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Is Plasma A Viable Alternative To Laser?

Is Plasma a Viable Alternative to Laser?

Laser is renowned for delivering excellent fine feature and hole cutting thanks to its narrow kerf – roughly 0.2 mm to 0.4 mm (008″–.015″) on mild steel with oxygen and even narrower when using nitrogen to cut mild steel up to 25 mm (1″) in thickness. Fibre laser also produces excellent cut angularity and can cut to very tight tolerances, in the range of 0.007″ (0.2 mm).

HYPERTHERM’S invention of high definition class cutting, along with continued advances in torch and consumable technology and the introduction of XD technology in 2008 are responsible for markedly improving the cut capabilities of plasma over the past two decades. And now a new class of plasma cutting, called X-Definition, is further enhancing plasma’s ability to tackle high precision applications. When installed on a high quality cutting machine and equipped with linear ways and elliptical racks, Hypertherm’s new XPR300 plasma system, featuring X-Definition cutting, is capable of maintaining ISO 9013 Class 1 and 2 tolerances and ISO 9013 Range 2 and 3 cut quality.

Furthermore, an XPR300 plasma system can deliver an edge surface finish that is generally smoother than fibre laser in the thicker ranges and has extremely consistent edge quality over the full life of a consumable set.

As plasma kerfs can range from 1.5 mm (0.05″) thickness on very thin metal and up to about 5 mm (0.225″) on 25 mm (1″) thick material at 300 amps, a laser system can actually be the best option if extremely fine feature cutting or small holes (with a less than 1:1 thickness to diameter ratio) are required. But, if high quality perimeter cuts are called for, and tolerances in the range of 0.020″ are acceptable, the higher cut speeds associated with plasma, especially when cutting material thicker than 10 mm (3/8″), could make plasma a better option. At this thickness, for example, a 170-amp plasma X-Definition process would deliver high quality cuts at speeds two times faster than a 4kW fibre laser using oxygen.

In addition, Hypertherm’s invention of the True Hole process for mild steel in 2008 and further refined with the launch of the XPR300 provides users with the ability to easily fabricate bolt ready holes down to a diameter-to-thickness ratio of 1:1.

Another application which may favour plasma is bevel cutting. Especially with the advent of True Bevel technology, it has become much more feasible to cost-effectively bevel cut right on the cutting machine and eliminate secondary operations. And, because cutting bevel angles increases the effective thickness of the plate being cut, plasma can have a significant advantage.

In addition, it is important to consider the initial investment cost associated with an X-Definition plasma system as compared to laser. A complete XPR300 plasma system mounted on a high quality cutting machine and capable of cutting 25 mm (1″) at speeds of more than 1,900 mm/min (75 ipm) would likely cost somewhere between US$175,000 and US$225,000. A comparable laser system can easily cost three to four times more depending on the power level.

Beyond this, plasma is a much more forgiving process when it comes to cutting so called “dirty” steel such as plate with oxidation and other imperfections. It really makes no difference to the plasma arc. This is not true, however, with fibre laser. Lastly, while plasma does require personal safety devices for noise and glare protection, fibre laser systems require the construction of a safety enclosure around the entire system to protect from the potential harm of the fibre laser beam.

Article contributed by Hypertherm.

Increasing Speed And Productivity With The X-Definition Plasma Cutting System

Increasing Speed And Productivity With The X-Definition Plasma Cutting System

If you have not looked at plasma in the past few years, you should. Manufacturers have made huge strides in terms of cut quality, cut speed, operating cost, and ease of use leading to better productivity and profitability. Contributed by Hypertherm

Due to the high speed and precision cuts combined with low cost, plasma cutting sees widespread use, and is often used in fabrication shops, automotive repair and restoration, and industrial construction. With the capability to work faster and more precisely than older machinery, it is easy to see why the popularity of plasma cutting is on the rise, and why machine shops are opting for plasma cutters instead of traditional CNC milling and turning machines.

