The manufacturing industry has transformed tremendously over the years with the introduction of plasma and laser cutting. In a world where everything is fast-paced, there need to be solutions that make cutting metals of different thicknesses easier and faster.
For industries like aerospace, welding, manufacturing, construction, and others, metal cutting is imperative for their services. Therefore, laser and plasma cutting methods are necessary for the success of these industries and other areas.
Furthermore, many people wonder how both procedures of plasma and laser cutting applications. Many people face the dilemma of knowing when is best to use either Plasma or Laser cutting applications for their jobs.
However, this piece will elaborate on the pros and cons of using both processes.
Let us take a look at what Plasma cutting is.
What Is Plasma Cutting?
This is one of the most practiced metal cutting techniques which many professionals use. It is a fabrication process that allows professionals to cut metal, steel, aluminum, copper, alloy steel with a thickness between 0.5mm to 180mm.
Plasma in the cutting process is an ionized gas-like substance that is electrically conductive. Plasma is transformed from gas through intense heating, which is why people refer to it as ionized gas. Plasma easily flows when placed in an electrical field.
Plasma cutting can also be referred to as Plasma fusion cutting; therefore, it is a process that uses the intense heat of the plasma torch to cut through electrically conductive materials.
Palms cutting has been known to be used as an alternative for Waterjet cutting and oxy-fuel cutting. There are different phases of Plasma Arc cutting that are instrumental to the success of the operation. These phases include:
- Pilot Arc initiation
- Main Arc Generation
- Ejection of the material
- Movement of the Arc
Depending on the material that is being cut, there are some variations to plasma arc cutting which professionals use regularly. Some of these alternate plasma arc cutting methods include., Water Injection Plasma cutting, Standard Plasma cutting, and secondary medium plasma cutting.
The plasma cutting process entails using plasma cutting machines that have different models depending on the torches, power, and material that needs to be cut. The power source, gas supply, cooling system are some of the other equipment that needs to accompany the plasma cutting machine.
Now, let us take a look at Laser cutting as another method of cutting materials.
What Is Laser Cutting?
In simple terms, laser cutting is a process that uses lasers to cut materials. It can be used for industrial purposes or other artistic reasons like etching. So, who does it work? Laser cutting uses a powerful laser directed with computer Numeric Control, popularly called CNC, to control the beam of laser to cut the material.
The laser beam is propelled by gas to have a through the finished state. Electrical discharges are stimulated inside a container to initiate the laser beam and are then amplified by internal reflection through a mirror. This is done until there is enough energy to escape from its opening, and then the beam hits the object cutting it into the desired shape.
Different laser cutting techniques are depending on the thickness of the material that is being cut. We have what is called the CO2 laser that is used for cutting and engraving into materials. The neodymium (Nd) and neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet (Nd: YAG) processes are other laser cutting techniques. They are used for more intense boring and engraving.
After The laser cutting process, there needs to be a coolant to help reduce the intensity of the laser generator; many people resort to using water as the coolant. This is because water enhances debris removal, which can pose problems later if not properly taken care of.
Benefits/ Advantages Of Plasma Cutting
Some people enjoy using Plasma cutting when dealing with materials because of the immense benefits the process offers them. Plasma cutting enhances the cutting ability and also reduces the rime you send while cutting a material.
Here are other advantages of using Plasma cutting
Diversity Of Materials And Thickness
Since Plasma cutters use nitrogen, it is easier for professionals to use plasma cutting machines to cut through any material such as alloy, steel, and other difficult materials. Hence, it is preferred to some other cutting processes.
Easy To Use
All you have to do is set the plasma cutter, and the robot plasma does the rest. It is a machine that requires minimal training and is also user0 friendly.
Interestingly, the Plasma cutting procedure is less expensive than some other cutting processes today. With its dexterity in cutting materials, ease, and cost-effective features to the process, it is no wonder it is one of the most widely used cutting procedures today.
Keeping Material Cool
The Plasma cutting process keeps the material cool regardless of the high temperature in which the plasma cutting systems operate.
Benefits/ Advantages of Laser Cutting
For laser cutting, it is much easier to steady the workpiece or keep it in a good position. This means you do not need to worry about the workpiece moving when the laser beam starts cutting the material.
Therefore, there is lesser risk involved in the contamination of the material since the workpiece is safe and secure in its right position. People enjoy laser cutting because the heated area is not as wide as other methods, thereby reducing contaminating the material.
It Cuts A Variety Of Materials
Laser cutting also does not require so much time compared to other traditional cutting materials like metal and plastic. Plus, laser cutting is versatile as it can cut different kinds of materials without much stress.
Low Risk of Accidents
There is not much stress involved since it uses a computer programming system that ensures the precise cutting of materials.
