Introducing HelioCut, high-quality affordable plasma cutting consumables.

5 Things to Check Before You Replace Your CNC Plasma Consumables

Do You Need to Replace Your CNC Plasma Consumables?

As your plasma cutting jobs progress, you may start to notice your cut quality diminishes. CNC plasma cutting is used for precise applications, so it’s important that you maintain your plasma consumables to extend the life of your torch.

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The History of Plasma Cutting: The Evolution of Plasma Cutting

In the world of modern metal fabrication, plasma cutting is ubiquitous. The low cost, ease of use, and capabilities of plasma cutting systems make them practical for a wide variety of everyday uses. That hasn’t always been the case, however.

Keep reading to learn the history of plasma cutting and what we are doing today!

Plasma Cutting Timeline

Plasma cutting has come a long way over the years from its original creation in 1957. Which is lucky for us.

New technology has been invented and perfected to make plasma cutting more efficient and cost-effective.

How Plasma Cutting Evolved to the Current-Day State:

In order to fully appreciate how far plasma cutting technology has come, we have to first look at where it all began. Back before there were cordless phones or even zip ties, Dr. Robert Gage invented plasma cutting.

(Plasma Cutting History Flowchart: click to enlarge)

The Evolution and history of Plasma cutting Flow Chart from ATTC

 

As you can see, over the past sixty-four years, plasma cutting systems have become more capable, less expensive, and far easier to operate. Cut speed and quality are far above and beyond what Union Carbide could have imagined in 1957.

Cutting systems that once took up an entire room may now be slung over an operator’s shoulder and carried up a ladder. Technology that once only the largest of corporations could afford is now priced affordably to even the most price-conscious of consumers. Oxy-fuel torches, once a go-to, now collect dust in many fabrication and repair shops.

Plasma Cutting Present

Now in 2022, we have an expansive line of plasma cutting technology including our Heliocut™ Consumables, CleanCut™ Consumables, and PHD™ and PHDX™ Torches.

history of plasma cutting

Our consumable technology is changing the game of plasma cutting tips by reducing plasma arc turbulence with a high-velocity configuration and stabilizing and accelerating the gas column.

Plasma cutting has never been easier with consumables and torches that allow you to produce ultra-smooth cuts with less than 2º bevel. Additionally, our current consumables are made to double the life of your consumables and torches to reduce downtime and save you money.

The Future of Plasma Cutting

What will the future bring for plasma cutting technology? Nobody knows, but it is a safe bet to say that this shop staple isn’t going to disappear anytime soon.

Learn more about our plasma cutting technology’s unmatched capabilities and make the switch today!

To learn more about plasma cutting technology you can read our welding blogs or checkout out our Plasma Troubleshooting Guide!

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The 5 Types of Plasma Bevel Cuts

There are many different types of plasma cuts and each one requires different processes and tools. If you do it wrong it can cost you lots of time and money, cutting into your profits.

In this article, we will explain the different types of plasma cuts and their proper tools, including the 5 different types of bevel cuts.

Let’s dive in.

Straight Cutting

Most plasma cutting is done with the torch positioned 90° perpendicular to the workpiece. This is called “straight” or “I” cutting. In this process, any bevel is considered undesirable and most operators will attempt to mitigate that by monitoring the performance of their machine and making sure all the parameters are properly set to get a square-edged cut.

Even under the best conditions, a bevel of up to 2° is usually considered acceptable, although it is possible to achieve a bevel of less than 1° using technology such as Clean Cut.

Using Bevel Cuts

Sometimes, however, a bevel is required. If the part being cut is thick and must be fitted and welded, a bevel will assist with fit-up and ensure that the weld is able to fully penetrate the workpiece and achieve a proper joint.

Traditionally, this was done with an oxy-fuel torch, a grinder, or other secondary processes. Today, CNC plasma systems are capable of producing high-quality beveled edges at the same time that they profile the plate.

Different Types of Bevel Cuts

There are five types of plasma bevel cuts, represented by the letters A, K, V, X, and Y. These letters are a fairly accurate representation of the cross-section profile of the part after it has been cut.

A Bevel

An “A” bevel cut is the most common type of bevel. It requires only a single pass of the torch and leaves a cut edge that protrudes on top.

K Bevel

A “K” bevel is the most complicated profile to cut, as it requires three passes of the torch to complete. It is a combination of a top Y and a bottom Y which leaves a vertical land in the middle of the cut.

V Bevel

A “V” bevel is basically an inverted “A” cut. It also requires one torch pass. The cut will protrude on the bottom edge.

X Bevel

An “X” bevel is a combination of an A bevel and a V bevel where the mid-point of the two cuts meets in the middle of the plate, leaving an X shape. An X bevel cut requires two torch passes.

Y Bevel

A “Y” bevel requires two cuts and comes in two varieties. Top Y will have a V bevel that does not extend all the way through the plate, leaving a vertical face at the bottom. A bottom Y cut will be the opposite, with the vertical face at the top and an A Bevel at the bottom.

 

Due to the large number of variables involved in plasma bevel cutting, programming can be difficult. Many times a “trial and error” process is needed to dial in a cut program that meets the requirements of production accuracy and quality of the finished cut part without crashing the torch into the workpiece or generating an excessive amount of dross. Special consumables are usually required for bevel cutting processes as well.

Contact American Torch Tip or your local welding supplier if you have questions about bevel cutting with your plasma system.

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Cutting in the Right Direction: How Does A Plasma Cutter Work?