Another advantage of CNC plasma cutting is that it can be used for a wide range of metals of varying thicknesses. The cutter can be used for cutting both ferrous as well as non-ferrous metals. Whether a metal is 3 inches (7.6 cm) thick or it is of gauge thickness, plasma systems can cut through them effectively and effortlessly.

Smooth Surface Edges

When looking for cutting systems, machine shops need a cutting system which produces smooth surface edges. One example is the X-Definition plasma cutting system by Hypertherm which is capable of cutting material thicker than 10 mm, and it produces parts with edges that are smoother than fibre laser cut parts.

In addition to smoother cut edges, when the plasma cutting system is used on a high-quality cutting machine, is capable of ISO 9013 Class 1 and 2 tolerances and ISO 9013 Range 2 and 3 cut quality for tolerances of around 0.5 mm.

Additionally, there isn’t a need for needing a separate marking system. Plasma systems have become much more adept at marking workpieces with bend marks, hole locations, or part numbers. Users can even mark with the same consumables used to cut. By varying the torch speed and current level, shallow and deep marks can be alternated.

Cut Speeds That Beat Laser Cutting Systems

At 170 amps, the X-Definition plasma system can cut 10 mm material two times faster than a 4 kW fibre laser. Increase the amperage and material thickness and this gap gets even wider.

The system is also capable of cutting mild steel, stainless steel, aluminium, brass, copper and additionally, it easily cuts rusty or “dirty” metal, of which fibre laser cutting systems could have issues with. The system mounted on a high-quality cutting machine is capable of cutting 25 mm at speeds of more than 1,900 mm/min.

Bolt Ready Holes

Hole quality is one of the most frequently discussed topics in regards to CNC plasma cutting. When it comes to hole cutting, plasma systems has always had two big issues. It has always created a severe taper in which the bottom of the hole was much smaller than the top.

In addition, plasma systems leave notches inside the hole that has been cut called a ding or divot. Both issues arise when dropping a bolt through a plasma cut hole becomes impossible. However, these issues can be rectified with “True Hole” technology for mild steel which produces significantly better hole quality than what has been previously possible, for use in conjunction with Hypertherm’s auto gas plasma systems. The technology allows today’s plasma to cut bolt-ready holes with 1:1 and 2:1 diameter‑to‑thickness ratios.

Smart Features

With the X-Definition plasma system, machine shops are able to rely on its Wi-Fi capability, which enables connectivity to desktops, tablets, or smartphones for convenient system monitoring, process set up, and multiple system tracking.

Sensors in the power supply deliver refined diagnostic codes and significantly enhanced system information to reduce troubleshooting time and provide proactive data to improve overall optimisation.

Moreover, better integration between the software and plasma makes the days of trial and error during bevel set-up a thing of the past. Plasma systems now do all the work, allowing users to both cut and make the most common bevel types right from the plasma table.

Improve Profitability With Plasma

A common thread in the technological advancement of plasma cutting since its invention is the continuous reduction in the cost per metre (or foot) of metal cut. This phenomenon is greatly accelerated with X-Definition plasma thanks to a combination of faster cut speeds, longer consumable life, improved cut quality, and greater cutting consistency.

Due to the great precision and efficiency that can be achieved by using plasma cutting, it is little wonder that it has become popular and is being widely used in the manufacturing sectors.

Hypertherm: XPR300 Plasma Cutting System

Hypertherm: XPR300 Plasma Cutting System

Hypertherm’s XPR300 is a mechanised plasma cutting system for mild steel, stainless steel and aluminium. Its new engineered system makes it easier to run with minimal operator intervention.

The system produces ISO range 2 results on thin mild steel, ISO range 3 cut quality results compared with earlier plasma technology. The system also cuts aluminium using the company’s Vented Water Injection system.

The system allows higher cut speeds of 300 amps and 63 kW. Consumable life has seen increases of over 40 percent compared with previous systems with 20 percent thicker piercing capability on stainless steel and 30 percent thicker on mild steel. With the system, operating costs can be reduced by over 50 percent.

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