Thinking about purchasing CNC plasma cutters but are worried about how they need to be operated?

While using a plasma cutter for the first time may seem like a daunting process, the plasma cutting process is actually fairly straightforward, and you will be amazed at the high quality finish that they deliver.

What is plasma cutting?

Plasma cutting offers a highly efficient and cost effective way to cut steel and any other metal that conducts electricity. Using DC voltage to heat compressed air to a very high temperature, plasma cutting machines then ionise the atoms to create a pilot arc.

It is this small jet of plasma that pushes through and melts the metal, resulting in a precise cut edge and superior finish. 

How to set up plasma cutting machines

Using plasma cutting machines is simple and straightforward. All you need to do is follow the below steps.

  1. Connect your plasma cutter to your chosen air compressor.
  2. Connect your plasma cutter to either a 240V or 415V supply. This will be dependent on how powerful a machine you bought.
  3. Connect the earth lead to your workpiece
  4. Connect your plasma torch to the cutting machine
  5. Select your cutting amperage – the thicker the material, the higher amperage needed
  6. Press the switch on your torch handle and move the torch across the work as the electric arc cuts the metal.

You can choose to start from the edge of the piece or make a hole in the middle of the metal. Plasma cutting machines are capable of cutting through both thin and thick materials, and you can cut different sizes and shapes using templates.

In terms of ease of use, plasma cutting machines are hand held and have no heavy gas bottles that you need to transport around. They can be easily placed on the cutting table and carried from one work space to another.  

Plus, if you have a large work order and need to cut outside of normal working hours, plasma cutters can be computer controlled, so less power is needed, and you can still expect a high quality, precise cut.

How to cut at the right speed

If you cut too slow, your plasma arc machine may start to splutter. However, if you cut too fast, you may experience a poor cut quality and a blowback of dross.

Therefore, you need to make sure that you are cutting at the right speed. To determine this, when you are cutting from the edge of the material, you need to ensure that the metal has been fully cut through and that the dross is coming out at a maximum of a 10-20 degree angle.

If the angle starts to increase and gets close to a 45-degree angle, you need to slow down your cutting speed. If you are struggling to get a precise and clean cut, you may need to increase your amperage.

Not sure which plasma cutting machine to buy for your business? Contact us here and we will talk you through your cutting needs and plasma cutting options.

Are you wondering if you can use a plasma cutter without an air compressor? If yes, you are far from alone. Although most plasma cutting machines come with an air compressor, you can find some units that come without this useful component. This can be confusing for beginners, especially, and might have you questioning, does that mean that we don’t need one? Let’s take a closer look.

What are the components of a plasma cutter?

If you have not seen a plasma cutter up close and personal before, then it can be difficult to understand how they are set up. There are several vital components that all plasma cutting machines need to have in order to function properly.

These are:

How is an air compressor used in plasma cutting?

Plasma cutting uses a combination of heated gas and electricity to cut through various metals such as stainless steel and aluminium, but where does compressed air come into play?

It’s simple really. The reason why people use plasma cutters is that they are able to harness high-intensity heat for a superior cut quality. However, it is through the use of an air compressor that this heat is directed to the metal, allowing for a more precise cut.

The amount of air pressure that you need when using a plasma cutter is about 4-8 SCFM delivered at 90-120 psi. This covers units that are intended for up to 3/8 inches thick steel to large units that can handle 7/8 inch steel.

Ideally, you should choose an air compressor with a CFM rating that is 1.5 to 2 times higher than your plasma cutter.

Should you invest in an air compressor?

There are multiple reasons why you should invest in an air compressor to use alongside your plasma torch, with one of the most notable ones being you can enjoy a more precise and cleaner cut. In fact, if you want to make the exact same cut time and time again, then an air compressor is a definite must.

Another benefit of using compressed air is that you can find high-performing plasma cutting machines that have built-in air compressors. Not only does this allow for portability but it also means you will only have one power cord which can make the laser cutting experience easier.