Looking to perfect your plasma cutting? The first step to improvement is deepening your knowledge.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • How does a plasma cutter work
  • The dangers of damaged equipment
  • Where you can find high-quality plasma cutting torches and consumable

How Does a Plasma Cutter Work

If you have used a plasma cutter, you have probably noticed that there is a difference in appearance between the two edges of the workpiece after a cut is made. This is due to the direction of the plasma gas swirl, as determined by the swirl ring (baffle), and the tendency of un-ionized gas atoms to be thrown to the outside of the gas stream due to their heavier weight.

The latter has a cooling effect on the nozzle, increasing its lifespan. With most plasma torches, the gas will swirl in a clockwise direction. This means the cut edge quality is better on the right side with respect to the torch direction of travel.

Mirror Cutting

On some high-end plasma systems, swirl rings are available which swirl the gas counter-clockwise and allow for counter-clockwise torch motion, also commonly called “mirror cutting”.

This is typically used when two torches are present on one gantry. The torches are either on opposite sides when cutting the same program on two sheets simultaneously, or on the same side when slitting pieces out of a larger plate.

These systems typically also use a shielding gas or water injection system to further cool the nozzle and shield.

Cutting External Feature

This means you are cutting a feature that is external to the finished part, the outside edge. When doing this you will want to cut in a clockwise path.

Cutting Internal Feature

If you are cutting an internal feature such as a hole, you should cut counter-clockwise. Additionally, you need to cut with an appropriate lead-in and overtravel.

Dangers of Damaged Equipment

If your swirl ring becomes cracked or otherwise damaged, or if debris clogs any of the holes, turbulence may be introduced into your plasma arc. This can cause erratic cutting as the arc loses stability. You may notice a wider kerf, increased bevel angle, edge rounding, or other undesirable defects. Great care should be taken when installing swirl rings not to cause damage or clog gas ports.

Create Clean Cuts With ATTC’s Plasma Cutting Torches

Looking for quality plasma cutting torches to improve your cuts, increase your torches lifespan, and reduce downtime? We’ve got everything you need!

From PHD® and PHDX™ plasma cutting torches to CleanCut™ and HelioCut™ consumables, we can help point you in the right direction.

Schedule a FREE demo to learn more about how we can help you save money.

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What is the Best Process for Removing Dross? 5 Tips for Removing Plasma Dross

Dross is the nemesis of plasma cutting system operators everywhere. It ranges from a mild inconvenience to a downright pain in the you know what. Here are some tips for effective dross mitigation.

What is Dross?

/drôs,dräs/

noun

  1. Something regarded as worthless; rubbish.
  2. Foreign matter, dregs, or mineral waste, in particular scum formed on the surface of molten metal.

Both of these definitions seem very appropriate with regard to plasma cutting.

What’s better than easily removing dross? Avoiding it altogether. Our first three tips may help you do just that.

best process for removing dross

Best Process For Removing Dross

1. Use an anti-spatter spray, such as Clean Strike.

Anti-spatter spray is inexpensive, fast, and easy to apply and some formulas are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. This will help inhibit dross from adhering to the plate and make it far easier to remove. Anti-spatter spray can also be applied to torches, table slats, and anywhere else you want to keep clean.

2. Adjust your cut speed.

Cutting too fast or too slow will cause the plasma arc to stretch and can result in dross that is both greater in volume and more difficult to remove. A few inches per minute (IPM) up or down can have a big impact here. Don’t be afraid to make an adjustment to dial in your program and find the sweet spot.

3. Pay attention to your consumables.

The nozzle in particular has a big effect on the shape of your arc. A worn or damaged nozzle can cause the plasma arc to become erratic and lead to lower quality cuts and increased amounts of dross. Nozzles should be replaced when the orifice becomes damaged or out of round.

4. Let it cool.

Dross typically cools quickly and is easier to remove once it does. You also don’t want to be sending hot chips of metal flying around your shop and potentially igniting fuel sources. Letting it cool will also help you remove only the dross without damaging the plate if you are using power tools such as a grinder.

5. Select the right tool.

Here are some commonly used options:

  • Putty knife – Cheap, handy, pocket-sized.
  • Chisel – Stronger than a chisel. Low-tech, but powerful.
  • Hammer – Effective, economical, and unlikely to damage the cut part.
  • Needle scaler – Like a chisel on steroids. Highly effective for light dross on large parts. Won’t remove material.
  • Slag grinder (Time-saver) – Expensive, but worth it. Produces a perfect surface finish.
  • Angle grinder with a flap disc – Highly effective and fast.
  • Angle grinder with hard disc – For more aggressive dross removal. Be careful not to gouge the cut part.
  • Angle grinder with a wire brush – Works well for light dross. Wear long sleeves.
  • Oscillating multi-tool – Good for very light dross.
  • Pneumatic die grinder – When equipped with some abrasive discs, this can be a handy, fast option.

Work smarter, not harder. If you find that the dross on your parts is very difficult to remove, you should consider what is causing it and if you are using the most appropriate tool to remove it.

30 seconds with a flap disc vs. 30 minutes of banging away with a hammer can save a lot of time, energy, and money.

 

Want to mitigate dross and have cleaner cuts? Visit our website or call 800-342-8477 to learn more about our efficient plasma cutting technology.

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Handheld Plasma Cutting vs. Oxy Fuel Cutting

Handheld plasma cutting machines and oxy fuel cutting are both very common methods for metal fabrication and repair. Which technology is best? Here are some pros and cons of each.

