Plasma cutting developed from roots in plasma welding in the 1960s to an efficient and effective method of cutting conductive metals with a couple decades. Today it remains a popular and powerful tool for metal fabricators in shops of all sizes.
Plasma cutting tools make it possible to cut through electrically-conductive metals with precision, producing a cleaner cut than alternative methods such as oxy-fuel cutting. Rather than shearing the material (as with any mechanical method) or burning the metal (as with oxy-fuel cutting), plasma cutters melt the metal with high-velocity ionized gas. During the cutting process, the gas blows the molten material away from the cut, producing a relatively smooth edge.
While oxy-fuel cutting relies on oxidation, it is limited to ferrous materials (like steel) that react to oxidation. Plasma cutting, on the other hand, can be employed with a wider variety of metals, as conductivity is what is required. Metals include:
- Mild steel
- Stainless steel
- Expanded metal
Plasma cutting can be easier to pick up and master than oxyfuel/oxyacetylene, and great results can be achieved particularly on thinner materials. While plasma can still accommodate thicker materials in excess of 1”, more robust machinery and increased electrical power requirements can make it a slower and more costly option.
Choosing a Plasma Cutter
The most important considerations for choosing plasma cutting machinery are:
- Material thickness: choose an unit that has the performance capabilities to handle the materials you’ll work with most often.
- Durability: choose a trusted brand with a great track record, like the Hypertherm Powermax
- Continuous use: do you cut in short spurts or hours on end? How much speed do your cuts require? Common power recommendations are to buy a machine capable of handling twice the thickness of material that you’ll regularly work with (1” if you normally cut ½”, for example).
- Portability: for light-duty work, choose a machine powerful enough to get the job done but light enough to be easy to maneuver.
Your ideal plasma cutter is a reliable machine with long consumable life and available in a variety of models to handle several thicknesses and usage times. 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 known for excellent reliability and consumable parts life. Check out the Hypertherm Powermax Plasma Cutters we carry, and kick your plasma cutting work up a notch.