Plasma cutting has gained in popularity as job shops realize the many benefits.
What began as a simple process has evolved into a fast, productive method to cut metal, with a variety of benefits to shops of all sizes. Using an electrical channel of superheated, electrically ionized gas, the plasma rapidly melts the material to cut it. Key benefits of plasma cutters include:
- The ability to cut a variety of very thin, electrically-conductive metals, including a wide range of steel, stainless steel, aluminum, copper and more up to two inches thick
- Greater cutting versatility, including beveling, shape cutting, marking and piercing of metals
- Precise cuts at faster speeds — plasma can cut thinner metals faster, with minimal material distortion
- Greater ability to cut shaped metals such as domes or tubes
- Lower cost with no preheating required
- Faster cutting speeds with the ability to cut five times faster than traditional, manual torches
- The ability to cut a variety of materials and thicknesses
- Ease of use and low maintenance
- Low operating costs — plasma machines consist of electricity, water, compressed air, gasses and consumable parts; they cost approximately $5-$6 per hour to operate
Given the host of benefits, what are the most popular applications?
Plasma cutters are frequently used by fabrication shops, automotive repair and restoration, industrial construction, and salvage and scrapping operations. With its high speed, precision cuts and low cost, plasma cutting is used by large-scale industrial; CNC applications down to small hobbyist shops.
Ideal applications for plasma include cutting steel, brass and copper and other conductive metals. It’s possible to cut stainless steel and aluminum with a plasma; however, it’s not ideal due to the reflection of the torch and low melting point of the metal.
Plasma is perfect for cutting larger parts, typically ranging from one inch thick up to 20-30 feet long with accuracies ranging from +\- .015″-.020″. If you’re looking for general plate cutting, a plasma can cut fast and at a lower cost than other cutting methods.
Plasma can also be used in secondary operations on a pre-cut part. 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 features into the part. Additionally, plasma cutters can be used to etch material. Recent improvements with the Hypertherm XPR, using argon, provides the ability for excellent etching, or marking, into mild steel, stainless steel or aluminum.
There are, however, a few disadvantages. Plasma cutting is less accurate than waterjet cutting and may require secondary processing to remove heat-affected material and flattening to eliminate distortion from the heat. Depending on the job, the plasma machine may require additional setup changes for different jobs.
Find out why an AKS plasma cutting machine makes an ideal technology for a variety of applications. If you need assistance, talk to us to help determine the right solution for your shop.