Pros & Cons of Plasma Cutting Machines

PROS:

  • Can be used to cut any electrically-conductive material (steel, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, etc.).
  • No pre-heat is required. Simply pull the trigger and cut.
  • Ability to use a drag shield or standoff to maintain perfect tip to work distance.
  • No combustible gases are needed.
  • Faster cut speed on thin material.

 

CONS:

  • Can only cut relatively thin material (<1” in most cases).
  • More expensive equipment.
  • Requires electricity (120VAC or 240VAC for most systems).
  • Requires an air compressor or large volume of bottled gas.
  • Cannot be used for heating or brazing.

 

Pros & Cons of Oxy Fuel Cutting

PROS:

  • Can cut very thick material (<10” in most cases).
  • Can be used to heat or braze.
  • Doesn’t require electricity.
  • Inexpensive equipment.
  • Faster cut on thick material.

 

CONS:

  • Requires combustible gases (acetylene, propane, etc.).
  • The workpiece must be pre-heated prior to cutting.
  • Can only be used to cut carbon steel.
  • Slower cut speed than on thin material.
  • Requires more skill to use effectively.

 

Plasma is the overwhelming choice over oxy fuel on material under about half an inch in most cases. Oxy-fuel torches aren’t going away anytime soon, though. With the versatility they offer to do much more than cutting, we inevitably find ourselves wheeling them out from time to time for jobs where plasma just can’t cut it (pun intended).

Now that you know the pros of plasma cutting outweigh the cons, you may want to look at high-efficiency options for plasma cutting applications. At American Torch Tip well offer an unmatched line of plasma cutting torches & consumables with less than 2º bevel and minimal dross. For more information about plasma cutting, you can view our plasma cutting overview page to learn what plasma cutting products may be right for you.

 

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Plasma Cutter Buying Guide: How to Choose the Right Cutter

If you’re new to plasma cutting, or just want to upgrade your plasma cutter, this guide will walk you through everything you’ll need to make an informed decision on buying a new plasma cutter.

If you’re coming from an oxy-fuel torch, you’ll be a bit ahead of the game. If you’re new to cutting metal, that’s ok too. We’ll walk you through it.

1. Choose Your Plasma Cutter Based on What Material You Need to Cut

Will you be cutting mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, or other materials? How thick? Most plasma cutting machines will be rated by material type and thickness, with mild steel being the most common material cut and therefore the most common rating.

 

2. Figure Out What Power you Have Available for Plasma Cutting

You’ll need to know what the voltage, amperage, and phase ratings of your outlets are. Small plasma cutters typically run on 120 or 240 volt single phase power and require 10-30 amps of current. Some systems can automatically detect what voltage you have connected them to. There is also a wide array of NEMA plug styles and you’ll need to have one that matches the outlet you plan to use.

 

3. Make Sure you Have an Appropriate Air Supply for Your Plasma Cutter

Unless you’re going to invest in a plasma cutter that boasts an onboard air supply, you’ll need a compressor and some method of drying and regulating the air once it is compressed. If you don’t have a compressor or are not sure if yours is up to the task, take a minute to read up on the list of air supply requirements for plasma cutting systems.

4. Read The Reviews

Check-in on some forums, blogs, and social media groups to see what other users are saying about particular models you’re interested in. Be cautious of reviews from marketplace sites as they are sometimes forged to boost the product’s position within the marketplace. Pay special attention to how the manufacturer handles complaints from customers. If a company displays prompt customer service and offers a viable remedy when problems are encountered, you may rest assured that you can get support when you need it.ƒ

5. Set your budget

In a perfect world, we would all have unlimited funds available to purchase tools with. In reality, we must balance our needs and wants against the resources we have available to purchase our new tools. It is generally recommended to follow the “buy once, cry once” mantra and purchase the best quality system that your budget allows, rather than settling for an alternative of lesser quality with a more attractive price point.

6. Purchase from a reputable source

Just as important as the brand and model of the plasma cutting system you choose is where you choose to purchase it. Many manufacturers will not honor warranties for items purchased outside of authorized distribution networks. If you purchase online, do some due diligence and make sure that the seller is legitimate and will be there to assist you should a problem arise. If you are considering purchasing a second-hand machine, familiarize yourself with how to test it to ensure proper functionality and check to make sure that repair parts and consumables are still available.  American Torch Tip provides a wealth of information on it’s products if you are looking for a reputable source for plasma cutting products.

 

If you follow these steps, you will likely find that you make an educated purchase and your plasma cutter will serve you faithfully (or at least you’ll have purchased it from a seller that will help you get it back to work).

 

Happy cutting!

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What is Plasma?

Plasma cutters are so accessible and easy to use that we take the science behind them for granted. So, what is plasma, really?

Most of us learned in high school that there are three states of matter and as energy is applied to a substance it changes state from a solid to a liquid, to a gas. Well, that’s not where the story ends. If a gas becomes superheated, a fourth state of matter (plasma) can occur. When this happens, electrons become stripped from protons and become free. This allows plasma the potential to become electrically charged. Plasma will also produce and respond to magnetic fields. These properties of plasma make it very powerful, but also very controllable.

How Common is Plasma?

Despite being relatively unknown and misunderstood by most of us, plasma is actually very common. How common? 99.9% of all mass in the universe is plasma. It’s everywhere. As a matter of fact, Earth is one of only a handful of known planets where the other three states of matter even exist.

