At Acra, we often get asked by our customers “which type of cutting machine should I use to produce my parts – laser or plasma? The answer depends on the specific requirements of your metal cutting project or application. Let’s consider how laser cutting and plasma cutting work and the advantages and disadvantages of each metal fabrication process.
What is plasma cutting?
The oldest form of cutting, plasma cutting, dates back to the 1950s when it was developed as an alternative to flame cutting. Plasma cutting works by firing a superheated, electrically ionised gas i.e. plasma out of a nozzle at high speed towards the workpiece. An electrical arc is then formed within the gas. This electrical arc ionizes some of the gas, creating an electrically conductive channel of plasma in the process. As electricity from the cutter torch travels down this plasma, sufficient heat is generated to melt through the work piece. The plasma and compressed gas blow the hot molten metal away, resulting in separation of the work piece.
What is laser cutting?
Laser cutting is a technology that was developed in the 1960s as a way to cut holes in diamond dies. This thermal cutting process uses a computer-directed high-power laser along with oxygen, nitrogen, and compressed air, to burn, melt, vaporize, or blow away the material being cut. The laser beam is emitted from a tube and is reflected by several mirrors up into the laser head. There is a lens inside the head which focuses the beam onto the surface of your material for the cutting or engraving process. There are two types of lasers, CO2 and Fibre lasers.
Key Differences between laser cutting and plasma cutting
- Plasma cutters use a mixture of gases with an electrical arc whereas laser cutters use a focused beam of light to carry out cutting process
- There are some cutting jobs that high-definition plasma cutters can’t handle e.g. a plasma cutting a finely detailed saw blade (this kind of job requires a laser cutter).
- Laser cutters offer a much higher level of precision compare to plasma cutters
- The capital investment required for a laser cutter is considerably higher than for plasma cutting machinery
- Fibre laser cutters are best for cutting a thin metal sheet, and they can cut all metal types. CO2 laser cutters cannot cut through copper, brass and aluminium as they do not work on reflective surfaces.
- Plasma cutters are limited to cutting, however they can cut all types of metal; laser cutters can cut, engrave, and weld.
- Laser cutters can generally cut metal quicker than plasma cutters and use less energy, making them a more eco-friendly metal cutting option.
- Laser cutters generally cannot cut materials as thick as plasma cutters can, and usually can only efficiently cut materials that are up to 25mm in thickness. Plasma cutters can generally cut through any type of metal up to 80mm in thickness.
How do I decide which cutting machine is right for the job?
You need to consider what material you need to cut and the thickness of it. Laser cutters offer greater accuracy and consistency. Plasma cutters offer greater versatility and require a lower capital investment.
Laser cutters are generally suitable for: parts with tight tolerance specification, which require highly precise cuts, or are thin to medium thickness.
Plasma cutters are generally suitable for: parts with highly reflective metals, thicker materials, or which require simple shapes.
At Acra, we evaluate your cutting requirements on a case-by-case basis and can advise you on the best cutting machine for your project. We stock a range of fibre laser cutters which are sourced from our long time manufacturing partner Durmazlar, currently the second largest press brake manufacturer in the world. Meanwhile, our Durma plasma cutters (also sourced from Durmazlar) are characterised by superior performance, efficiency, and an intuitive operating system. Speak to one of our metal cutting experts today on (03) 9794 6675 to ascertain whether a laser cutter or plasma cutter is the right machine for you.