma cutting systems are both used in the manufacturing space, easily readying metal for use across a host of industries. While similar, laser and plasma cutting systems are not interchangeable. Each has its own advantages, along with recommended applications. So, laser cutting vs. plasma cutting: what’s right for your organization? Let’s dive into the specifics.

Laser Cutting vs. Plasma Cutting: What are They?

Laser Cutting

Though laser cutting may look to be a modern process, the first prototype dates back to 1960. The design was later adapted by Western Electric in 1965, which used laser cutting machines to cut holes in diamond dies. By the mid-1970s, the company was producing laser cutting machines at a rapid rate for commercial use.

As its name suggests, laser cutting uses a laser to cut materials for industrial applications. It may also be used for artistic purposes, but it’s mainly used for manufacturing with aluminum, stainless steel, mild steel, and titanium. Common industries that use laser cutting include the aerospace, construction and automotive sectors, among others.

How is the laser created? The laser is directed through optics and computer numerical control (CNC) to direct the beam for a precise cut. Inside a special machine, there’s stimulation of lasing materials through electrical discharges or lamps inside a closed container. As it’s being reflected internally via a partial mirror, the lasing material amplifies until it has enough energy to escape as a stream of light. The light is focused at the metal by mirrors or fiber optics that direct the beam through a lens, intensifying it, and allowing it to easily make an exact cut.

Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutting is even older than laser cutting, with the first prototype invented in the 1950s. A company called Thermal Dynamics sold its first plasma cutting system to Ryerson Steel for processing large quantities of stainless steel. Since then, there have been many advancements in the technology, leading to highly efficient, durable, and reliable machines on the market today.

Plasma cutting involves using ionized gas to melt and expel material, making cuts in metal. Plasma cutters are most often used in fabrication shops, automotive repair and restoration, industrial construction, and salvage and scrapping operations. The specialized machines can cut any electrically conductive metal, including steel, aluminum, copper, brass, and other ferrous and non-ferrous materials.

So, how does the plasma cutting machine actually work? It sends an electric arc through a gas that is passing through a constricted opening. The gas can be shop air, nitrogen, argon, oxygen, or another type of gas, depending on the operation. The machine elevates the temperature of the gas so much that it enters a fourth state of matter—plasma.

Laser Cutting vs. Plasma Cutting: What’s Right for Your Business?

Whether a laser cutting or plasma cutting system is right for you depends on your organization. Laser cutting systems are typically more expensive to operate but they offer a level of detail that plasma cutting doesn’t. If you’re looking to do more engraving details or cutting out small shapes from metal, a laser cutting system will be right for you. However, if you’re looking to make simple cuts, a plasma cutting system will be the best option.

It will also depend on what kind of metal you’re cutting. Plasma cutting systems can cut through thicker sheets of metal than laser cutting systems. Plasma can cut through metal up to 3 inches thick, whereas lasers can cut through .5 inch thick aluminum, .75 inch thick stainless steel, and 1 inch thick steel. However, plasma can only cut through metals that conduct electricity, whereas lasers can cut through most types of metal—excluding copper—along with wood, plastic, glass, and other materials.

Still Not Sure What’s Right for You? Turn to the Experts

At AKS Cutting Systems, we’re well-versed in matching our customers with the right cutting system for their operation. We’ll work with you to understand your unique needs and recommend one of our durable, accurate, and reliable cutting systems.

Since 1912, AKS Cutting Systems and our parent company, Kiffer Industries, has been on the forefront of machine tool design and build from our factory headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. As a fourth-generation, family-owned and operated company, AKS Cutting Systems is one of the only Made-in-the-USA manufacturers of CNC cutting machines for plasma cutting, waterjet cutting, oxy-fuel cutting and fiber laser cutting systems for the plate metal, tube and pipe, sheet metal, and fabricating industries.

Get a Professional Recommendation Today

Ready to see what cutting system is right for your operation? Reach out to our team for a professional recommendation.