Laser cutting and plasma cutting are two options available at a machine shop in Phoenix, AZ. Plasma cutting is the older technology, having been invented for metals that cannot be flame cut, like copper, aluminum and stainless steel. Laser cutting, meanwhile, is fairly new technology. While they are similar, neither is obsolete, and they work better for some applications than others. Here are five key differences between laser and plasma cutting:
- Process: As its name suggests, laser cutting uses infrared light powered by a gas laser. Plasma cutting uses a gas transmitter hooked up to a DC power supply. Each uses a gas jet, but laser cutting is guided by mirrors and does not make direct contact like plasma cutting does. Plasma cutting is limited to cutting capabilities, but laser cutting can drill, engrave and weld, in addition to cutting.
- Materials: Plasma cutting was originally developed for challenging metals, and that is the only material it can handle. Laser cutting manipulates metals, but also plastic, glass and wood. Some machines even cut paper, which seems counterintuitive, but is highly accurate and effective. The laser cutter finds materials with different melting points challenging, but plasma cutting is made for these ordeals. Both can handle material thickness ranging from .12” to 0.4”, depending on the specific material.
- Operating costs: Laser cutting equipment requires the larger initial investment. Even after you pay the $300,000 for the cutting parts, you still need a 20 kW pump and a table that measures 6.5’ by 4’. Plasma cutting equipment starts at $120,000. Laser cutting machines also have more parts to wear out, including protective glass, filter particles and gas nozzles. Plasma cutting only needs maintenance of the cutting nozzles and electrodes. Laser cutting demands more resources in terms of electrical power and gas. Basically, in order for a shop to invest in a laser cutter, it must assess whether it is worth the initial price and continuing maintenance. It is definitely not a given in every shop. Plasma cutters, however, are more widespread thanks to their abilities and low maintenance.
- Precision: Plasma cutting is the more precise of the two methods. To create precise cuts with laser cutting, operators must take their time or risk wasting material. Laser cutting is better at cutting parallel edges. Each process risks deformation of structural material if mishandled.
- Impacts to the operating environment: The nice part about each method is that they are easy on the operating environment. Neither process is particularly loud, although laser cutting is quieter and produces less debris for cleanup. Even then, plasma cutting is below average in its noise pollution rating and cleanup needs. Workers must wear protective eyewear for plasma cutting, but the same is not necessary for laser cutting. Each produces dust, which must be filtered and removed through vacuum extraction.
Metal Pro Inc. is a machine shop in Phoenix, AZ that handles a variety of projects. Contact us today to see what we can do for you!