One of the most important tasks for manufacturers is the cutting of materials. This can be accomplished in many different ways, depending on the material involved and the desired shape of the finished product, so most manufacturers will have a number of cutting options at their disposal. Knowing when to apply which method is a critical decision, and often determines the speed and cost at which a product can be made. Whether you are a large industrial operation or a small hobby shop, a plasma cutter is a great tool that can offer precision cuts in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
What is Plasma Cutting?
Plasma cutting involves the use of a jet of ionized gas shot through an orifice at a high rate of speed. This gas is referred to as plasma, thus the name. The process creates an electrical channel that is both superheated and electrically ionized gas, which forms a completed circuit back to the cutter through the use of a grounding clamp. The plasma is able to heat the material being cut and then the gas blows away the melted material, thus cutting the piece at the desired point.
The plasma cutter is highly effective because it forces the compressed gas (which might be air, oxygen, inert, or some other gas depending on the material that is to be cut) through the nozzle. The electrical arc forms between the electrode in the nozzle and the material, and this ionizes the gas in such a way that it creates enough heat intensity to melt through the material at the precise point it is being aimed at.
Plasma cutting works well with both thin and thick materials. Plasma cutting tools range anywhere from hand-held torches that can work with materials up to 1.5 inches thick to computer-controlled rigs that have the ability to cut steel 6 inches thick or more. The plasma generally forms a hot and extremely localized cone that allows for cutting sheet metal in angular or curved shapes.
Is Plasma Cutting Dangerous?
As with all industrial processes, manufacturers should make safety the top priority. Similar to welding, operators need to wear eye protection and face shields. Otherwise, they will be at risk of suffering eye damage from a phenomenon known as arc eye. Debris from the cut material is also a hazard. In general, it is recommended that operators wear a green lens shade #5, unless the arc current is under 300 A, in which case shade #8 should be sufficient.
When in doubt, always use precaution and go with extra protection. In addition, cutting should only be done by an experienced operator, or under the direct supervision of one.
What is Plasma Cutting Good For?
Plasma cutting is an excellent method for cutting stainless steel, as well as many other non-ferrous materials. It is known to be both fast and versatile, making it easy to produce non-linear cuts. The method is especially well suited for niche applications, including working with expanded metal.
Recent advances in the plasma cutting field have improved the cut quality, in particular when working with many high-performance stainless steel alloys. These advances include a wider offering of gas choices and amperages, allowing for a greater range of options when cutting different thicknesses and materials. For example, in the past, when a plasma cutter that was designed specifically to work with 304L stainless steel was used to cut 316L, the result would be dross and a rough cut edge.
However, thanks to new technologies that allow for slight refinements, such as an increase in cutting speed and shield pressure, the cut quality of 316L can be improved to match that of 304L.
Helping manufacturers pair the right tool with the right material is what Clinton Aluminum and Steel does best. Thanks to the deep experience or our personnel, we act as more than just a supplier. We take pride in on our ability to serve as a technical resources partner to our clients, helping them to get the maximum value out of their purchasing decisions.
Our staff, with an average of nearly 13 years working for Clinton, has the practical expertise to answer even the toughest questions. That’s why Clinton is recognized as the Midwest’s leading supplier of aluminum and stainless steel products. Contact us today to learn more about our offerings.