Examples of Plasma

Lightning

A lightning bolt is a large and powerful atmospheric electrostatic discharge which produces around a gigajoule of energy. That’s about enough to power the average US home for 9 days! Lightning is visible in the form of radiant heat created through the rapid disposition of electrons in the atmosphere.

Stars

Most stars are formed entirely of plasma. They are so hot that atomic bonds will not hold, and molecules remain ionized. Stars are the most powerful known examples of plasma, with the ability to project heat energy and electro-magnetic radiation for hundreds of millions of miles!

Neon & Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Neon and fluorescent light bulbs use a gas sealed inside a tube or coil which is excited by the introduction of alternating current to emit light. If a strong enough electro-magnetic field is present, these bulbs can even be illuminated without being plugged in!

Plasma Televisions

Plasma TVs have largely been replaced by newer LED models, but they were the pinnacle of picture quality in the early 2000s. They work by using a series of tiny red, green, and blue light cells which are essentially tiny plasma spheres.

Aurora Borealis

While still not fully understood, it is generally accepted that that the Northern Lights are caused by solar winds carrying energy which interact with the magnetic field found near the North Pole of Earth. This ionizes atmospheric gas and creates a beautifully colored plasma which is visible for hundreds of miles. There is also a Southern counterpart near the South Pole, however relatively fewer people live near the South Pole, so this event is lesser known.

Elmo’s Fire

St. Elmo’s fire is named after Saint Erasmus of Formia (a.k.a. Saint Elmo), the patron saint of sailors. It is a natural phenomenon when a tapered protrusion (often from a ship’s mast) reacts with nitrogen in the atmosphere under a very specific set of conditions to create a small blue corona of plasma.

Plasma Globe

Many of us have seen this toy as children without actually realizing what it was. A plasma globe is a glass sphere filled with various noble gases which has a high-voltage electrode placed conspicuously in the center. When voltage is applied, the gases become excited and electrical filaments form amidst the plasma between the electrode and the outer glass insulator. It was invented to none other than Nikola Tesla, who called it a “inert gas discharge tube”. If you are standing on the ground and touch one with your bare hand, the filament will become attracted.

Lightsabers

Although lightsaber science has a foundation in the Star Wars universe and not our own, according to Wookieepedia a lightsaber consists of a plasma blade emitted by a kyber crystal.

Plasma cutting torches use the plasma to conduct an electrical arc from an emitter to the workpiece where it transfers massive amounts of heat energy to a precise point to melt the material being cut. The plasma is typically swirled to create stability, just as a quarterback would throw a football. Think of a lightning bolt inside a tornado, all placed conveniently in the palm of your hand and ready to melt metal at the push of a button.

 

For more information on plasma cutting, take a look at ATTC’s selection of plasma cutting products.

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Plasma Cutter Uses; 8 Reasons to Go Plasma

There are a lot of ways to cut metal. Here’s why you should be using a plasma cutter.

1. Plasma Cutters Have a Variety of Uses & Can Cut Any Type of Metal.

Steel? Check. Aluminum? Check. Stainless? Also check. Your plasma cutter isn’t a picky eater. You can feed it almost any type of metal or alloy. Cut quality will vary (especially depending on the gases used) but your machine will eat it.

 

2. Plasma Cutting is Fast

Next on our list of plasma cutter uses; you can use a plasma cutter when you need to finish a project quickly. With cut speeds exceeding 100 inches per minute, plasma cutting is very fast. The speed will decrease with material thickness, of course, but for most everyday materials, plasma cutting offers considerable time savings.

 

3. You Won’t Need to Warm-Up Your Plasma Cutter

Plasma arcs can reach temperatures of up to 25,000 degrees Celsius. That’s almost five times hotter than the sun. That mind-boggling temperature is reached in milliseconds and will liquify metal instantly with no preheating. That means no waiting and no wasted energy.

 

4. Plasma Cutters Can Cut Almost Any Form of Material

If you wanted to cut various forms of metal (plate, tube, angle, beam, grating), you would need multiple different types of saws or shears. A plasma cutter can do it all. Some premium models even offer a continuous pilot arc mode that allows for cutting of expanded metal or grating with no loss of cut.

Plasma Cutter Uses

5. Plasma is Versatile

Not only can you cut with it, but you can also bevel, gouge, mark, and even weld! No other tool in your metalworking arsenal is so flexible.

 

6. Plasma is Easy to Use

There are few tools so capable as the plasma cutter that don’t require a formal education or at least detailed instruction and practice before using properly. With plasma, an operator with zero experience can pick up a torch and perform a high-quality cut in seconds. However, if you do have questions, we have the answers to your plasma cutting questions.

 

7. Plasma Cutting Doesn’t Produce Dangerous Gases

Most plasma cutting is done with compressed air. Nitrogen, argon, and even water are also used to assist with cutting. This is far safer than the acetylene, propylene, and other flammable and volatile gases used in oxy-fuel cutting processes.

 

8. Plasma is Affordable!

In the past few years, a plethora of economical handheld plasma cutters in the 20A – 100A range have hit the market. Systems that once cost thousands can now be had for hundreds. That puts this technology within reach for even the smallest of fabrication and repair shops.

To look into picking up your own plasma cutter, you can browse our selection of high-grade plasma cutting products from American Torch Tip.

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Stainless Steel Plasma Cutting

With plasma cutting systems being widely used in fabrication and repair, they have naturally become a go-to tool for cutting many different types of material. While plasma cutting systems are capable of cutting any electrically-conductive material, there are certain considerations that must be taken into account when attempting to cut stainless steel. Let’s start by looking at the practicality of plasma cutting stainless steel.

