Plasma cutting is a technique that uses a high-paced current of ionized gas to section through electrically conductive materials such as steel, aluminum, and copper. A plasma cutting machine works with an inert gas, such as argon or nitrogen, that is then blasted at a supercharged speed out of a nozzle. An electrical arc is then formed between the nozzle and the worked piece, which heats and ionizes the gas, creating a plasma. The plasma is scorching hot and able to melt the metal and at the same time a high-pressure stream of gas is used to blow the molten metal away, leaving the effect of cutting through the worked piece.

Plasma cutting is a fast and precise cutting technology with many options and therefore has become a very popular technology in the manufacturing industries, worldwide. Every day we use end products, where some form of plasma cutting was at play.

Microstep What is Plasma 2

What exactly is plasma?

Plasma is a state of matter that is akin to a gas, but it has some distinct characteristics that set it apart. In a plasma, a significant portion of the atoms have been ionized, meaning that they have lost one or more electrons. This gives plasmas unique properties, such as the ability to conduct electricity and to generate magnetic fields.

Plasmas can be seen in abounding areas in the natural world, such as in lightning, solar flares, and aurorae. They are also constructed artificially in many industrial and scientific operations, which is where plasma cutting takes effect, as the electrical arc is used to heat and ionize the gas, making it hot enough to melt the metal. The plasma is then directed through a constricting nozzle, which focuses the plasma and increases its cutting ability.

Plasmas can also be adopted in alternative industrial processes, such as welding and surface treatment, as well as in scientific research, including nuclear fusion, astrophysics, and materials science. The special properties of plasmas cause them to be advantageous in countless diverse applications.

Microstep The history 2

The history of plasma cutting

Plasma cutting and itsĀ“ history can be detected from the beginning of the 20th century when scientists first began analyzing and examining with ionized gases. It was however only around the 1950s that the first effective plasma cutting systems began to be produced.

One of the fundamental modernizations in the progress of plasma cutting was the brainchild, the constricting nozzle, which facilitated the concentration and control of the plasma arc.

The first commercial plasma cutting machines were offered in the 1960s, and these early machines were mainly used for cutting and gouging in the shipbuilding and construction industries.

Plasma cutting technology has continued to evolve and improve over the last few decades and in the 1970s high-frequency plasma cutting was introduced, which assisted in cutting of thinner sheet metals. Further evolving took place in the 1980s when computer numerical control (CNC) was released to the world. This further allowed for a more precise cutting technology and the automation of the plasma cutting systems.

Today, plasma cutting is commonly used around the globe. It is a functional technology found in many different industries and applications. It is appreciated for being a rapid, precise, and cost-effective way of cutting metal. Due to the advancement in this technology sector, some of the modern plasma cutting machines can cut a wide range of thicknesses, from thin sheet metal to thick structural steel, and to cut complex shapes with precision and high accuracy.

Microstep Plasma Cutting - What Industries?

Which industries make use of Plasma Cutting?

Plasma cutting is commonly used in a variety of industries, including, manufacturing and fabrication, the automotive industry, the construction industry, in HVAC, art and sculpting, aerospace and defense, marine and many more other industries that cannot all be mentioned.

In the manufacturing and fabrication industries plasma cutting is often applied in the manufacturing of metal parts and components, as well as in the fabrication of structures such as bridges and buildings.

In the automotive sector, plasma cutting is used to cut and shape various parts for vehicles such as body panels, exhaust systems and frames.

The construction industry uses plasma cutting technology for cutting and shaping of metal parts for building, like metal roofing, metal studs, and rebar.

Plasma cutting is used in HVAC to cut ductwork and other parts for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Some sculptors and metal artists have used this technology in creating and fabricating beautiful artwork and designs.

The aerospace industry uses plasma cutting to shape and fabricate parts for aircrafts, missiles and other defense equipment.

Plasma cutting has a very strong foothold in the shipbuilding industries and plasma cutters usually have immensely long cutting tables to accommodate the sizes of the parts needed for shipbuilding. But there are also trends that will dictate how plasma cutting as an industry will evolve in the coming years.

