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Plasma Cutting: How Metals Are Shaped In The Perfect Form 

It is impossible to overstate the importance of metals to overall manufacturing processes. These materials are reliable and effective, providing optimal strength and versatility across the board. 

However, while metals are known for their strength, the ability to form and shape a metal is  important if you’re to get the best out of it. And, this is where we have plasma cutting as an operation. The fabrication process offers several benefits, including and especially its ability to help craft metals in the perfect configuration. 

 An Overview Of The Plasma Cutting Phenomenon 

plasma cutting process

For metals to be functional, they need to be shaped appropriately. And, over the years, there have been several techniques adopted to achieve this precision in shaping. 

At its core, plasma cutting can be used to achieve this. Also known as plasma arc cutting or plasma fusion cutting, the process applies a specialized cutter to a material, with a focus on generating enough heat to alter its shape to the desired level. 

The goal of this step is to ensure that the cut is as accurate and as clean as possible.

One of the major reasons why this process is so renowned is its versatility. Regardless of the material’s nature or thickness, there is a significant chance that it can be shaped using plasma cutting. That said, it is important to note that the process is applied mostly to conductive metals. 

You also need to keep an eye on the different components that make up this process; ranging from a torch to adequate power supply and even gas. 

Which gas is used in plasma cutting? Well, you have different options – which we’ll look into later.

You can find different types of plasma torches, all depending on the thickness of the metal you’re looking to cut. Just as well, you can find plasma cutting in different industrial applications – including and most especially the CNC plasma cutting machine or the Hypertherm plasma cutting machine, which can cut materials from digital files onto larger metal sheets. 

All of these processes ensure that you can get precise profile cuts across the board. 

Over the years, this process has been applied to different industries – all of which use it to shape the metals that are applied. We will examine some of these prominent functionalities in a section below.

Plasma Cutting: What Goes Into It?

To start with, let’s examine the elephant in the room – how does the process even work exactly? 

Components Of A Plasma Cutting Process

As you would expect, there are several individual parts that need to come together if this process is to be successful. Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent ones:

Power Supply: 

One of the most important things to consider will be power supply. And, you don’t just need any regular supply – it needs to be reliable and consistent enough to generate the energy needed to run the entire process. 

Remember that an arc that is generated would need to be maintained. So, this component is especially critical.

Plasma Torch: 

This is another critical component of the entire process. It handles the plasma jet, delivering it efficiently to the material. Today, you have the option of getting a handheld torch or choosing the  mechanized version instead. 

With the goal of directing the jet, the torch needs to be as steady as possible throughout the process in order to deliver the most precise cut.

Gas Supply: 

Another crucial piece of the puzzle is gas supply. You can choose between supplying one gas or several options, depending on which you’d prefer. However, the gas supply is what delivers the required quantity to the torch at the ideal pressure and flow rate. 

CNC Controller:

If you choose to go with a computer-directed cutting system, then one piece you need to be familiar with is the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) controller. Its job is to get instructions from the computer or software running the plasma cut and control the torch’s movement based on these directions. 

With a CNC controller, you can achieve greater levels of efficiency and precision with your cut. 

Consumables: 

The consumables in this process can include different components that need to be replaced regularly due to occasional wear and tear. 

From the nozzle to the shield cap and the electrode, these consumables ensure a reliable plasma arc formation – while also optimizing gas flow and shielding the entire system from external factors. So, you would need to ensure that they are properly maintained. 

Cooling System: 

One detail that tends to get missed out with plasma cutting is that it  is very heat-intensive. You will be generating massive amounts of heat energy, and your ability to manage this will be important to the success of the cut. 

With so much heat being generated, you run the very real risk of several components getting overheated. And, if this happens, your cut could be at stake. So, it is important to have an appropriate cooling system to prevent any overheating and possible accidents. 

Possible options for this include air or liquid cooling, depending on the equipment you’re using. 

Ventilation System: 

While it is perhaps the primary by-product of this process, heat isn’t the only thing you will need to deal with when it comes to plasma cutting. Excessive amounts of heat will lead to the development of smoke and other potentially harmful substances.

Removing these by-products from the cutting area will be critical, and a ventilation system will  help with this – creating a clean and safe working environment for you. 

At KDM Fabrication, we use each of these components to work together and create the perfect plasma cutting process – safe, controllable, and precise. 

The Principles of Plasma Cutting 

machined plasma cutting

Any process that focuses on shaping will need to be as accurate as possible to achieve the desired result. Fortunately, anyone looking to embark on this can follow laid-down principles that will guide their action. 