Can a Plasma Cutter Cut Stainless Steel?

A plasma cutting is a great solution for cutting stainless steel. It is a relatively fast process and tends to be a more affordable method. There are a variety of plasma systems to select from to produce optimal results depending on your needs.

Now that you’ve selected a plasma cutter for your stainless steel cutting, let’s decide which gas to use when making your cut.

What Gas Should You Use When Cutting Stainless Steel?

One of the primary factors in determining the cut quality and edge finish of stainless steel plate cut with plasma is the type of gas used. Ideally, a high-definition dual-gas plasma cutting system should be utilized when available for the best results, however, a single gas system will work.

Single Gas Cutting

  1. Air: Compressed air can be used to cut stainless steel up to about 25mm (2”), depending on the amperage rating of your cutting system. A large amount of nitrogen present in air, however, will result in a blackening of the cut edge. Oxygen may also increase the heat-affected zone (HAZ) and degrade edge quality as well.
  2. Oxygen (O2): Oxygen may be used to cut stainless steel, but is a less than ideal option as it will cause degradation in edge quality and a larger heat-affected zone (HAZ).
  3. Nitrogen (N2): Nitrogen delivers increased cut speed and produces a smoother cut surface but may increase top edge rounding and angularity.

Dual Gas Cutting (recommended)

  1. Nitrogen (N2) – Water: Sometimes referred to as Water Mist Secondary (WMS), dual gas cutting with nitrogen and water is economical, produces a clean top edge, and gives a straw-colored cut edge finish. It does, however, necessitate the use of a water table.
  2. Hydrogen/Nitrogen (F5) – Nitrogen (N2): This combination will produce superior angularity but is limited to cutting material up to about 3/8” in thickness.
  3. Hydrogen/Argon (H35) – Nitrogen (N2): This gas pairing will provide a square cut edge with a varying color on thicker material but H35 is not readily available in all markets and excessive dross may result on thin plate.

Other Factors to Consider When Cutting Stainless Steel

machine plasma cutting stainless steel

Now that you’ve selected your gas, there are a variety of other factors to consider in order to maximize your cut quality, efficiency, and safety while plasma cutting stainless steel.

Heat Affected Zone (HAZ)

Heat-affected zone is a concern when cutting a variety of materials, but is of special concern when cutting stainless steel, as most grades of stainless will show drastic signs of temperature change that remain after the material has cooled. This may require secondary process pickling or passivation to remove the discoloration left from the heating of the material.

Maximizing Edge Quality

The edge quality of a plasma cut on stainless steel plate will vary and is highly dependent on three factors:

  1. Table Condition: The condition of the bed, gantry, rails, bearings, and other components of your plasma table can have a substantial impact on edge quality. Performing regular maintenance on your table will ensure that you receive the best quality cut possible.
  2. Cutting / Shield Gases: Different gases or combinations of gases will produce differing cut edges on different thicknesses of stainless steel plate.
  3. Material Thickness: As the thickness of the plate increases, any undesirable cut edge effects will be amplified and a change in shielding gas may be necessary.

Bolt Hole Cutting

Compared to mild steel hole cutting on modern high-end plasma systems, where it is often possible to drop in bolts equal or larger in diameter to the thickness of the plate, precision hole cutting is more difficult on stainless steel plates due to the arc characteristics and dross accumulation. Operators may find it easier or necessary to drill bolt holes on a stainless plate or perform secondary processes to square or clean up holes cut with the plasma torch.

Can You Plasma Cut a Polyethylene Coated Sheet of Stainless Steel?

Polyethylene-coated sheeting is commonly used in food service and medical equipment fabrication to protect the surface finish of the material. Cutting PE coated stainless steel sheet is possible with plasma, however amperage must be kept low and nitrogen should be used as a shield gas.

How to Minimize Dross When Cutting Stainless Steel

Operators who are used to cutting mild steel will be familiar with removing at least some dross but may be unpleasantly surprised to find that dross is considerably more difficult to remove when cutting stainless steel plate. Reconfiguring the table slats may help alleviate this issue if it allows the pierce points to fall in between the slats.

If you’re welding stainless steel, there are a few additional things to consider.

How to Prevent Contamination of Stainless Steel Plates

Care must be taken not to contaminate stainless steel plates with carbon steel during dross removal, grinding, brushing, or other processes. This can cause rust pockets, staining, and other undesirable effects.

Produce High-Quality Parts by Plasma Cutting Stainless Steel

When consideration is given to the special requirements of plasma cutting stainless steel, the process can work very well and produce very high-quality parts. If you have questions about plasma cutting stainless steel, contact your local welding supplier or table manufacturer. If you’re interested in plasma cutting, you can read more about our plasma cutting products, to help you improve your cuts & increase efficiency.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutting, while generally easy and efficient, isn’t always as easy as pull and cut. Here, we address some frequently asked questions about plasma cutting from our customers.

Q: What is plasma cutting and how does it work?

A: This process involves melting and expelling materials, such as steel, aluminum, or copper, from a cut using ionized gas. During this process, you establish an electric arc between an electrode and anode.

 

Q: Can you cut aluminum with a plasma cutter?

A: Yes! You can use a plasma cutter to cut through aluminum as well as many other materials.

 

Q: What other type of material can be cut with a plasma cutter?

A: Any electrically-conductive material including steel, stainless steel, and copper.

 

Q: How does a plasma cutter work?