Whether you think that a portable air compressor and plasma cutter combo is the right choice for your cutting needs or you are unsure still, contact us here and let us find the perfect plasma cutting machine for you.

Are there any downsides to using an air compressor?

If you are wondering why some people choose not to use one of these pneumatic tools, then you should know that it predominantly comes down to cost. Whether you choose to purchase a separate air compressor or you opt for a built-in model, you are still going to have to spend a little bit more money.

Another factor that puts some people off buying built-in air compressors is that these rely on a fixed air pressure, which means that any leaks will have a serious impact on your ability to cut.

All of the above being said, a built-in air compressor can transform your cut quality and provide a level of flexibility that you won’t get from buying a separate unit.  

Favoured by automotive repair shops, fabrication shops, industrial construction sites and salvage operations due to their high speeds and precision cuts, plasma cutters can be used to cut through a wide range of materials, including stainless steel, brass, aluminium, and copper.

However, can they cut through very thick material? This is a typical question that many people have asked in the past before buying their plasma cutter, and it is sensible to do so. Let’s take a closer look below.

How does a plasma cutting machine work?

Our high-end plasma cutting machines use compressed air and special gas to produce a plasma reaction that can cut through metals such as aluminium and stainless steel. In fact, any conductive metal is well suited for using a plasma cutter, including:

That being said, the thicker a metal is, the more hazardous it can be. You should expect sparks to be produced, so you need to ensure you are sticking to your machine’s cutting capacity and that you are taking all the necessary safety precautions.

How thick can a plasma cutter cut?

Plasma cutters provide an effective way to cut both thin and thick materials. However, depending on the machine that you choose, they do have their limitations.

Typically, a handheld plasma torch can cut up to 38mm (1.5 inches) thick steel plate. Whereas, if you need something a bit more powerful, an industrial computer-controller torch can cut steel up to 150mm (6 inches) thick.  

You also need to consider the type of metal that you are cutting. For example, if you are cutting a piece of mild steel, you will experience faster and thicker cuts than with alloys.

How to choose a plasma cutter

Many plasma cutting power sources are rated on both their cutting ability and their amperage. If you want to mostly cut ¼ inch thick materials, you should opt for a low amperage plasma cutter. However, if you regularly cut metals that are around ½ inch thick, then you will need to seek out a higher amperage unit.

If you choose a plasma cutter that operates at the limit of its cutting capacity, both your cutting speed and the quality of your cuts will be affected.

Each one of our plasma cutting units has an optimal range of cutting thickness so that you can easily match the machine to your needs.

Carry out Tests to Help you Decide

If you are not sure which plasma cutter to choose, it can be a good idea to test cuts on a number of different machines, travelling at the same rate of speed on the same thickness of material so that you can see which one offers the highest quality of cut.

You should also look for a machine that provides a quick transfer from pilot arc to cutting arc at a large transfer height, as this will ensure you have better support when cutting.

If you are still not entirely sure whether a plasma cutter is the right choice for your cutting needs, or you need help on choosing the right plasma cutting machine, contact us here and our knowledgeable team will do their best to answer your questions.

Although plasma cutters are great at getting the job done, they do need to be treated with care if you want to avoid any unexpected and unwanted incidents. As a general rule, you should not let any unauthorised personnel handle a plasma cutting machine without supervision. However, there are also several other plasma cutting machine safety tips that you and your team should be aware of.  

From wearing the right clothing and gloves to ensuring the area is well-ventilated, keep reading to discover the necessary safety precautions that you and your employees should be taking when using plasma cutting equipment.  

1.   Avoid electrocution

The power output levels for plasma cutting machines such as profile cutting machines can result in fatal shocks if electrocution were to occur, so you need to take active steps to avoid this from happening.

