Dispelling Myths About Plasma Cutting
Myth No. 1: Plasma is expensive—While plasma systems can come with a higher pricetag that other cutting equipment, high cutting speeds and superior cut quality from PAC result in productivity gains that save operators time and money. Faster cutting speeds—without any preheating of the workpiece required—enable operators to complete jobs quickly. Better cut quality, with less dross and better edge quality, means fewer labor-intensive finishing operations are required. And, since most handheld plasma systems run off of compressed air, shops avoid costly cylinder rentals and delivery charges.
Case in point: Northern A1 Services, Kalkaska, MI, a safety and environmental cleanup company, recently switched from oxyfuel cutting to plasma to cut titanium for a variety of aerospace projects.
“There’s no question our company is saving money by using plasma,” says Northern A1 project manager Brian Balon. “We used to pay a lot for gas. With plasma, we’re saving that money and creating a safer working environment.”
Myth No. 2: Plasma is only for use on thin materials—Twenty years ago, this statement may have been true, as some early handheld plasma systems did not meet expectations for performance on thicker materials. And, plasma does offer some advantages on thin materials—a smaller heat-affected zone and less warping—compared with oxyfuel cutting. As PAC technology has advanced, systems now provide cutting capacity to 1.75 in. or more.
Northern A1 finds that PAC is the best choice 80 percent of the time. “We still use oxyfuel when cutting our thickest stuff, but for the vast majority of jobs, plasma is faster,” Balon says.
Myth No. 3: Plasma is only for use on stainless steel—Many PAC-system owners purchase their first plasma system for cutting stainless steel, aluminum or other nonferrous alloys. Some continue to believe that plasma can only be used on these materials. In truth, plasma proves effective on any electrically conductive alloy, and is one of the world’s most popular methods for cutting mild steel. The process also is effective for cutting painted, dirty or even rusted steel.
Myth No. 4: Plasma is only for cutting —Plasma systems cut, pierce and bevel electrically conductive alloys and parts of all types, shapes and sizes. With a simple change of the torch and/or consumables, some plasma systems can switch between hand and automated cutting. Plasma systems also can be used on X-Y cutting tables, robot arms, with a track burner for effective long, straight cuts, or with pipe-cutting and beveling tools.
Myth No. 5: Plasma is difficult to use —While the underlying technology of a plasma system may seem complicated, even a first-time PAC operator can achieve good-quality results within minutes of picking up a plasma torch. With air-plasma systems, there are no gases to regulate, and with features such as nozzle shielding, operators need not hold a standoff—they only have to drag the tip of the torch directly along the workpiece.
Hypertherm, Inc.: 603/643-3441; www.hypertherm.com
See also: Hypertherm, Inc.
Related Enterprise Zones: Fabrication
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