Plasma Formation: 

One of the primary principles to keep in mind when considering plasma cutting is the formation of the plasma itself. This is done due to the interaction between the torch and its constituent electrode. 

With consistent power supply, the entire process is supplied with enough energy to ionize the plasma cutting gas and create a more resilient plasma jet. 

As stated earlier, you can choose between different gases – or, perhaps even incorporate a combination of gases instead.

Thermal Energy: 

It isn’t uncommon for you to see plasma jets hitting up to 30,000 degrees Celsius (54,000 degrees Fahrenheit) in temperature. With so much heat, the metal is melted, creating a defined and narrower cut across the material. 

Constriction and Focus: 

Every plasma jet is directed through a narrow nozzle, allowing it to be more focused with increased velocity. Essentially, the plasma is able to focus better on a small surface area, thus resulting in a concentrated heat source.  

Material Melting and Vaporization: 

Upon contact with the material, the plasma jet quickly heats its surface, causing it to melt. The heat also causes a vaporization of the molten material; a process which will form a steam of metal vapor and gas that is eventually blown away.

Shielding Gas: 

So we already spoke about the gas that you use in the main process itself. However, you also need to consider a separate gaseous product that helps to prevent oxidation from affecting the torch and the quality of the cut itself.

This shielding gas – usually argon or nitrogen – will flow around the plasma jet, creating a protective layer that prevents any unwanted chemical reactions with the atmosphere. 

Gas Flow & The Speed Of The Cut  

Finally, you also need to make accommodations for the cutting speed – which is the speed at which the plasma torch moves across the material – as well as the flow rate of the gas being used in the process. 

Both factors need to be adjusted with caution in order to ensure a reliable cut and maintain its quality. 

Types of Plasma Cutting Processes 

plasma cutter

While processes differ, plasma thermal cutting comes in three primary forms. Each of them comes with its own cutting speed, quality, and material suitability, and they include:

Conventional Cutting: 

Here, you have the traditional and most widely used cutting procedure. This can be done either manually or with a mechanized setup, and it follows the conventional steps – which we will examine later.

In this structure, a jet is pushed at optimal speed to blow a material. After the creation of an arc (which is done by the combination of an electrode and a nozzle), there is a different gas flow that essentially protects both the torch and the cut to preserve their efficiency.

High-Definition Plasma Cutting: 

For this process, the arc is more focused, thanks to an increased gas flow and an even narrower nozzle. With this setup, you can optimize accuracy and cleanliness for the cut. In applications that require excellent edge quality and optimal accuracy, the high-definition plasma cutting process is perfect. 

Water Injection Plasma Cutting: 

This final variant is specialized, and you mostly find it being used on aluminum and stainless steel. 

For this process, you have a fine water jet that is injected through the plasma torch along with the gas. Once the process is done, you allow some time for air to penetrate the material and cool it down. This way, you get to reduce the potential warping of the affected material.

All in all, you get a smooth cut and cleaner surface.

When selecting a plasma cutting type, we at KDM Fabrication tend to focus more on the material type, thickness, and required cutting precision.

Plasma Cutting: Tools Needed And Setup

Everyone who is involved in this process tends to use their preferred equipment combination. Nevertheless, below are some of the traditional materials you’d need: 

  • Plasma Cutter
  • Power Supply
  • Plasma Torch
  • Gas Supply System 
  • Consumables 
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Workpiece Support

The Complete Plasma Cutting Process

When entering into plasma cutting, you need to be mindful of several factors and use those to shape your operation. Things like the required shape and material will factor into your consideration, and they will have effects on the direction of the process as a whole.

At KDM Fabrication, however, we follow these standard steps, while also making accommodations for possible additional processes:

Material Preparation: 

Before anything else, you want to make sure that the material being cut is ready for the process. Here, you clean the surface to take out any grease or dirt that could interfere with the overall cutting quality. 

With proper material preparation, you ensure that the cut is accurate and clean.

Power Supply Setup: 

Next, you focus on setting up the power supply – which will provide the energy required for the plasma cut. Connect the power supply cables to the plasma cutter, and ensure that the location comes with proper grounding for safety. 

For this step, it is important to have an electrical engineer examine your setup. Also, remember that you can always reach out to us for helpful insights. 

Gas Supply Setup: 

As you know, a suitable gas – or suitable gases – will be needed for the creation of the plasma arc. Your entire gas supply system – from the regulators to the cylinders and hoses – should be connected to the plasma cutter, and you want to make sure that you have a reliable and stable connection here. 

