Oxy fuel (aka flame cutting) and plasma cutting are two of the most popular metal cutting systems available on the modern market. Determining which cutting technology is the best option for your job depends considerations such as material thickness, the cost, the context of the job and the available power sources. In this blog, we take a look at how the two systems compare based on a range of different factors including running costs, accuracy, waste production, cutting capabilities, and working requirements.
- The upfront cost of an oxy fuel setup is usually only 20% of what it would cost to buy a plasma cutting system.
- Replacement tips and electrodes on a plasma cutter are similarly priced to replacement tips for an oxy-fuel cutting outfit
- Plasma cutters have lower ongoing costs as they only require electricity to run, whereas an oxy fuel system will require regular oxygen and fuel cylinder refills which come with cylinder handling charges
Oxy fuel cutters produce quite a lot of slag (where the oxygen and metal react to form iron oxide) and jobs completed using this technology have a lot of clean-up associated with them. Plasma technology still produces slag, but not nearly as much as an oxy fuel cutter. The amount of slag a plasma cutter produces depends on factors such as torch design and the energy density of the arc. Applying too much power can also result in an increased amount of waste production.
- Plasma cutting technology is quite diverse in that it can cut both ferrous and non-ferrous metals including aluminium, stainless steel and cast iron. Oxy fuel cutters on the other hand can only be used for cutting ferrous metals and are not used for cutting cast iron
- Oxy fuel torches are ideal for cutting thicker cuts of metal and systems can cut steel thicker than 20 inches. Plasma cutters on the other hand are only capable of cutting metals with a maximum thickness of 1 inch.
- Oxy fuel cutters are more efficient at cutting through thicker metals, whilst plasma cutters are more effective at cutting through tinner metal.
- Plasma cutters far outperform oxy-fuel cutters in terms of speed and accuracy when it comes to cutting thinner stacked metals and has faster grate cutting capabilities.
- Plasma cutters are better suited to cutting shaped metals including angles, channels and tubes.
Oxy fuel torches are a popular choice for onsite work as they are portable and don’t require an electricity source like a plasma cutter. However in recent years plasma cutting technology has advanced to the point where some models are portable and as most modern construction sites require an electricity source anyway, they are becoming increasingly common in the field. Another key difference between the two cutting technologies is that oxy-fuel torches need the metal to be preheated to ignition temperature before cutting can begin. Plasma cutting technology on the other hand, does not require the metal to be preheated.
Accuracy and speed
When it comes to speed and accuracy, plasma cutting technology far outperforms oxy-fuel torches. A plasma cutter takes care of thinner metals much faster, and with little or no distortion as compared to an oxy-fuel cutter. Plasma cutters produce a smooth cut with a narrower kerf than an oxy fuel cutter does.
- If you need an accurate cut for thinner metals, a plasma cutter is ideal
- If you need to cut through thick metals and accuracy or finish are not important, oxy fuel is the best choice
Both technologies have risks associated with their use which can be mitigated through the use of proper safety gear and operation protocols. However, because plasma cutting does not use an open flame or involve explosive gases, it does create a safer workplace.
Ultimately, most sheet metal manufacturing operations require both an oxy fuel and a plasma cutting system to handle the diverse range of jobs they work on. Acra Machinery are Melbourne’s suppliers of new and used plasma cutters. To learn more about our range, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by calling 03 9794 6675.