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What is Plasma Cutting?

Published on August 12th, 2020

The plasma cutter is one of the most fine-tuned, broadly used, efficient, and versatile tools for slicing even heavy and thick materials quite easily.

What is Plasma Cutting? | What Materials Can be Cut with a Plasma Cutter?

Plasma cutting is a process used to cut steel, stainless steel, and aluminum using a plasma torch.  Put simply, gas is blown at a high speed from a nozzle while an electrical arc melts the metal and
compressed air to blow away the molten metal. This leaves a cleaner cut than oxygen-acetylene torch cutting.

Types of Plasma Cutting Systems

CNC plasma cutting systems are typically divided into two types – standard and high definition. While both plasma cutting systems operate using the same technology, the high definition
plasma cutters feature a different torch design and gas feed. The high-definition plasma cutters give 1-3 degrees of cut bevel, virtually no dross, and make oxide-free cuts on mild steel. The
standard definition plasma gives 3-5 degrees of cut bevel, dross that will need to be cleaned before welding, and makes oxide-free cuts on only stainless and aluminum.

Seven Benefits of Plasma Cutting

Increased Cutting Speeds

Plasma cutting, when used on metal up to 2” thick, is capable of speeds twice as fast as cutting by oxyfuel. The thinner the metal the better the speed benefits. Thinner metals allow for cutting
speeds that are up to 12+ times faster than oxyfuel. Cutting more parts in less time translates directly to improved operations and increased productivity.

Diminished Dross

If cuts are made using Oxyfuel, a consolidated dross (oxide slag) is created by the chemical
reactions between the steel and oxygen. This material adheres to cuts and always requires
chiseling or grinding to be removed. In contrast, high definition plasma cutting employs
electrically charged high-temp gas which melts metal and blows the molten metal away from the
cut. Since minimal dross is created and the process itself removes excess metal, chiseling or
grinding is typically not necessary.

Raised Inside Piercing Speed

Many cutting applications require inside the piercing. When you use oxyfuel to pierce a ½” thick
piece of steel, the process may take more than half a minute because metal demands preheating
to about 1830 degrees Fahrenheit (1000ºC). Alternately, high definition plasma pierces the same ½” metal piece in two seconds, which significantly increases your shop’s productivity rates.

Eliminated Plate Warping

High definition plasma technology’s fast cutting speeds dramatically reduce the amount of heat that is transferred to the material. Using high definition plasma cutting avoids plate warping of thin (18 gauge to ¼”) materials – a problem commonly affecting materials that are cut more slowly by oxyfuel.

Expanded Versatility

Plasma cutting technology utilizes an electric arc process capable of cutting any electrically conductive material. Stainless steel, copper, aluminum, and all non-ferrous materials are included in this list. Because of this, plasma can cut a stack of multiple plates with ease. You can’t do this with oxyfuel.

Plasma Cutting System Applications

Plasma cutting systems allow simple or complex shapes to be cut into materials like common steels and aluminum. Any material that conducts electricity can be cut with a plasma torch. Some materials, such as those that create toxic fumes, can be cut with plasma cutting systems that incorporate venting, gas selection, and other special features. The advantages offered by plasma cutting systems include rapid, repetitive cutting with a high degree of accuracy. Plasma cutting replaces tedious, multi-step cutting and drilling processes, which improves efficiency by saving hours of layout work.

Plasma Cutting Software

CNC plasma cutting systems work in concert with software packages such as AutoCAD and Turbo CAD, using a universal export (interchange) format called DXF. Drawings created in a DXF format can be easily imported into most plasma cutting systems.

Contact California Steel Services for Formed Steel Products Today

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