Ways in which you can prevent electrocution include:

2.   Check the cable

Faulty wiring is extremely dangerous when it comes to plasma cutting machines, so you need to make sure the ground cable is checked over before use. If you do find any issues, make sure they are repaired before the machine is used again.

3.   Wear safety glasses

The arc rays from plasma cutters produce both infrared and ultraviolet rays, which are harmful to the skin and eyes. Therefore, you must wear a face shield or safety glasses when using this type of cutting equipment.

4.   Invest in protective clothing

Your eyes are not the only thing that needs protecting when you use a plasma cutter. You also need to protect your body during the cutting processes as flying sparks are commonplace.

Protective clothing you should purchase includes:

5.   Provide adequate ventilation

The plasma cutting process involves fumes and gases that can be detrimental to your health. Therefore, you should make sure that you provide a well-ventilated environment for your employees. If your team have to work in a confined space, you should supply air-supplied respirators.

6.   Handle gas cylinders with care

Plasma arc cutting systems use compressed air and other gases such as nitrogen and hydrogen, so you need to make sure that you handle these gas cylinders with care. When using a cylinder, securely chain them to a stationary, upright support at all times.

If you need to move a gas cylinder, make sure that you fasten the threaded protector cap to the top of the cylinder first, as this will shield the valve system from impact damage.

Need more advice on how to stay safe when using plasma cutting machines? Here at Kerf Developments, we are experts in plasma cutting and can tell you everything you need to know about safety precautions when cutting.

Plasma cutting is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to cut metals such as carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminium, allowing you to cut through materials up to 6 inches thick.

However, to achieve a superior clean cut, you need to make sure you are using the right type of gas for your material. There are several gases that are used in plasma cutting, with each one having its own advantages and disadvantages. Find out below which gases are used in plasma cutting, plus what gas you should use for each type of metal.

Compressed air

Air is one of the most adaptable forms of gas on offer, and as you don’t have to purchase it, this dramatically lowers the cost of the overall cutting process. That being said, shop air is a superior choice as it is cleaned before sold, thus eliminating contaminants such as oil, mist and moisture.

For cutting aluminium:

For cutting carbon steel:

For cutting stainless steel:

Oxygen

If you want fast speeds with lower power levels when using your plasma cutting machines, then oxygen is the plasma gas for you. Ideal for cutting structura- low carbon and low alloy steel, it can be used for cutting materials with a variety of different thicknesses.

For cutting aluminium:

For cutting carbon steel:

For cutting stainless steel:

Nitrogen

If you need to cut large amounts of aluminium or stainless steel, then nitrogen is a great choice. This plasma gas offers excellent parts life but is not the best option for thick materials.

For cutting aluminium:

For cutting carbon steel:

For cutting stainless steel:

Hydrogen

Hydrogen plasma gas is classed as environmentally friendly as it reduces the emission of Co2. This gas contributes to increased productivity due to its high-speed cutting.

For cutting aluminium:

For cutting carbon steel:

For cutting stainless steel:

Argon

For materials that are greater than ½ an inch thick, argon is good to use. Argon does not react with metals when cutting, which is why it is classified as an inert gas.

For aluminium cutting:

For carbon steel cutting:

For stainless steel cutting:

Argon-Hydrogen

You can also use an argon hydrogen mix to cut through stainless steel and aluminium. This is usually a percentage of 35 hydrogen and 65 argon. This option offers maximum cutting capacities and is the hottest plasma gas available.

It should be used for any cutting processes that involve materials that exceed a 3 inches thickness.

Plasma Gas

As well as the five named plasma gases above, plasma gas can also be further categorised into three different phases:

Need help picking the right case for your plasma cutters? Get in touch with our friendly and knowledgeable team here.

If you want your plasma cutting machine to continue to perform at its best, you need to make sure that it is well maintained. From cleaning the torch body to checking the water quality to adjusting the gears and bearings, keep reading to find out everything you should be doing to prolong the life of your CNC plasma cutters and reduce the likelihood of it breaking down.

