What is plasma cutting?
Plasma cutting actually developed before laser cutting and came into use in the 1950s. A plasma cutter is an alternative cutting process that features a plasma torch for cutting. The plasma torch produces plasma by spraying a gas mixture, including nitrogen and hydrogen, through a nozzle.
The plasma cutting process is a low-cost cutting method that provides high-speed, high-precision cutting results through a melting process. Here, a jet of ionized gas is used to melt and expel the material from the cut. Typical materials for cutting with plasma include steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and copper, but they can also be used to cut other conductive metals. Plasma cutters are commonly used in manufacturing workshops, automotive repair and restoration, industrial buildings, and more.
Workers performing plasma cutting must wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent arc eye injuries. Arc eye, also known as photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis, is an injury that occurs when a worker’s eye is exposed to high levels of radiation. Because plasma torches emit radiation, operators must wear safety glasses or goggles to prevent arcing in the eyes.
What is laser cutting?
Laser cutting originated in the mid-1960s as a cutting process characterized by the use of an amplified laser. Because laser cutting is controlled using a computer, it achieves extremely high cutting accuracy when cutting the workpiece. With the help of optics, the laser is focused into a small spot, which is very hot and very small. The focused laser beam is then able to cut the workpiece as directed by the computer.
Laser cutting has always been considered a safe, efficient, and reliable cutting process. Laser cutters use high-power, computer-controlled lasers. The core component is an optical fiber equipped with elements such as erbium, thulium, and dysprosium. When used with nitrogen, oxygen, or compressed air, fiber lasers can cut a wide variety of metals with high precision. Laser cutters are generally multipurpose and used for a variety of jobs.
There are three main types of lasers used in laser cutting: CO2, Neodymium (Nd), and Yttrium Aluminum Garnet (Nd: YAG). Each of these three lasers has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, CO2 lasers are great for cutting and engraving, while Nd lasers are better for cutting applications that require a lot of energy. In any case, CO2, Nd, and Nd: YAG lasers all use an amplified laser to cut the workpiece.
Benefits of Laser Cutting
Laser cutting is a safer and more reliable process for manufacturing and production needs. Laser cutting is a non-contact process where the laser beam does not physically touch the material but uses heat to cut the material. As we said, laser cutting is one of the most viable methods for manufacturers. So, what makes the metalworking industry take this process so seriously? Here’s why the metalworking industry relies on laser cutting:
- Precise edges – When cutting with traditional methods such as blades, burrs, or rough surfaces are often seen and must be polished and smoothed. When using laser cutting, this is not a problem.
- Precise detail – The laser beam does not abrade the material, which improves the precision of the cut. Additionally, this allows the creation of complex designs that would otherwise be impossible due to the size of typical lasers and the fact that they are guided by high-performance computers.
- Low Maintenance – Traditional cutting methods require routine maintenance and sharpening of the blade. Lasers do not require this maintenance and can operate for extended periods of time without maintenance.
- Maximum efficiency – whether you’re running a test cut or full production, the laser requires no adjustments or modifications. This allows the laser cutter to operate with optimum cutting efficiency.
- Versatile—lasers are capable of cutting a wide variety of materials in a variety of thicknesses.
- Fast Setup – Compared to other metal cutting techniques, the setup time for laser cutting is relatively fast. It is also much easier to make adjustments when custom manufacturing is required.
Benefits of Plasma Cutting
Plasma cutting offers versatility for different types of metals, and the arc is used to cut any conductive metal. Plasma cutting can often complete a job in a quarter of the time of any other cutting tool. Advantages over laser cutting:
- Reduce metal loss
- Higher quality finish
- Reduce maintenance
- Higher plate cutting speed
How to choose between laser cutting and plasma cutting?
- Laser cutting machines can cut and engrave very thin metals without affecting the material.
- Laser cutting machines can be used for other purposes, such as trimming and engraving.
- Metals that have reflective surfaces or cannot be cut with flames are usually cut with plasma.
- Plasma cutting machines can cut thicker materials.
- Laser cutting machines are better for thinner, more complex metals.
- Laser cutting machines are also used to cut non-metals, ceramics and glass.
- Laser cutting machines are usually more expensive, but the cut quality is not available in plasma cutting. Therefore, lasers are great for engraving details or cutting small shapes out of metal, while plasmas are better for simple cutting operations.
- The plasma cutting machine can cut thicker metal plates, up to 80mm thick conductive metal plates.
- Lasers cannot cut highly reflective materials such as copper, so plasma cutting would be the best choice for such materials. Plasma can cut any conductive technology, regardless of its surface.
- Laser cutting has a tighter tolerance of only 0.002 inches, making it ideal for precise cuts or parts with complex bumps.
- Both laser cutting machines and plasma cutters can use computer numerical control (CNC) technology to control the machine, which means your projects can be completed quickly and accurately.
So which cutting method is better, plasma or laser? Although the ultimate answer depends on the material you’re cutting, the type of cut you’ll be making, and your budget. But for most metalworking, the clear winner is the laser cutter. Lasers can cut most metals quickly, with high quality, and precision, as well as some non-metallic materials. If you’re ready to investigate which laser cutter is better for your requirements, give us a call today. Our team of experts will know you make your selections and help you find the ideal machine so you can start making great products.