Is Plasma Cutting Worth Considering? A Comprehensive Guide

Categories: Equipment Advantages

Many people find plasma cutting to be a complex and difficult process to understand. The term and concept may seem too technical for those who are unfamiliar with it, even for those in relevant industries who lack context about its workings.

However, despite its technical sounding nature, the core concept of plasma cutting and its practical applications is quite accessible. In fact, this method was developed before laser cutting and is widely used globally.

While plasma cutting is not as versatile as laser cutting when it comes to cutting metal, there are certain scenarios where it is the preferred method. Plasma cutters can effectively cut through conductive metals such as mild steel and stainless steel.

Plasma cutting has become valuable in various industries, even those that may surprise you. When it comes to metal fabrication decisions, comparing plasma cutting versus laser cutting is essential in determining which method suits your requirements best.

Interested in exploring plasma cutting further? Keep reading to discover all there is to know about this technique and which applications benefit from the use of a plasma cutter.

What Is Plasma Cutting?

Plasma cutting is a special method employed for cutting through any electrically conductive metal. It involves directing a high-velocity, superheated plasma stream – exceeding temperatures of 20,000°C – to effectively slice through the metal.

Plasma cutting has become highly valued in industrial settings due to its ability to produce powerful results. Unlike other cutting processes such as laser cutting and water jet cutting, plasma cutting is not only effective but also cost-efficient and budget-friendly for specific projects.

Originally developed as an alternative to the traditional oxy-fuel cutting method, plasma cutting surpassed expectations and proved to be superior to laser cutting. While oxy-fuel cutting relies on gas or fuels like petrol or diesel to generate heat, plasma cutting generates significantly higher temperatures. As a result, plasma cutting is capable of cutting metals that cannot be cut by oxy-fuel torches.

The use of a plasma cutter, which produces an intensely hot ‘cone’ for cutting, allows for swift and efficient metal cutting. This is particularly advantageous when working with curved or angled conductive metal sheets.

How Does Plasma Cutting Work?

Plasma cutting is commonly performed using stationary machines, but it can also be done manually using a handheld plasma torch. These devices are referred to as plasma cutters, plasma guns, or plasma arcs, and they find frequent use in environments such as junkyards where flexibility in the cutting process is necessary.

Plasma cutting is achieved by utilizing high-temperature and electrically charged gas to effectively slice through metal that conducts electricity. The expelled gas from a concentrated nozzle is extraordinarily hot, reaching temperatures exceeding 20,000 degrees Celsius.

The plasma cutting process, also known as plasma arc cutting, commences when a suitable compressed gas is forcefully propelled towards a conductive metal. This creates an electrical “arc” between an electrode (cathode) and the conductive metal (anode).

the force of the plasma jet. The electric arc allows for precise and accurate cutting, making plasma cutting a popular choice in industries such as metal fabrication, automotive, and construction.

During plasma cutting, the gas inside the torch is transformed into a plasma state, which is a highly ionized gas. The electric current passes through this plasma, creating intense heat that can easily melt and sever metal. A nozzle, either cooled by water or air, helps shape and focus the plasma stream into a concentrated jet. This jet is narrow, incredibly hot, and propelled at high speeds.

To cater to different cutting needs, there are various types of nozzles available, with the High Tolerance Plasma Arc Cutting (HTPAC) being one option. The choice of gas used to power the plasma cutter depends on the specific material being cut. Common gas sources include compressed air, nitrogen, oxygen, and argon-hydrogen mixtures. The best gas for the job will vary depending on factors like material type, thickness, and conductivity.

Despite their efficiency and effectiveness, plasma cutting machines require a significant amount of power to function properly. The compressed gas, along with the force of the plasma jet, helps blow away the molten metal, allowing for a clean and precise cut. With its ability to produce accurate results, plasma cutting has become an integral part of many industries that deal with metal.

Fume control is an important aspect of plasma cutting, although it is not directly related to the laser cutter itself. During the plasma cutting process, chemical gases and flames are generated and utilized, making proper ventilation and fume extraction crucial for the safety of the operator and the entire workshop. Fume extraction methods can either involve air or water-based systems, and can be integrated into the machine or incorporated into the workshop.

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What Are Plasma Cutters Used For?

Plasma cutters find their applications in various industries. While they can be utilized for metal fabrication, they are more commonly employed for less precise tasks in construction sites and salvage yards. Additionally, plasma cutting is widely applied in manufacturing, auto repair, auto restoration, construction, and scrapping industries. In the creative field and art industry, plasma cutting is favored by professionals like sign artists, interior designers, and sculptors. It is also frequently combined with other metal finishing techniques, such as powder coating, to achieve high-quality outcomes in industrial settings.

Plasma cutters are no longer limited to smaller industrial businesses and art creation. The demand for efficient metal cutting in various thicknesses has expanded, leading to the extensive use of plasma cutters in industries such as aerospace, automotive, and defense.

Plasma torches serve as a convenient tool for quick and powerful cutting. However, it is important to note that plasma cutting is not as versatile as laser cutting. It is only effective on conductive metals. Additionally, the results of plasma cutting are less precise compared to laser cutting, making laser cutters the preferred choice for most modern applications.

If you want to know more about the advantages and disadvantages of plasma cutting, continue reading.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Plasma Cutting 

When it comes to plasma cutting, just like any other cutting methods, there are both benefits and drawbacks. Although plasma cutting may have more advantages than disadvantages for certain tasks, it is crucial to discern its limitations and strengths precisely.

