There are many cutting processes available i.e. plasma cutting, oxyfuel cutting, laser cutting and waterjet cutting. While each of these processes has their uses and advantages, they have their disadvantages too, which makes one cutting process suitable for certain types of operations, as compared to another. In this article, we will discuss an overview of the four cutting methods.
In terms of the operating costs, plasma cutting is the lowest among the four processes. Plasma cutting can be used to cut any kind of conductive metals such as aluminum, stainless-steel, etc. The plasma cutting process is an automated one and does not require the operator to be very experienced. Plasma cutting allows you to choose the gases and power level depending on your productivity and quality needs. Plasma cutting is best for cutting stainless-steel of thickness ¼-2 inches and the cost of a plasma cutting system is much lower than a waterjet or laser cutting system.
The main drawbacks of plasma cutting are that it can be used only to cut metal, the cut quality is not as precise as what you would get with waterjet or laser and the cost of a plasma cutting system is much higher than an oxyfuel cutter.
Oxyfuel cutting is used to cut steel of heavy thickness and if you want the cutting process to be continuous, then you can automate the oxyfuel cutting system by making use of a CNC, where a CNC machine can accommodate 2-12 torches. Oxyfuel cutting is suitable for both, hand as well as, machine cutting tasks. When compared to plasma cutting, the costs for oxyfuel cutting equipment is quite low.
The drawbacks of oxyfuel cutting are that you can cut only cast iron and steel by using this process and it cannot be used to cut any other kind of metal. Compared to plasma cutting, oxyfuel cutting is very slow. Also, oxyfuel cutting makes use of flammable gas for the cutting process, which causes a very large heat-affected zone and also causes the material below to warp. And, for good quality of cuts, you need a skilled operator to handle the oxyfuel cutting.
Laser cutting gives you superior quality of cut through the entire thickness of the material and you can use this method to cut material that is less than ¼-inch up to ¾-inch. Laser cutting offers better quality cuts compared to plasma cutting and usually, laser cutting gives best quality and productivity when precision cutting sheet metal.
The main drawback of laser cutting is the cost. Since laser systems need extremely precise motion control, this makes laser cutting systems quite expensive. Also, the maintenance costs of laser systems are very high, especially in the case of CO2 systems.
Waterjet cutting is an extremely versatile cutting process and you can use it to cut almost any kind of material. Waterjet cutting offers excellent and precise edge finish and has a tight tolerance. The cutting is so precise with waterjet that there is no need for any finishing operation such as dross removal, grinding, etc. Waterjet systems are easy to maintain, do not require too many consumables and do not use any gases which require monitoring, changing, etc. You can use varied cutting heads on a single machine.
The main disadvantage of the waterjet cutting system is that it is much slower than the other cutting processes and this results in a higher cost per part produced, as each part takes a longer time to cut. The cutting process also requires a constant supply of water or/and abrasive material and the water can make all the things around wet and untidy.
Now that we have understood the four different cutting processes and the pros and cons of each, it will give you a better idea of the process to choose that is best suited to your specific cutting requirements.