How to Choose a Plasma Cutter
Plasma cutting is growing in popularity as an efficient, increasingly affordable alternative to mechanical cutting tools or oxyacetylene torches. The method uses ionized gas force through a nozzle under pressure and at high velocity, producing the power to cut various types of metal. The plasma heats and melts the metal and blows it away from the workpiece. The result is a cut (though it can also be used to punch holes).
Plasma cutting is a very versatile choice when you need to cut any type of conductive metal. While oxy-fuel solutions are limited to iron and steel, plasma is much more versatile and a good choice for a number of industries (particularly those using thin metals, such as automotive and HVAC). It is also efficient, generating a relatively clean edge requiring little cleanup work, portable, and relatively easy to learn and master.
Plasma Cutter Considerations
When choosing equipment, determine your needs based on your workflow and the materials you’ll be cutting.
1. Material Thickness
What types of materials will you be working with, and how thick? Heavy-duty plasma cutters can manage material thicknesses just over 2”, but if you’ll be working with lighter gauges, it is likely unnecessary to buy a more powerful (and costly) model. If you’ll be working with ferrous metals that are significantly thicker, oxyacetylene will be the necessary method.
2. Cut Quality
Simply choosing to work with plasma arc cutting means you’ll have less work to do after severing your material. The process clears away debris during the cut, leaving a relatively smooth edge. It also doesn’t produce the curling effect common with some light materials and other cutting methods. Even if edge finishing doesn’t matter as much in your project, the method still has its benefits for quick jobs, especially with the reduced curling and warping.
3. Durability and Reliability
As you make the investment in plasma cutting equipment, you’re looking for a machine you’ll be able to work with for a long time, in order to justify the investment and reduce downtime. Reliable time-tested equipment from a well-known brand, and manufactured with high standards, is in order.
4. Continuous Use
How you use your plasma cutter greatly impacts which model you should select. Brief stints? Hours on end? Longer use throughout the day, as well as longer, slow cutting mean you should select machinery with a higher duty cycle so it can handle continuous cutting without overheating. And if speed is important, you’ll need adequate amperage to handle the material. A rule of thumb is to choose a plasma cutting machine capable of cutting twice the thickness you ordinarily work with. (For example, 1” if you regularly cut ½”).
The most important expenses associated with a plasma cutter are:
- Initial equipment investment
- Consumable costs (versus how long they last)
Choose a machine that uses relatively few consumables that last a good amount of time to reduce operating costs.
Consider Hypertherm Powermax
Considering all the important aspects in choosing a plasma cutter, the ideal solution is a reliable machine with long consumable life and available in a variety of models to meet specific workflows (material thickness and length of usage). Hypertherm, one of the largest manufacturers of plasma cutters, offers a full line of Powermax plasma cutters to cover an array of use scenarios, and is well regarded for excellent reliability and consumable parts life. Check out the models we carry, and take your plasma cutting work to the next level.
- Matt Hurd