Understanding the pros and cons of a plasma cutter can assist in determining the most suitable option for your project.

Pros Of Plasma Cutting 

Reason for Popularity – One of the primary reasons for the increasing popularity of plasma cutting is its immense cutting strength. This method can effortlessly slice through all electrically conductive metals, including thick sheet metal. This makes it particularly valuable in industries such as automotive and aerospace, where large, thick metal pieces are frequently encountered.

Speed of Cutting – Plasma cutting outperforms oxy-fuel torch cutting by a significant margin in terms of cutting speed. In fact, a plasma cutter can be up to ten times faster than oxy-fuel, making it the preferred choice for those seeking to swiftly cut down large metal structures. This high-speed capability is particularly useful for wreckers and scrappers who need to process large volumes of material in a short amount of time.

Cons Of Plasma Cutting

Application – The applications for plasma cutting are limited because it can only cut through conductive metals, unlike laser cutters which can perform a wider range of fabrication tasks such as engraving and etching. This is why professional metal fabricators prefer to use laser cutters, as they offer a larger variety of materials they can work with.

Price – While plasma cutting yields excellent results, it is a more expensive process. Oxy-fuel torches, although less powerful, can still be used for on-site applications that do not require the extreme heat of a plasma cutter.

Power Consumption – Power consumption is significant for a plasma cutter due to its high power demands. This not only leads to higher operational costs but also poses a challenge for some metal fabrication companies that may lack the necessary energy capacity to safely operate these machines.

Precision – When it comes to precision, plasma cutting can be enhanced by utilizing CNC technology. However, intricate or detailed metal cutting tasks often require the use of a laser cutter as plasma cutting is not recommended for achieving tight tolerances.

Cut Quality – While plasma cutting produces relatively high-quality cuts compared to oxy-fuel torches, it still falls short in terms of quality and precision when compared to laser cutting. If achieving the highest level of quality is a priority, opting for laser cutting would be the ideal choice.

What Metals Can A Plasma Cutter Cut?

Plasma cutting can be used on steel, aluminium, brass, copper, stainless steel, and other conductive materials.

Here are some of the gas types used in plasma cutting:

Compressed Air

Compressed air is the most commonly used gas for plasma cutting. Usually used for lower current processes, compressed air is compatible with most metals up to three centimetres thick. It is also preferred by those who want an oxidised cut finish on their workpiece. 


Another gas that you can use for plasma cutting is Nitrogen. Used for higher current processes, Nitrogen can cut materials with a maximum thickness of seven and a half centimetres. This is the most preferred gas among metal workers because it produces high-quality cuts on most materials.


Metalworkers who want super-fine quality cuts use oxygen for plasma cutting. This gas can work with carbon steel, up to three centimetres thick. Oxygen is preferred by many because it produces smooth cuts on carbon steel. However, when used on stainless steel and aluminium, the cuts are rough and unpolished.

Argon-Hydrogen Mixtures

Argon-Hydrogen Mixtures can be used to cut stainless steel and aluminium. Unlike Oxygen, Argon-Hydrogen mixtures produce a polished and clean-cut face. Metalworkers use this gas to work on materials thicker than seven and a half centimetres.

When Were The First Plasma Cutters Developed?

Although plasma cutters are extremely popular nowadays, it’s interesting to note that the system behind this technology was actually born more than half a century ago. The process of plasma cutting was developed in the 1950s. 

Plasma cutting is a technology that has been around for over fifty years, and was originally developed as a more powerful alternative to oxy-fuel cutting. Oxy-fuel torches were ubiquitous as the standard method of cutting metal in the early 20th Century, but don’t reach high enough temperatures for some metals. When first introduced, plasma cutting was very expensive and was only accessible in an industrial setting. As the results of plasma cutting have been superseded by CO2 and fiber laser cutting, plasma cutters are more commonly used in less precise industrial settings, like wrecking and scrapping.

FAQs for Plasma Cutting

Is Plasma Cutting Dangerous?

Very much like all other cutting methods, plasma cutting comes with its very own risks and dangers. Although many metalworkers say that the process is a lot safer than using more basic tools to cut metals, it is still crucial to take extra caution when using the plasma technique. 

When using a plasma cutter, it’s essential to protect both the machine, the operator, and the work surface. For this reason, every single person who is part of the plasma cutting process must be appropriately dressed at all times. This means wearing proper eyewear, eye protection, and a face shield is necessary. Using more protective gear, such as leather gloves, aprons, and jackets should be encouraged for added protection.

Is Plasma Cutting Expensive?

Plasma cutting used to be a very exclusive technology. In fact, in the 1980s, the technology was very expensive, and few people knew about it. Today, however, the tides have turned as plasma cutting technology is available to many more businesses and even individual craftspeople. However, the quality and capability of lower-end plasma cutters is very different to those used in industrial settings. 

What Is High Tolerance Plasma Arc Cutting? 

High tolerance plasma arc cutting is an evolution of plasma cutting designed to be a low-cost option for cutting metals and materials thinner than 12mm. Also known as high-definition plasma cutting, plasma constricted arc cutting, or fine plasma cutting, HTPAC utilizes altered gas flow and nozzles to cut metals and materials thinner than a centimeter with greater accuracy, speed and quality than traditional plasma cutting.

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