One of the most important benefits of laser cutting is the risk of accidents and injuries is very low because it requires little inspection.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Plasma Cutting?
There is virtually nothing in life that does not have its pros and cons, no matter how enticing the benefits are. The same principle applies to Plasma cutting. Here are some of the downsides to the process.
Most Plasma cutters cannot cut thick or dense metals. This seems like a contradiction to the advantages that were stated before. On the contrary, the downside here is Plasma cutting sometimes is not effective in cutting materials that are of one-inch depth.
Materials like giant steel pillars can be difficult for plasma cutting; hence professionals resort to traditional cutting methods to get the job done.
Plasma cutting can be noisy and excludes a lot of fumes. Therefore, the only way you can properly enjoy the cutting process is only in an open and properly ventilated place.
Aside from the fumes that characterize the Plasma cutting process, some sparks fly, which can be detrimental to the workers’ health. Hence, there is a need for extreme safety regulations and guidelines.
Any eventuality of the Plasma machine breaking down, replacing it or the electrodes can be an expensive venture. It can also be difficult to make the Plasma mix as well.
What Are the Disadvantages of Laser Cutting?
Laser cutting takes up a lot of energy when it cuts the materials, although the power consumption depends on the type of material that is being cut. However, it still takes up a lot of energy for materials that should not require as much.
Release Of Gas Can Be Harmful
The nature of metal, sheet, plastic, and material cutting is delicate, and professionals need to be careful when dealing with jobs that require these services. As such, laser cutting of plastic emits a harmful gas that can be toxic to the professionals; therefore, it is best to cut tees materials in a well-ventilated workshop.
Not All Types Of Materials Use This Technology
As much as laser cutting is a useful method of cutting different kinds of materials, some others cannot be cut with the laser beam. These materials include aluminum and copper, which can be very difficult, or the laser cutting to get the job done.
High Risk Of Injuries Involved
Professionals are always extra careful with laser cutting because there is a need for human intervention when operating laser cutting machines. As a result of close contact with this machine, the heat from the laser beam can cause burns and severe injuries if people are not careful.
Applications Of Plasma Cutting Machine
The Plasma Cutting machine generates 400VDC of voltage and initiates the plasma gas flow into the torch assembly. The electrodes are embedded in the torch along with a plasma nozzle. The arc starting console creates a frequency between the nozzle and the electrode that creates a spark. This spark ionizes the plasma gas and further becomes electrically conductive.
The pilot arc flows through the nozzle to the new electrically conductive workpiece. The gas flow pushes the opening further, which makes the arc come in contact with the workpiece. This is where the execution of the cutting operation takes place.
The nozzle opening becomes the passage for the ionized gas to flow through; plasma cutting machines with the intensity of the plasma’s energy can produce a plasma that is as high as 20,000°C.
The plasma cutting machine uses a specific cutting method that heats and vaporizes the area of the workpiece to make the cutting easier. The workpiece will absorb the gas’s thermal energy, which will then weaken the material that is meant to be cut. The fragile state of the material will allow the machine to cut the metal into any desired shape.
There are automated plasma cutting machines that allow the torch’s smooth movement, which creates a better finish on the material.
Applications Of Laser Cutting Machine
We understand that laser cutting machines use computerized programming that makes it easy for professionals to cut the materials.
Laser vaporization cutting is one way in which the laser cutting machine can be applied. This is where the machine heats the workpiece with the laser beam that causes high energy density. As the temperature rises within a short period, the material will begin to vaporize, causing the team to come out. As the steam comes out, an incision will be made on the material. This application is common when professionals want to cut non-metallic materials.
For Laser melting cutting, the laser cutting machine is used to melt the material by laser heating it. Although, this does not require the complete vaporization of the material because professionals use it for stainless steel, aluminum, and alloys.
Another application of the laser cutting machine is during the laser oxygen cutting hose. The laser is used to preheat, and oxygen and other gases will be used for cutting. The result of oxidation during the laser oxygen process produces a gas; this causes a lot of heat used for laser oxygen technology. The method has a faster cutting speed than the others mentioned above. Laser oxygen cutting is also used for cutting carbon steel, titanium steel, and other oxide metals.
Plasma Cutting Vs. Laser Cutting
Both methods are viable means of cutting materials; however, for manufacturers, the dilemma is knowing when to use either plasma cutting or laser cutting for their jobs. Although the experience level will help you decide the best option to see, not many people have that on their locker. Therefore, this piece will help people understand the differences between plasma cutting and laser cutting.
Plasma cutting entails using a gas and a high plasma cutting machine to cut metals and other materials. Plasma cutting is best for weld preparation that helps to support the weight of structures and machines. Also, manufacturers use it for plasma cutting when they have a general shape that is not so intricate. If there are not many cutouts, then plasma cutting will be best suited for the process.
