Plasma Cutters: 10 Frequently Asked Questions

Plasma Cutters: 10 Frequently Asked Questions

Are you thinking of buying a plasma cutter but are unsure whether it’ll be worth it? Unanswered questions about plasma cutters can cause people to hesitate rather than moving forward with their plasma cutter purchase. We often get many of the same questions, so we decided to compile a list of FAQs and provide concise answers. We hope these frequently asked questions will serve as a reference for your concerns and help you make an informed purchase.

1. Do you need to be a highly skilled operator to use a plasma cutter?

For simple 3-axis cutting machines, you can learn to be a successful operator in a couple of days. Because plasma cutters are equipped with advanced technology and features, you can expect some degree of automation that makes them easy to operate.

If you’re looking into a machine with more axes or cutting-edge design, you should check with the manufacturer to see if they provide training—reputable plasma cutter vendors like Squickmon’s supply both the equipment and the training.

2. What gas do you need for a plasma cutter?

Most plasma cutters rely on nitrogen, argon, hydrogen, or oxygen to work and create plasma. You’ll also come across machines with multi-gas features, which allow you to use a variety of gases for different applications. Generally, plasma cutter gases fall into one of three categories: control fuel, plasma cutter fuel, and swirl fuel. The first two are used during the ignition stage, whereas the third is used to prevent imperfections and deformities during the cutting stage.

3. Can I cut stainless steel and aluminum with my plasma cutter?

A plasma cutter can cut any non ferrous or ferrous metal with ease. Although a standard plasma will do the job, you can achieve better cut quality with an HD plasma machine. Our ELIHU HD series consists of plasma tables you can use to cut aluminum and stainless steel with high precision, while virtually eliminating cleanup and putting more money in your pocket.

4. What thickness of materials can be cut with plasma?

We have customers using plasma machines to cut both thick and thin materials. Handheld plasma torches can typically cut up to 38mm thick steel plates, whereas stronger, computer-controlled machines can cut up to 150mm of thickness. The metal you’re cutting also plays a role—for example, you’ll experience faster and thicker cuts with mild steel than with alloys.

5. What does pilot arc do on plasma cutters?

A pilot arc helps you cut a workpiece more precisely by providing a stable arc. You can also use it to cut through different metals, including those painted or with a little rust. Some plasma cutters come with a plasma arc transfer feature, which stops them from cutting when the plasma goes out. This allows you to do a simple and accurate restart after you’ve corrected the issue.

6. Can plasma cutters etch materials?

In the earlier days, nitrogen etching was possible with the help of plasma cutters. However, the results were less accurate. This encouraged brands like Hypertherm to improve and refine the process. Today, the latest plasma cutters offer excellent etching into aluminum, stainless steel, or mild steel using argon.

7. How much air does a plasma cutter need?

It depends on the thickness and material to be cut and the cutter type. However, nearly all plasma manufacturers mention minimum pressure and airflow requirements in the owner’s manual. These vary between systems, but plasma cutters typically consume a high air volume. To avoid issues, get one with a built-in air compressor (or buy a compressor separately).

8. What are the operating costs of a plasma cutter?

There are four major costs in a standard plasma cutting operation: electricity, gas, labor, and consumables. Plasma cutters cost approximately $10-$20 per hour to run. The cost of a waterjet cutting machine will be slightly higher, usually around $30 per hour on average.

9. How does plasma compare to laser?

Plasma is typically less expensive to operate. Plasma cutters do a great job cutting thicker sheets, whereas lasers are best for thin gauge material. The two machines also work differently; plasma cutting uses plasma, whereas laser cutting uses amplified laser light.

10. How much power is required to operate a plasma cutter?

Small plasma cutters typically require 10-30 amps of current and run on 120- or 240-volt single-phase power. Some plasma machines come with built-in voltage detectors, and then you have NEMA plug styles that require you to match the outlet you intend to use.

Squickmon’s offers Made in USA plasma cutters with a 5-year warranty and reliable after-sales service. If you’re looking to buy a new CNC plasma machine, you can be sure to get value for money when you choose our products. All our plasma machines are operated through CNC technology, so you also benefit from technology and efficiency. Contact us to learn more.

 Simon Patterson

Simon Patterson

Simon Patterson is the owner and founder of Squickmon's Engineering & Engineering. With over 15 years of fabrication and manufacturing experience, alongside a mechanical engineering degree, he knows exactly what it takes to create a quality product for small fabrication shops as well as large industrial manufacturing companies. He set out to create a company that stands by their products with confidence as well as integrity. His goal was to build a company with a strong foundation, quality product, satisfied customers, and a product that is 100 percent designed and built in the USA.

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