Torch Assembly and Consumables: 

Assemble the plasma torch by putting all of its components together. Remember that you might need to have extra consumables in case the ones you’re using get worn out or damaged. 

While assembling, it is important to note that you need proper consumable installation and alignment if you hope to achieve the perfect cutting performance. 

Set Cutting Parameters: 

Now that you have all of your tools in place, the next step in the plasma cutting guide is to establish the cutting parameters. 

Each of the parameters should be set carefully, with special consideration based on factors like your desired shape and the density of the material you’re cutting. Some of the most important parameters you need to keep in mind include gas flow rate, amperage, and the cutting speed. 

If you need help with this, rest assured that we are experienced fabricators who will be able to help you out. Maintaining optimal cutting is critical, and we have just what you need. 

Ignite the Plasma Arc: 

With the setup and parameter adjustments being set, you can ignite the plasma arc. Turn the cutter on, and the components will generate the arc that is needed. At the same time, the flow of gas moving through the material will form the plasma arc.

Torch Movement: 

You already have a path for the plasma torch to follow. So, your only task will be to move it based on your specifications. 

If you’re doing this by hand, then you need to carefully guide the torch. On the flip side, a computerized system uses software or CNC machinery to ensure precise and automated movement. 

Remember that the torch needs to be held at a consistent distance from the material in order to achieve a stable arc and cut optimally. 

Material Cutting: 

One interesting point about this process is that the torch itself doesn’t actually come in physical contact with the material being cut.it simply moves along it, allowing the heat to work on the metal instead. 

While this happens, the molten material is also cleared by the gas, which moves with great speed. Remember to maintain a steady cutting speed here to ensure cut consistency and keep the torch at the proper angle to achieve the desired cut quality.

Cooling and Cutting Continuity: 

As part of your process, you  should also make time for cooling. Allow for  enough time for the material and the cutting area to cool down in-between the cuts. If you maintain the cutting process but don’t add in accommodations for cooling, you run the risk of overheating and affecting the overall cut quality.

Post-Cutting Steps: 

With the process now done, you can inspect the cut one more time for precision and quality. Take out any dross formed during the process, and note that you might need to incorporate grinding or other finishing processes to get the perfect surface condition. 

All through the plasma cutting process, it is important to ensure that you follow all safety precautions. Use PPE, maintain a safe working environment, and don’t hesitate to reach out to us for any insights. You can also learn more by checking out a plasma cutting process PDF online.

Applications of Plasma Cutting 

automated plasma cutter

Plasma cutting comes with several applications across different industries. The most common of these include: 

Metal Fabrication: 

As explained, the primary function of this process is to help shape metal. With its compatibility with different forms of metal, it enables precise and efficient cutting of pipes, sheets, and other structural components.

HVAC and Ductwork: 

The HVAC industry is all about optimizing airflow in buildings. And, for that to happen, strong pipes and ducts are required. With this process, manufacturers can fabricate the proper  ductwork, while also optimizing the creation of fittings and other air distribution components. 

Metal Art and Sculpture: 

In the art space, plasma cutting helps sculptors and artists to access a versatile tool that allows them to make complex shapes and designs. With its speed and precision, it makes it easier to create detailed artwork and decorative pieces.

Industrial Maintenance and Repair: 

Plasma cutting works in the industrial maintenance and repair industries as well, aiding the removal of damaged metal parts. It can also improve the process of repairing and modifying machines and equipment across the board.  

Automotive Industry: 

Vehicles need metal parts. So, it should come as no surprise that plasma cutting helps in manufacturing components such as brackets, chassis parts, and more. Besides this, you can also use the process to customize different parts of vehicles and conduct easy repairs. Frames, parts, and more can be modified as you see fit, and you don’t have to worry much about efficiency loss.

Shipbuilding and Marine Industry: 

Companies that specialize in building ships would obviously need metal to work. And, as such, the process has also found use here. Just as well, shipping companies use plasma cutting to develop their frames and other components that are needed in building these massive vehicles.

It enables efficient and accurate cutting of thick metal sections required for hulls, decks, and other ship components.

Construction and Architecture: 

In the construction space, plasma cutting is used to shape metal components of building structures. From beams to stairs and even some decor pieces, the process ensures precision in fabricating metal parts that are used in construction and design.  

Scrap Metal Recycling: 

In the scrap metal industry, it is not uncommon for you to find metal plates and materials that are so large that they can’t just be discarded or recycled directly. To take them into buts, plasma cutting can be employed. 