On the other hand, laser cutting, from the name, implies using a laser to cut materials with a beam of light. For this process, if you are thinking of cutting precise shapes that require delicate shapes, styles, and cutouts, manufacturers prefer Laser cutting. Another avenue to adopt laser cutting will be when the material is too thin to cut through.
Plasma cutting is suitable for highly reflective materials thick, while laser cutters are best for thin to medium thickness for metals.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Better Plasma or Laser Cutting
Both methods are suitable for cutting metal material; however, it depends on the type of metal involved. However, Laser cutting is better than Plasma cutting after reviewing both of their properties. Here are some of the reasons.
Laser cutting does not require as much energy as plasma cutting to cut through metal materials. Furthermore, laser cutting is more eco-friendly than plasma cutting.
Another reason is that laser cutting machines can do more than cut through metals but can engrave and weld while the plasma cutters can only cut.
Interestingly, fiber laser cutters are the best for cutting thin layers of metal sheets and have higher revision levels than plasma cutters. This means that there are some certain metals cutting jobs that plasma cutting machines cannot handle.
Is Plasma Cutting Cheaper Than Laser
Yes! Plasma cutting does not require as much capital investment as the laser cutting procedure. It is even easier to get the parts of plasma cutting machine if it breaks down. Unfortunately, when the laser cutting machine breaks down, it cannot be easy to replace the parts that are not functioning properly.
Is Laser Cutting Expensive
Brace yourself; laser cutting is expensive because of the precise detailing of the prices when cutting materials. Some companies charge as much as $180 per hour or even higher. It all depends on the complications of the job that is given to them.
The cost of file preparation and materials are also part of et expenses, with the former being charged at $75 per hour.
Laser cutting is a competitive area compared to other cutting processes like Stamping, sawing, Die-cutting, and others.
How Much Does a Plasma Cutting Table Cost?
If you are looking to get a quality plasma cutting table, you should be looking within the range of $30,000 – $100,000. Now that is a lot, but some factors influence the price of the plasma cutting tables. Some of these factors include:
- The model and size of the table affect the price of the table.
- The capacity of the Plasma cutter is part of the things companies consider when setting their prices.
- Accessories and software that you want to add.
- Extras like pipe attachments, air dryers, and other things can also affect the price.
Alternatives To Laser Cutting
It has been established that laser cutting is one of the best methods of cutting metal materials. Still, other methods of cutting those manufacturers and other professionals use in getting the job done. One of such is the Waterjet cutting.
This uses a jet of water that is pressurized as high as 60,000lbs per square inch. The pressured water hits the material with that incredible force, although the water is mixed with tough gran to force the metal to cut.
There Is also what we call the Oxyfuel gas cutting or otherwise known as Flame cutting. It entails the use of chemical reactions with the base of the metal reaching a high temperature. The pure oxygen is fired in a heated area that causes a chemical reaction, resulting in the formation of iron oxide that pierces the metal.
Mechanical cutting is another cutting method that uses equipment such as a mechanical saw or a milling machine to cut through metals.
What Are the Drawbacks of Laser Cutting Machines?
The laser cutting machine demands a huge surge of power to start the cutting process. It consumes a lot of energy that some certain companies may maintain.
Another drawback to the laser cutting machine Is the delicacy involved in handling the machine. If there is a slight mistake while adjusting the machine, it can lead to contamination of the metal or even injury to the worker.
It is a great cutting method, but it is still not suitable enough to cut through thick metal materials. Furthermore, its production is not consistent, and it is not as versatile as other types of metal cutting methods.
Why Is the Laser Cutting Machine Better Than Other Cutting Machines?
The choice of cutting method depends on the type of material that is being cut. This will narrow your choices, but the laser cutting method is considered the best because of its precision in cutting ability.
The fiber laser cutting method has gradually begun to creep into the metal cutting world; hence, cutting metal will be twice as easy as before. But the main reason for choosing the laser cutting method over others is the precise nature of cutting thin metals into any desired shape. Other cutting methods are great for cutting metals into general shapes, but the laser cutting method is the best for those complicated jobs and designs.
How Should I Operate the Laser Cutting Machine?
No matter how long you have been operating a laser cutting machine, it would help if you never forgot the safety guidelines. Saying that the beam is hot is a complete understatement, therefore, one contact with it can severely damage the skin and injure the person. You need to always protect yourself by wearing the appropriate clothing and goggles to protect yourself.
The deciding factor in cutting metal is the available material, and this will decide what type of cutting method is best suited. It is, therefore, important you know what cutting method is suitable for which metal. Without the right knowledge, there could be serious damage to the material and the company’s overall reputation. Finally, it would be best if you had skilled professionals with a wealth of experience handling jobs requiring this level of commitment and precision.
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