Plasma Cutters and How They Work

Plasma Cutters: What You Need to Know

Metal is an extremely strong material. Because of this, it’s the go-to substance for the production of some of our world’s most important features. But its strength can double as a weakness because it doesn’t allow for easy molding and manipulation. Facilities depend on heavy machinery that can tackle moving, cutting and manipulating conductive materials. Plasma cutters do just that, among other helpful tasks. Learn all about this tool, including how it works and how it can help your business:


What is a Plasma Cutter?

In order to understand what this instrument does, first it’s important to know what plasma is. Matter has three forms: liquid, gas and solid. How, exactly, does a plasma cutter work? Well, this tool sends an electric arc through a gas that is passing through a constricted opening. With this extreme heat, plasma cutters elevate the temperature of the gas and convert it to the fourth state of matter, called plasma. As a result, this instrument can pass through metals like steel, aluminum, brass and copper with little or no resistance. This sharp welding process allows for cleaner, sliced lines and sturdier constructions.

Perfecting the Production Process

Plasma cutters are a necessity in the manufacturing industry, from construction companies and auto shops to locksmiths. As technology has progressed, so has this instrument’s design and capability. Plasma cutters fall into two categories: manual and mechanized. Manual cutters are typically hand-held to cut through specific types of metal. These devices are on the smaller side, versatile and oftentimes portable, making welding jobs more convenient. They deliver high-cutting amperage but are typically used in light-metal applications for trimming excess material. Mechanized plasma cutters, on the other hand, are used for large-scale jobs. They include more features and are used in conjunction with cutting tables. These systems cannot be moved easily, as they require a larger power supply to work. Choosing between a mechanized or manual cutter depends on the size, shape and thickness of the material that needs to be cut.

Oxy-Fuel Torch: the Dark Horse of Manufacturing

Plasma cutters aren’t the only metal-machine on the market, however. Oxy-fuel cutting machines are also used in the metalworking profession. These systems work by an oxygen/fuel gas flame preheating steel to its ignition temperature. Then, a high-powered oxygen jet is directed at the metal creating a chemical reaction to form iron oxide, also known as slag. This jet then removes the flag from the cut. Different cutting jobs yield specific types of slicing instruments, including plasma cutters and oxy-fuel torches. So, neither tool would be categorized as “better” or “newer.” Choosing a tool requires the details of the task at hand.

Cutting Metal and Costs Simultaneously

Smaller-scale plasma cutter models have been on the rise in the industry. The average metal that is cut is only 25 mm. thick (or less). Plasma cutters can slice through materials faster than oxy-fuel torches. This increased speed can result in an increase of productivity in the workplace. Plasma cutters are also much safer devices than oxy-fuel cutters, as they don’t involve high flammable gas and open flames. The fewer hazards in a workplace, the safer the environment is for everyone. As a result, plasma cutters can help businesses cut costs and sheet metal—at the same time.


Pub. 05/2017

The product statements contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. The information provided herein does not replace the use by you of any manufacturer instructions or technical product manual. W. W. Grainger, Inc. does not guarantee the result of product operation or assume any liability for personal injury or property damage resulting from the user’s reference to any product instructions. This publication is not a substitute for review of the current applicable government regulations and standards specific to your location and business activity, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion.