Plasma cutting (or plasma arc cutting) is a commonly used method for cutting through electrically conductive materials (i.e., metals). It emerged in the 1960s and became popular in the 1980s due to its benefits over metal-to-metal and oxy-fuel cutting. By comparison, plasma cutting produces more accurate cuts with cleaner edges and fewer metal chips.
Plasma cutting torches are generally comprised of an electrode inside of a copper nozzle. The nozzle funnels a stream of compressed gas, which facilitates the formation of an electric arc flowing from the electrode to the conductive work piece. The type of gas used varies depending on the specific material being cut. Oxygen, for example, is often used for its reactive relationship with carbon steel or mild steel; whereas hydrogen may be mixed with argon to cut thicker metals such as stainless steel.
Plasma cutting is typically used to cut steel, brass, copper or aluminum, The frequent need for conductive material cutting makes this method applicable to anything from fabrication and industrial construction, to automotive repair and scrap metal processing. Plasma cutting torches are also highly scalable, making them an ideal cutting tool for a wide range of applications.
Plasma torches can cut through most metals with relative ease. Hand-held torches, for instance, can cut through steel plates as thick as 1.50 inches, while more powerful robotic torches may be used to cut steel as thick as 6 inches. The localized superheated jet stream makes plasma cutting especially useful in operations that require the carving of complex shapes in tough materials.
Safety procedures are essential during plasma cutting. Photokeratitis (or ‘Arc Eye’ as it’s sometimes called) is a painful condition that occurs through exposure to the ultraviolet rays emitted by the electric arc. This can be avoided by wearing appropriate eye protection. A Leather apron, jacket and gloves are also suggested to prevent harm from sparks and fragments during plasma cutting.
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