A: You emit an arc of electrical current from the electrode and combine it with swirling gas. Then a nozzle focuses and directs it to the workpiece. The jet of ionized gas is very hot and melts and blows away molten material from the workpiece.

 

Q: Is plasma cutting difficult?

A: No! An operator with minimal training may learn to use a plasma cutter in just a few minutes.

what is plasma cutting

Q: When should I change my consumables?

A: You should change the electrode when the emitter pit depth reaches 1mm (2mm for silver electrodes). You should change the nozzle when changing the electrode or when the orifice becomes out of round. The remaining consumables should be changed as needed when they become unserviceable.

 

Q: Why does the arc from my plasma cutter sometimes turn green?

A: You have exceeded the life of the electrode and the emitter has been depleted. The arc is now being emitted from the copper surrounding the emitter pit and the green color is oxidized copper. Stop cutting immediately and change your electrode and nozzle!

 

Q: Can the original equipment manufacturer void my warranty for using aftermarket consumables?

A: Absolutely not! The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act prohibits companies from requiring the use of their brand of consumables in order to maintain warranty coverage.

 

Q: When should I change my coolant?

A: According to your machine’s preventative maintenance schedule or when it becomes contaminated or electrically conductive.

what is plasma cutting

Q: Is plasma cutting better than oxy-fuel cutting?

A: That depends. Plasma cutting is easier to learn, safer, and faster on thin material. It can also cut materials that oxy-fuel cannot, such as aluminum. On thicker material, however, oxy-fuel often has a faster cut speed and can cut steel far thicker than plasma.

 

Q: Can I plasma cut expanded metal or grating?

A: Yes. If your plasma cutting system has a continuous pilot arc mode, you’ll want to engage this feature to cut grating or expanded metal. If not, you’ll have to manually fire the arc each time you move between slats.

 

Q: Can a plasma cutter be used for gouging?

A: Yes, with the proper torch and consumables. Gouging is a slightly different process than cutting and not every manufacturer offers gouging torches and consumable options.

 

Q: What is CNC plasma cutting?

A: CNC stands for Computer Numerical Controlled. In CNC plasma cutting, a table and gantry are used and the torch movement and arc initiation is controlled by a program loaded into specialized computer software. CNC plasma cutting allows for the highest degree of quality and repeatability for high-volume part production.

 

Q: What is dross in plasma cutting?

A: Dross occurs when you melt metals and then it re-solidifies and is not ejected from the kerf. This can cause problems with the quality of your cut. But with the right plasma cutting processes, you can minimize dross.

 

Improve Your Plasma Cuts with American Torch Tip

In order to reduce dross and ensure clean cuts, you need a high-quality plasma cutter like our PHD/PHDX, Cleancut, and Heliocut torches and consumables.

To learn more about plasma cutting download our complete Plasma Troubleshooting Guide which discusses common challenges and their solutions as well as 7 tips to improve your cut quality!

If you have further questions about plasma cutting, feel free to reach out to us. We are happy to answer them for you!

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The Plasma Cutting Basics: 5 Essentials to Start

So, you want to start plasma cutting? First, you’ll need to know the plasma cutting basics!

If you’ve ever done any metal fabrication, it’s almost a given that you’ve wished you had a plasma cutter. While oxy-fuel and saw cutting works pretty well for most purposes, the versatility and ease of use of a plasma cutter are enough to make anyone jealous.

Before you get started with this method of cutting, you should know the plasma cutting basics. Here are the 5 essentials you need to get started.

1. First up… You’ll Need A Plasma Cutting System

There are hundreds of options on today’s market for affordable, handheld plasma cutting systems. A small system in the 20A – 50A range can be had for under $500 which will be capable of cutting up to ½” mild steel. Some systems can run on 110V power or dual 110V / 220V power. Some weigh less than 40 pounds and can easily be carried around a shop or jobsite. Some even have onboard air compressors!

2. An Air Compressor Is Necessary for Safe Operation

Most small plasma cutting systems don’t require much in terms of air, but you’ll always want to make sure that your air supply is clean and dry. Oil or water in your air will cause issues with your plasma cutter. At a bare minimum, you’ll need 80psi of pressure and 3.5scfm of flow capacity to run any plasma cutting system, but some systems may require 115psi and 6.7scfm. Do not skimp on a proper air compressor. Your plasma cutter won’t function correctly if you do!

3. Next, Find the Right Power Supply for Your Cutter

The smallest handheld plasma cutters will run on 110-120VAC and draw 15-20A of current. As you go up in power, you’ll need 220V-240VAC with a 30A or 50A circuit. Many newer machines are adaptable for either voltage range, allowing maximum performance at higher voltage while still remaining versatile where only lower voltage input is available.

4. Find Long-Lasting & Durable Consumables

Just like any other tool, your plasma cutter will require an array of consumables to function. This may include electrodes, nozzles, swirl rings (baffles), retaining caps, shields, and other items. You’ll want to make sure that you have an adequate supply of these before you start cutting as they will need to be replaced periodically as they wear out or become damaged.

If you want to get the most out of your consumables, you should use high-quality products for better durability. At American Torch Tip, we have a full line of plasma cutting consumables that are built to last, saving you money on consumables.

5. Always Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

You’ll want to protect yourself from injury while plasma cutting. To do this you’ll need shaded lens glasses, a face shield, gloves, and a bib or jacket to cover exposed skin and non-fire-resistant clothing. You may already have these things available but if you do not, be sure to get them before you begin cutting. ANSI and AWS recommend a minimum protective shade of 8 for plasma cutting in the 20-100 amp range.