Clean the torch body

You need to make sure that you remove all the torch parts and examine the inside of the torch to ensure that there is no damage. You should also clean the inside of the torch using an electrical contact cleaner and a cotton swab and blow out any accumulated metal dust.

Clean the power supply

Metal dust can accumulate in the power supply of profile cutting machines which can lead to damaged components, particularly PC boards, so you must take the time to blow out any metal dust. You should also check the air filters and replace, if needed.

Clean the torch leads

Again, metal dust and dirt can accumulate in a torch lead, so you need to make sure you clean these thoroughly. Also, check for kinked or worn down hoses, exposed wires and cracked fittings.

Check the torch-cooling components

For water-cooled torches, you need to check the coolant stream for signs of aspirated air or reduced coolant flow. Also, check the coolant filters and pump screens and clean or replace, when necessary.

Check the water quality

Hard water can cause a whole host of problems, including reducing the lifespan of CNC plasma cutters and increasing the need for spare parts. You can use a commercial water softener if the water hardness exceeds 8.5ppm or 0.5 grains.

Check the plasma gas

If you want to continue to enjoy a clean cut and a fast cutting speed, you need to make sure that you regularly check your machine’s gas quality. You can do this by holding a clean towel under the torch whilst purging air through the system in test mode. You should also check for water, oil, mist, and particle contamination.

Clean all the components

You should clean all the machine components such as the rails, gears and racks using a degreasing agent and an abrasive pad. You should lubricate both the gears and racks but not the rails, as this can attract contaminants that cause excessive wear.

Align and adjust gears and bearings

The gears on your plasma cutting machine should not overlap above or below the rack. If they do, you need to adjust them accordingly. You also need to make these adjustments for rail and cross drives.

Other key maintenance tasks:

If you need further help and advice on how to carry for your plasma cutting machine or you need a new cutting system and aren’t too sure about which one to get, contact us here, and we will be only too happy to help.

Not sure whether you should be using a plasma cutter or a laser cutter for your metal cutting needs? It can be difficult to know which one you need, but you don’t have to guess. You have come to the right place to understand exactly which one you need.

Within the below blog, you will discover:

Ready to get started?

What is plasma cutting?

Plasma cutting is a process that uses compressed air and inert gases such as hydrogen and nitrogen that are passed through a fine nozzle at high speed to create electrically conductive ionised gas, also known as plasma.

Plasma cutting machines are often used on metals that cannot be cut with a flame-based cutting machine.

What is laser cutting?

Laser cutting machines use high powered lasers that are operated by a computer along with nitrogen, oxygen or compressed air to cut through a variety of different metals. These machines are designed for multi-purpose use.

What is the difference between these two cutting processes?

The plasma cutting process is used exclusively for cutting metal such as stainless steel and aluminium. This includes metals that have a reflective surface that cannot be cut using a laser cutting system.

Laser cutting machines can be used for many other purposes than just cutting, including trimming, scribing, welding and engraving.

Plasma cutters are better suited to cutting work that involves thicker metals, whereas laser cutting is the superior choice for thinner, more intricate metals.

What are the benefits of plasma cutting?

A plasma cutting machine offers:

What are the benefits of laser cutting?

A laser cutting machine offers:

Is laser cutting or plasma cutting better?

There is no definitive answer to this question as each method of cutting materials is unique, and each one comes with its own advantages. Lasers offer more accuracy and are slightly quicker than plasma cutting machines, yet plasma cutting has the ability to cut through every single metal type, which a laser cutting cannot.

It is clear that both plasma and laser cutting have their place within the cutting industry, with each cutting process bringing its own benefits to the table. When deciding which type of cutting machine to use, take some time to think about what you need cutting and how thick it is, as this is ultimately what will lead your decision.

Need help choosing a plasma cutting machine for your cutting needs? Contact us here, and one of our friendly and knowledgeable team will talk you through our plasma cutting options and help you pick the right solution for your business.

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