Plasma cutting is a very popular method of cutting employed today by large industries, small and medium metal fabricators and even DIY hobbyists. However, before you go ahead and invest in a plasma cutting system for your cutting unit, there are some factors that you must consider.
Determining the Material Thickness
An important factor to consider when buying a plasma cutting system is the material’s thickness that you will be cutting frequently. The plasma cutters are rated according to the amperage and the cutting ability. For instance, if you are cutting ¼-inch thick material often, then you could consider a plasma cutter with a lower amperage; however, if you cut ½-inch thick material frequently, then opt for a cutter with a higher amperage. While a smaller plasma cutter may cut through a metal of certain thickness, the quality of cut may not be very good and also you may also get a severe cut that leaves behind slag or dross.
Selecting the Optimum Cutting Speed
Check the cutting speed of the plasma cutting system which is usually measured in inches per minute or IPM. Select a plasma cutter that can handle around twice the normal thickness. Also, if you cut for very long periods of time or the cutting set-up is an automated one, then check the plasma cutter’s duty cycle, which is the time that you can cut continuously with the plasma torch before it overheats and requires cooling. A higher duty cycle means that you can keep cutting for longer periods of time without a break.
Consumable Life vs Consumable Cost
Plasma cutting machines have consumables which get worn with use and need to be replaced. Choose a machine that has the least number of replaceable consumable parts, which mean lesser parts that must be replaced and hence more savings.
Testing the Machine
When buying a plasma cutting system, try out test cuts on various machines on the same material thickness and at the same speed to determine which plasma cutter delivers the best cut quality. Also, check the amount of dross left by the machine and also check if the kerf angle is angular or perpendicular. Also, look for a torch that produces a tighter plasma arc. When the torch is cutting, lift the torch from the workpiece and observe how far the torch can be moved while still maintaining the arc. A longer plasma arc essentially means more volts and that the torch can cut through a thicker metal plate.
Checking the Visibility
While cutting with the plasma cutter, you should be able to see the workpiece clearly and the visibility is usually dependant on the plasma torch. A smaller and more compact torch and an extended nozzle will allow you to see better while cutting.
Having a plasma cutting system that is lightweight and portable makes it easy to move the plasma machine around in the plant or from one site to another, if required. So, having a cutting machine with a shoulder strap or undercarriage can help in moving the machine easily. Also, having a small and compact machine is beneficial if you have limited space in your fabrication unit.
Look for a plasma cutting system that offers durability and is long-lasting. Look for a machine with protected controls, as they last longer. Some plasma systems have an air filter that have a protective cage and around the essential parts of the cutter. Protecting the air filter is very important as it ensures that the water and oil are eliminated from the compressed air, which reduces the cutting performance of the machine.
Ease of Use and Comfort
Select a plasma cutter which is user-friendly and has a control panel which is easy to read. The machine should also have all the instructions printed on the plasma system which will help in the setup and troubleshooting procedures. Also, look for a torch that has an ergonomic design and feels comfortable to handle.
Finally, last but not the least, the plasma cutting system must have safety features that make it safe to use. So, whenever you decide to buy a plasma cutting system for your cutting operation, make sure that the machine has all the qualities that will enable increased productivity and reduced downtime.