How To Choose a Plasma Cutter

Choosing a plasma cutter for your machine shop is a critical part of managing your CNC workflow. With new technologies in the industry, there is a wide range of options available depending on your industry, application and workflow. In this article, we discuss how to choose a plasma cutter that meets all of your needs both present and future.

Table of Contents

What Is a Plasma Cutter?

A plasma cutter is a tool used in metal fabrication and manufacturing to cut through electrically conductive materials. It consists of a power supply — which provides the fuel necessary to make the cuts — and a cutting torch that produces the electrical channel and cuts the material. A plasma cutter can use different fuel types such as oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and argon, all of which come with their own benefits and disadvantages.

Usually, when we talk about CNC plasma cutters, we are talking about the entire plasma cutting system. A plasma cutting system involves many different components, including the plasma power supply, cutting torch, CNC controller, downdraft table and more, to make up one unified system.

A plasma cutter, what we'll be talking about today, is just the power supply and the cutting torch. Read our full guide on choosing a new plasma cutting system for an overview on what to look for regarding a full CNC operation.

How Does a Plasma Cutter Work?

A plasma cutter works by using an accelerated stream of ionized plasma. The plasma cutter creates an electrical channel from the cutting torch to the material being cut. The most common materials used in plasma cutting are steel, stainless steel and aluminum, though other materials can be cut as well.

The plasma power supply does most of the heavy lifting by supplying the fuel and electricity while the consumables within the cutting torch can greatly affect the cutting process and the outcomes.

What To Consider When Choosing a Plasma Cutter

For your machine shop, it is important to know how to choose a plasma cutter that fits into your workflow, performs all the cuts you need it to and doesn't come with a bunch of unnecessary costs. Each individual plasma cutting machine has its own advantages and limitations. Here is our list of things to consider when choosing a plasma cutter:

1. Cut Speed

The speed at which your plasma cutter can tackle different materials and thicknesses is a combination of electrical output and fuel consumption. While faster speeds are always desirable, they can come at higher costs while sacrificing cut quality. Choosing a plasma cutter is almost always a compromise between efficiency and cost.

2. Portability

How far does your plasma torch need to go? Portable plasma power supplies are ideal for shipyards and other applications using a manual plasma torch to cut large materials.

3. Fuel Type

Depending on the thickness and gauge of the material being cut, different fuel types offer higher efficiency and greater cutting strength. However, gases like argon and nitrogen are also more expensive to purchase and have different storage requirements than compressed air.

4. Application

How many different types of materials and thicknesses do you need to operate? How long of a duty cycle do you require? Are you using a manual plasma torch or CNC controller? Answering these questions is important when choosing a plasma cutter.

5. Material

Cutting gauge aluminum has massively different fuel and plasma torch requirements than cutting three-inch thick steel. The amount of power you need to cut the depth you want is a determining factor for a lot of plasma cutting machines.

6. Cut Quality

Determined by fuel, consumables and power settings, cut quality can span a broad spectrum from very fine and detailed to broad cutting that requires further secondary processing. Your plasma torch, fuel type and power supply determine the cuts you are capable of making with adjustments made for different materials and thicknesses.

Contact Cutting Systems When Choosing a Plasma Cutting Machine

Still have questions about how to choose a plasma cutter? Cutting Systems develops high-quality industrial plasma cutting systems for companies serving a variety of industries. Speak with our knowledgeable staff of industry experts and we can walk you through the process of choosing a plasma cutter that fits your needs. Cutting Systems performs a number of services, including custom solutions for unique applications, retrofits on existing plasma cutting machines and new precision plasma and oxy-fuel cutting machines. Reach out to us today to get started.

Contact Us

Every industrial CNC machine from Cutting Systems delivers the cut quality, productivity and precision that your application demands. We consider all of our customers to be valued partners and provide unparalleled service to ensure your needs are met. If you have any questions about our steel cutting machinery, feel free to contact us – we're always happy to help. If you know what you need for your industry, try requesting a quote to begin building the CNC machine that will get the job done right every time.