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When to Use Plasma Cutting and Laser Cutting

Updated: May 4, 2021

Both plasma cutting and laser cutting methods are effective solutions for the fabrication of metals unsuitable for cutting by other traditional methods.

What's the Difference Between Plasma Cutting and Laser Cutting

Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutters are precision tools that can cut most types of metals and thicknesses. They are useful across a wide variety of applications. This cutting method uses the heat of a high-temperature plasma arc to partially melt (and evaporate) the metal at the cut edge. Compressed air or gas, such as oxygen or nitrogen, are fed through the cutting machine. When they make contact with the electrode, they ionize and create plasma that is hot enough to cut through metal.

Compared to saws, which create metal bits and fragments, or other torches that can leave behind waste material, or dross, plasma torches leave a much cleaner edge. Any remaining unwanted materials is typically easy to remove.

Safety goggles must be worn for protection against the UV from the electrical arc and any airborne molten particles. Heavy gloves, hearing protection, welding helmet, respirator, proper footwear, and protective clothing are recommended to avoid burns.

Plasma cutting works best for conductive materials such as mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. The melting temperature of other conductive metals and alloys such as copper, brass, titanium, and cast iron, make it difficult to achieve a quality edge with a plasma cutter.

Laser Cutting

Laser cutting machines come in a wide variety of types, intensities, and diameters to accommodate a wide variety of applications. Lasers produce a focused beam of light that is pushed through a nozzle, which contains compressed oxygen, nitrogen, or other gas. These machines require precise setups to focus the beam within the laser cutting head. A curved mirror, or lens, concentrates the light into a single point that creates intense heat strong enough to melt through metal. It heats, melts, and vaporizes the material along its cutting path.

Required PPE for use with laser cutters includes safety glasses to protect eyes from particles, debris, etc., skin protection to avoid burns, and hearing protection.

This thermal cutting process is popular for a variety of applications and especially useful with softer metals that are susceptible to damage using traditional cutting tools.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Plasma Cutting and Laser Cutting Methods

Plasma Cutting advantages include cutting a wide range of metals, cutting medium and thicker metals at higher speeds, lower kerf and small deformation heat affected areas. Its primary disadvantage is the 0.5 – 1.5 degree angle at the vertical cross section and hardening incision. Plasma cutters are only for cutting meta. Compared with laser cutting, plasma machines may produce a larger cutting slot, less precision, and less smooth surfaces.

Laser cutting offers the advantages of high cutting quality with small cutting slots, superior precision, smooth cut edges and surfaces. In addition to metals, lasers can cut a wide variety of materials such as wood, plastics, rubber, textiles, and others. They also consume less energy and produce less noise, and are therefore, more eco-friendly.

The primary disadvantage of laser cutters is the initial cost of the machinery and subsequent maintenance.

Plasma cutting is an excellent choice for parts that have simple shapes, without many cutouts or complex notching.

For parts with tight tolerance specifications or intricate cutting requirements, laser cutting may be the better option.

For sheet metal fabrication to your exact specifications, you can rely on the experts at Franklin Sheet Metal. Contact us for a quote or to answer any question.

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