Plasma Makes the Cut

For industries and hobbyists who depend on accurately slicing through metal sheets, the ultimate device, which has come to widely replace the traditional sawing and shearing techniques, is the plasma cutter. This machine offers near laser precision through any conductive material up to 5cm thick, making it an ideal tool for heavy metal industries and home hobbyists where minimizing wastage is very important. Put simply, an inert gas is blasted at high speed from a nozzle with an electrical arc running through it and connecting to the target material surface. The extreme heat melts through the metal without creating loose shards.

Choosing the right plasma cutter for your needs is vital to ensure an efficient and accurate cut and a safe work space. There are several factors which must be taken into account before you decide which tool is right for you. Firstly, the average thickness of metal you will be cutting is usually a known quantity which can help determine the maximum power and size of the machine. It is helpful to know the maximum possible thickness of metal to ensure that sufficient power is applied, and knowing your power supply will help ensure the machine is compatible. You then need to consider the type of metal as some are softer or more brittle than others, and the speed at which you will be hoping to cut.

When viewing plasma cutting machinery you will be looking out for certain key facts and figures, such as the operating voltage, the cut rate and the maximum thickness. As you may have already guessed, the more powerful the cutter, the faster it will cut through thicker metals. You may also be interested in how long the machine will last and at what sort of operating cost. Choosing between Pilot Arc technology and High Frequency Plasma Cutters is another important decision. The former method allows the user to create an arc in the air without needing to be close to the operating surface and it does not interfere with other electrical equipment, so a slightly safer option. The High Frequency Plasma Cutter on the other hand has a much more stable arc and is generally cheaper than the Pilot Arc. Also, most electrical equipment nowadays is protected against interference. You may also be after either a Rated Cut which is quick and smooth, or a Quality Cut which is slower but much smoother on thick metals. Also your machine will need a large Duty Cycle if it is going to be operated for long periods.
Purchasing a plasma cutter is quite easy online, and prices range from £120 for a small handheld cutter right up to £3,000 for the industrial installation or £13,000 for a cutter with a table, which can reach over £20,000 on its own. Alternatively it is possible to rent plasma cutters, which is very useful if you are creating a one off project and just need a few days of usage. The price will depend upon the thickness which the cutter can slice through, so you may be looking at £80 for one day’s use of a 10mm cutter (or £135 for a week) or up to £170 for one day’s use of a 40mm cutter (or £285 for a week). However, some brands of plasma cutters are a little cheaper, from £70 to £150 per week for 12mm to 50mm cutters, so it  is worth making a thorough comparison across the web.

Once you have purchased or rented a plasma cutter, make sure you read the safety procedures and are wearing appropriate protective equipment to shield from the heat, the glare and the fumes.

This article was written by Emily Banham on behalf of Kerf Developments, the leading British supplier of plasma cutting machinery from brands such as Kaliburn.