With this, the process facilitates optimal recycling and processing of metals for reuse. 

The Two Sides To The Plasma Cutting Coin 

upclose plasma cutting

Like every process, there are merits and demerits to be considered when examining this cutting procedure. When choosing a cutting method, you want to consider the following points: 

Advantages of Plasma Cutting:

  • Versatility: Fabricators appreciate this process for its general flexibility. Regardless of the metal’s formation or nature, you can rest assured that plasma cutting will work with it. Just as well, the process also cuts materials of various thickness ratings. 
  • Speed and Efficiency: Plasma cutting allows for quick production. In applications where you need that one-two punch, you can count on this process to deliver always.
  • Operational Accuracy: Another area where this process takes the case – especially when compared to many other material cutting processes – is with accuracy. You get clean, sharp cuts with little by way of taper.
  • Portability: Much of the plasma cutting equipment options are versatile and can be used in different locations. They are also portable enough to be used in environments where mobility is key.
  • Non-Contact Process: The entire plasma cutting process is non-contact. So, the torch doesn’t touch the material being cut – a feature that cuts the risk of material distortion significantly.
  • Minimal Heat-Affected Zone: Your plasma torch generates a narrow heat-affected zone; compared to other cutting methods. This also cuts the risk of material warping significantly.

Potential Pitfalls of Plasma Cutting:

  • Initial Investment: As you can expect, the cost going into plasma cutting can be substantial. Besides the plasma cutting machine price, you also need to procure consumables, gas supply, and consider power costs. Nevertheless, the cost pales in comparison to the potential benefits.
  • Material Replacement: Consumables used in the plasma cutting process will also need to be replaced consistently. So, this is an additional consideration to be made.
  • Noise and Fumes: One major consideration for this process is the physical byproduct; particularly, smoke and significant noise. To wit, it is important to have adequate ventilation and wear PPE to ensure your safety..
  • Edge Quality: While you can rest assured of a good cutting quality, there might still be some bevel or roughness with the edges. 

All in all, we believe that the pros of plasma cutting far outweigh the cons. And, when you’re working with professionals on the level of KDM Fabrication, you can always rest assured of a perfect plasma cutting process. 

VII. Staying Safe While You Conduct Plasma Cutting

As we said earlier, the plasma cutting process is quite a finicky one. And, for you to do things correctly, it is important to have an eye for safety. So, keep the following points in mind as you go along: 

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): You should absolutely have PPE on while handling plasma cutting equipment. From welding helmets to gloves and fire-retardant clothing, these are critical.
  • Proper ventilation and fume extraction: Also, remember to have enough ventilation. With the amount of fumes gotten from the process, having a channel to direct it all out will be important for your safety and the efficiency of the cut. 
  • Fire safety measures and precautions: We would also recommend conducting this process in a location with proper fire safety protocols. In the event of overheating or a power failure, adequate preparation will be important.
  • Electrical safety guidelines: Another important thing to keep in mind is to follow proper guidelines when it comes to electrical safety. Have a certified electrician examine your setup and take recommendations from them on maintaining a safe working environment. 

Maintenance and Care for Plasma Cutting Equipment 

The efficiency of your plasma cutting process will only be as assured as the quality of your equipment. To that end, remember the following tips when it comes to keeping the equipment safe and efficient:

  • Regular inspection and cleaning of torch components: The torch components pick up a significant amount of dust and debris as a result of the plasma cutting process. To wit, be sure to clean them regularly to maintain them.
  • Gas and consumables management: Also, follow a reliable schedule for replacing any consumables that might get damaged – as well as your gas. Ensure to have enough in supply before beginning the plasma-cutting process. 
  • Power supply and system maintenance: Remember to keep your power supply optimal as well. And, if you’re using a mechanized plasma cutting process, ensure to maintain your system properly.
  • Troubleshooting common issues: Finally, you might want to keep an eye on some of the common system failures or issues encountered. On this end, feel free to reach out to professionals for advice. 

Conclusion 

Plasma cutting has proved to be one of the most effective ways to achieve the desired physical specifications from conductive metal materials. However, it is critical to follow the right process if you’re to succeed with it. 

At KDM Fabrication, you can rest assured that we will be able to help you out with this. And, if you need any recommendations, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

FAQs

Can a plasma cutter be used for welding? 

Yes indeed! Plasma cutters are popular for their operational versatility. And, despite conducting the plasma process with them, you can also use them for additional functions like marking, gouging, and welding.

As for how a plasma cutter works, you will need to adapt it perfectly for welding. 

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