During production, metals are required to be cut in different shapes and designs to achieve the function intended. In traditional workshops and factories, the process was performed manually by workers using basic tools.
The biggest downside to this however was it was quite difficult to achieve accurate results. Fortunately, with the automation and development of industrial technology, there have been significant changes in the process of cutting metals. One of which is the introduction of plasma cutters and its automated variety the CNC plasma cutter.
Why use a CNC plasma cutting machine?
After its introduction, cutting machines like the CNC plasma cutting machine have become the most preferred in cutting metals; CNC (Computer Numeric Control) is an automated machine that is equipped with a plasma torch for the usage of cutting metals. With the help of the computer, an operator would input numeric codes in a program that would provide the machine direction upon which the machine will cut the metal in automation.
How does a CNC plasma cutter work?
To understand how a CNC plasma cutter works, you first need to understand how a plasma cutter works. Firstly, what is plasma? There are three basic states of matter we all are aware of; Solid, liquid and Gas. Water is ice when solid after the heat is increased the matter changes to water, the liquid which is formed after further increase in heat levels becomes gas (steam), now if one was to further increase heat levels, you will find that the steam has become ionized making it conductive to electricity, this state of matter is known as plasma and is referred to as the fourth state of matter.
A plasma cutter utilizes plasma to cut through metals by using the gas which is electrically conductive to transfer its energy which sources from a power supply to a conductive material this results in a cleaner and faster cutting of the material using oxy-fuel.
Now in the case of a CNC plasma cutter, a CNC or Computer Numeric Control plasma cutting machine, the cutting machine is automated and operated with the aid of a computer where an operator can input numeric codes to direct the machine to cut the metal according to instructions provided.
Most CNC machines come equipped with sometimes actual controllers used and designed for machinery tools, with interface panels and specially designed consoles for control. Entry-level machines could also utilize laptops and desktop computers for inputting the designs with the aid of software installed in them that control the machine.
The inputted numeric codes basically instruct the torch in the machine which part of the metal to cut, using a text file, with ‘M-codes’ as well as ‘G-codes’, these codes describe the contours of the metal and also when to turn the torch on and off.
A CNC plasma cutter for its function requires a drive system, which are basically motors, encoders, drive amplifiers, and cables. Possessing a minimum of two motors, one for the Y-axis and the other for the X-axis, with a motor installed with drive amplifiers, it takes low- power signal generated from the CNC and converts it into signals high enough for the motor to move.
Each signal is setup with a feedback system, like an encoder, the device generates a digital signal indicating the movements of the axis and how far it has moved. The cable takes amplifiers power and moves it into the motor and the position signals are carried from the encoder back to the CNC. The CNC reads the program and then the signals are outputted to the drive system which moves the machine equipped plasma torch according to the programmed path.
Will a plasma cutter cut through rusty nails or paint?
Plasma cutters have come a long way from its introduction, older molders of plasma cutters might find it difficult cutting through rust and paint but with the latest innovation in plasma cutting technology, cutting paint and rusted metals are no longer a hindrance to plasma cutters now. Of course, this depends on the type and quality of plasma cutters you own. Though most modern plasma cutters cut rusted and painted metals quite easily now, basic entry plasma cutter models could struggle to cut through rusted or painted metals. It varies from model to model.
Laser cutter vs plasma cutters
In regards to how it functions, laser cutters and plasma cutters both perform the same function as they both are used in cutting metals and also do it quite efficiently.
Laser cutters and plasma cutters have different power sources; laser cutters use compressed air, high powered lasers alongside nitrogen and oxygen slice through the metal with the help of computers. Laser cutters are capable of performing a variety of tasks relating to metal work making it a multipurpose tool.
Plasma cutters, on the other hand, use air that has been compressed and gasses like hydrogen and nitrogen which run at high speeds under a fine nozzle. The combo creates plasma, a highly conductive ionized gas. This is used to cut metals and on materials where flame cutting machines fail.
Laser cutter, unlike plasma cutter, can be used for a wide variety of purposes like trimming and welding while the latter is usually only used in the process of cutting metals like aluminum and stainless steel etc.
Laser cutters are more expensive when compared to that of plasma cutters, especially very expensive at higher end models.
Laser cutters possess a larger kerf compared to plasma cutters. This makes more metal being lost during the process of profiling but this is compensated by its higher tolerance from the distortion of metal. This enables laser cutters to work with more intricate and fine metals.
Laser cutters are more equipped to handle thinner and more intricate metals. When comparing the plasma cutter ability to manipulate thick metal sheets and metal plates, the modern plasma cutters are able to cut through metals as thick as 80mm. This makes it a perfect choice to work with.