Get Started With These Plasma Cutting Basics Today!

In addition to the plasma cutting basics above, it also helps to have a straight edge or cutting guide to assist in making the straightest, highest-quality cuts possible, especially if your torch does not use a drag shield and you’ll be manually maintaining a standoff distance. Circle cutting guides are also available for a very affordable price to assist in cutting round shapes. For more information, visit our welding blog.

If you’re getting started with plasma cutting, we recommend taking a look at our wide selection of plasma cutting torches and consumables.

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How to Select Your Plasma Cutter Air Compressor

Air Supply Requirements for Plasma Cutting Systems (Plasma Cutter Air Compressors)

Plasma is a superheated ionized gas. In a plasma cutting system, you can think of this as a lightning bolt inside a tornado.

The electrical current (lightning bolt) contains a massive amount of heat energy. The gas (tornado) ionizes, controls the arc, and blows away the molten material. In order for a plasma cutting system to perform optimally, the gas supply must be clean, dry, and properly regulated. When using bottled gas, these factors are relatively simple to control. Since most modern plasma cutting systems rely on shop air for the majority of cutting processes, more variables are introduced into the equation, often causing performance and consumable life to suffer when the air supply is less than ideal.

Here we’ll discuss the three factors that contribute the most to the performance of your plasma cutting system, and how to make sure that your tornado can keep up with your lightning bolt. 

Before we can discuss what a plasma cutter needs to breathe, we need to understand the design and operation of air compressors. A typical air compressor is comprised of a motor-driven compressor and a storage tank. The storage tank size will be represented in gallons or liters, with portable systems having tanks as small as 1 gallon and stationary systems having tanks 100 gallons or larger.

Flow rate capacity is a product of output pressure and storage tank size. The higher the output pressure is set, the lower the flow rate capacity will be. It is important that you are confident your compressor can keep up with the flow rate requirement of your cutting system when set at the required output pressure.

It is highly recommended that your plasma cutter air compressor be dedicated to running your plasma cutting system. If you plan to run other pneumatic devices simultaneously, you will have to add the flow rate requirements of all devices together to ensure that your compressor can keep up without exceeding its duty cycle. 

1. Pressure 

Pressure is the force of the compressed air being fed to your plasma cutter. The value for gas pressure may be represented in pounds per square inch (psi), megapascal (MPa) or bar.

Air compressor system pressure is preset and is usually between 100 psi and 135 psi and output pressure is adjustable via the pressure regulator. Inlet pressures vary by system. For a small handheld plasma cutter running at 20-30 amps, you’ll need as little as 80 psi (5.5 bar). Larger, automated plasma cutting systems in the 130 to 800 amp range may require 115 psi (8 bar) or more.

Most commercial industrial air compressors for plasma cutters will be capable of generating pressures in this range. It is important to note that the inlet pressure at your plasma cutting system will be lower than the output pressure of your air compressor due to pressure drops between the two points which can be caused by leaks or restrictions such as undersized fittings or filtration units.

You may need to set your compressor’s output pressure slightly higher than the inlet pressure requirement of your plasma cutter to compensate for pressure drops. Consult your operator’s manual to determine the best pressure for your system. 

2. Flow 

Flow is the rate at which air is being fed to your plasma cutter from the air compressor.

The value for flow rate may be represented in cubic feet per minute (CFM or ft3/min), standardized cubic feet per minute (SCFM), cubic feet per hour (CFH or ft3/h), standardized cubic feet per hour (SCFH), liters per minute (l/min), or liters per hour (l/hr). The flow capacity of a compressed air system is largely determined by the size of the tank.

As a good rule of thumb, select a compressor that has a flow rate capacity of at least 1.5 times the consumption rate of the plasma cutter. You’ll also want to make sure that the hose or tubing in use is rated for the pressure the system will handle, large enough in diameter to handle the flow rate requirements, and will not corrode or cause excess moisture to develop inside the line.

Copper is preferable to steel and aluminum pipe. Lines shorter than 75’ should use 3/8” diameter hose or tubing. Lines longer than 75’ should use ½” diameter hose or tubing. If using a flexible hose, you should take care to make sure the hose is not pinched or kinked.

The orifice size of all fittings used should match the ID of the hose or tubing. Flow rate requirements also vary by system and you’ll need between 3.5 scfm (99 l/min) and 6.7 scfm (189 l/min) depending on your system’s requirements. 

3. Filtration 

While inlet pressure and flow rate vary by system, filtration requirements do not. At surface level, it may seem that this makes filtration the simplest variable to account for.

In truth, filtration is the biggest gremlin in many air supply systems. It is often misunderstood and operators assume that because they have invested in the proper filtration equipment, they cannot possibly be experiencing a filtration issue.

The design and layout of a compressed air system can have a large impact on the amount of moisture that becomes trapped in the system, and where it ends up. Gravity can be your friend or enemy in this regard. Air filtration devices should be used to remove water, oil, and debris from your air supply and should be placed as close to the plasma cutting system as possible.

Under most conditions, a common coalescing filter with an automatic drain is sufficient. If cutting in a high humidity environment, a refrigerated air dryer should be considered. 

Taking the time to ensure a proper supply of clean dry air to your plasma cutting system will provide you with better cut quality, less downtime, and longer-lasting consumables. If you need help selecting the proper air compressor or air system components, visit your local supplier for assistance! 

If you’d like to learn more about plasma cutting, you should read our blog detailing how to properly replace your CNC plasma consumables.