Microstep What types 2

What can be cut with plasma and what types of steel?

Plasma cutting is primarily used to cut electrically conductive materials, such as:

  • Mild Steel is the most common type of steel used in plasma cutting, and it can be cut in a wide range of thicknesses, from thin sheet metal to thick structural steel.
  • High strength low alloy (HSLA) steel is a type of steel that is stronger and harder than mild steel, and it can be cut with plasma cutting machines, but might require higher power settings or specialized consumables
  • Plasma cutting of stainless steel is used to cut this material in different thickness and is known for itsĀ“ high precision cutting of this metal.
  • Plasma cutting is a cost-effective and efficient way to cut aluminum, which can be difficult to cut with other technologies.
  • Copper and other conductive materials such as brass, titanium, and nickel can also be used
  • Hardened steel is a type of steel that has been heat-treated to increase its strength and hardness. Plasma cutting of hardened steel is burdensome, but with the appropriate qualities and settings, is accomplished.
  • Tool steel is a type of steel used for making of cutting tools, dies, and other specialized parts. Although special settings and high-definition plasma cutting are needed, this technology can cut tool steel too.
  • The same as with tool steel, wear-resistant steel is capable of being cut with a plasma cutter, but it highly depends on the settings and quality of the machine.

Generally, the finished cutting quality of all steel will highly depend on the quality of the plasma cutting technology used, in conjunction with the plasma power source used, as well as the consumables too. We have seen amazing results with our plasma cutters, when all the correct and ideal conditions are put in place.

Microstep Solution 2

How do you know if you should use a plasma cutting solution

Often, we are approached by the customer who wants to buy a laser cutting machine. This is understandable, as fiberlaser cutting machines have a very high reputation for their cutting quality but are somewhat restrictive. We in turn advise you to investigate the possibilities of plasma cutting technology.

Here are some factors to consider when determining if a plasma cutting solution is appropriate for your specific application:

  • You need to consider the material thickness of your part. Plasma cutting is effective for cutting a broad scope of thicknesses of electrically conductive materials, from thin sheet metal to thick structural steel.
  • What type of material do you need to cut? Plasma cutting can be applied to cut an array of materials including steel, aluminum, copper, and other conductive materials. However, if you need to cut non-conductive materials, such as plastic or wood, plasma cutting will not be effective and rather waterjet cutting technology would be your best option.
  • You need to think about how important the cutting quality is for your application. Plasma cutting can produce high-quality cuts, with minimal burrs, and clean edges. If you need to make very precise cuts though, with tight tolerances, or make complex geometries, sometimes a different cutting technology is more effective.
  • Plasma cutting is ideal for high volume production. If you need to make many identical cuts, such as in a high-volume production environment, plasma cutting is a cost-effective and efficient solution.
  • Time saving is generally always a requirement and in case of plasma cutting it is relatively fast and efficient, making it a good option for speed of production.
  • The cost of your machine will largely depend on the quality and capabilities as well as the plasma power source of the machine and its consumables, but plasma cutting is generally less expensive than other cutting methods, such as laser cutting.
  • In terms of safety, plasma cutting is a rather safe mechanism when compared to other cutting processes like oxyfuel cutting and abrasive cutting. It does not produce a toxic gas and the arc is contained within the machine.

It’s critical to weigh all these factors and contemplate the technicalities of your application before deciding if a plasma cutting solution is applicable. In some cases, a combination of cutting technologies might be needed to accomplish the greatest results and if you have a good quality machine, you may often be able to have those various cutting technologies together on one system to obtain state of the art cutting outcomes on your products.

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Main Office: Unit B1B & Warehouse C1, Isando Business Park, Cnr Hulley and Gewel Street, Isando, 1601.

Office: 011 397 6356
Ludwig Oellermann: +27 (0) 83 463 0999
Email: info@microstepsa.co.za