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How to Evaluate Plasma Cut Quality

Evaluating Plasma Cut Quality

Plasma cutting is a tremendously capable technology, but the quality of your cut can vary.

With minimal training, an operator can employ a plasma cutting system for the accurate and efficient fabrication of any electrically conductive material. In most cases, the cut quality produced by modern plasma cutting systems is very good.

There are, however, a great number of variables which when properly understood and addressed will yield the optimum quality cut. 

Don’t worry, we’ll cover the variables you can use to evaluate the quality of your cut based on your plasma cutting equipment.

Evaluating Kerf Width of Industrial Plasma Cutting Equipment

Kerf is the material that is removed from the workpiece by the cutting process. In plasma cutting, kerf width is primarily determined by the amperage of the cut process. Lower amperages will produce a narrower kerf. Higher amperages will produce a wider kerf. To achieve the best cut quality in terms of kerf width, the lowest amperage should be selected that allows for a complete cut of any given thickness of a material.

Kerf width in plasma cutting can be as narrow as .4mm or as wide as 10mm depending on the amperage of the process. When nesting parts on a CNC machine, kerf width can add up quickly and make a difference in the utilization percentage of the material. 

Bevel is an Important Factor in Cut Quality as well

Bevel is a top to bottom variation from perpendicular on the cut edge. Positive bevel indicates that the bottom edge of the cut is protruding. Negative bevel indicates that the top edge of the cut is protruding. In plasma cutting, the most common cause of unintended bevel is improper cut height. When the cut height is too high, a positive bevel will appear. When the cut height is too low, a negative bevel will appear. When a plasma cutting system is operating optimally, bevel on the “good side” of a cut may be less than 1°.

If cut parameters are off, or if there is a problem with the system, bevel may exceed 6°. If you are experiencing an extreme bevel, you should ensure that your torch is moving in the correct direction relative to the part being cut. The “good side” of the cut will be the right side of the direction the torch is moving.

When CNC cutting, the torch must also be square to the plate to avoid unintended bevel. Similar to bevel, a condition called undercut may also develop when cut height is too low. Undercut is indicated by a concave edge on the cut part, usually closest to the top edge. 

Don’t Forget to Evaluate the Quality of Your Edge Rounding 

Edge rounding is the slight melting that occurs at the edge of a cut part. It is similar to bevel, but takes a rounded shape instead of a sharp one.

Top edge rounding occurs most commonly when cut height is too high. While some top edge rounding is normal when plasma cutting, it can become excessive due to a number of factors including worn consumables, improper cut height, and incorrect gas pressures. Arc density also has a large effect on top edge rounding. The more dense the plasma arc is, the less likely top edge rounding is to occur.

Sometimes, rounding can occur on both the top and bottom edges of the material. This usually occurs when too much current (amperage) has been applied and can be remedied by selecting a lower current process. 

Dross / Spatter is an Important Quality-determining Factor for Industrial Cutting Equipment

Dross is re-solidified metal that accumulates at the edge of a cut. There are two major varieties: High speed dross and low speed dross. High speed dross is hard and light and accumulates on the top edge of the material. Low speed dross is thick and bubbly and accumulates at the bottom edge of the material.

As their names imply, both of these types of dross are largely developed as a result of cut speed. When cut speed is too low, the plasma arc begins to widen and molten material is no longer completely discharged from the cut path. This type of dross is undesirable but fairly easy to remove. When cut speed is too high, the arc begins to lag behind and leaves a trail of material which has rolled over the top edge of the cut in the form of high speed dross. High-speed dross is much more difficult to remove and will usually require a secondary operation such as grinding.

Besides dross, the plasma cutting process also causes spatter. Spatter is when the molten material is ejected from the cut due to the swirling of gas that lands on top of the workpiece or torch. Spatter is easily removed once it cools. The use of an anti-spatter solution on the workpiece or torch can prevent spatter from adhering and make it even easier to remove if it sticks. 

Look at Lag Lines in Your Cuts 

Lag lines are small vertical ridges on the cut edge. They indicate the path of the plasma arc as it moves through the material from top to bottom. When cutting with air plasma, the lines should be nearly vertical (perpendicular to the surface). When cutting with oxygen, the lag line should lead slightly. When cutting with nitrogen or argon/hydrogen, the lag lines should trail slightly. If cut-speed is too fast, lag lines will take on an “S” shape. Lag lines are a great indicator of whether or not your cut speed is set appropriately. 

Finally, Evaluate The Surface Finish 

Surface finish of plasma cut parts can be highly variable. Some cuts will be smooth and glossy. Others may be rough, jagged, or inconsistent. Surface finish can be affected by the type of material being cut, the gases being used in the cutting process, or the cutting process itself. In CNC cutting, there are two categories of induced roughness: Those induced by the process (worn or damaged consumables, improper gas flow, etc.) and those induced by the machine (dirty rails, worn bearings, improper alignment, etc.). If cut edge irregularities are consistent through the process, you may have a process deficiency. If cut edge irregularities only appear on one axis, you may have a machine deficiency. 

It is important to note that cut quality is subjective. What one person may consider to be a defective cut, another may deem perfectly acceptable for its intended application. Cut quality should be weighed in the balance against cut speed, intended use, and the potential of the equipment being used. After all, a perfect cut edge would mean little if the parts are not produced in time to be used. 

If this guide was helpful, we wrote plenty of blog posts with in-depth information about plasma cutting, just for you! For example, we recently wrote a blog to help you avoid unintended plasma cutting issues.

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