Plasma Cutters can help improve the quality of your cut and increase your efficiency on projects, but it can be difficult to choose the right one if you’re unfamiliar with plasma cutting. Eng-Weld has provided a guide to break down everything you need to know about choosing the right plasma cutter with some key questions to consider.
What type of material are you cutting and how thick is it?
Plasma cutters can cut any material that conducts electricity including:
- Stainless steel
It is important however to consider which material you will be working with most often, as the thickness of your chosen material will affect which plasma cutter to choose based on the amperage. Unlike welding, plasma cutting requires a relatively high voltage and a low amperage, so it is key to find a plasma cutter with the correct amperage in order to cut through thicker materials.
What is the output?
When you are looking at different potential plasma cutters, you should think about their possible output. You can do this by looking at the cutting speed relative to the thickness of the material you will be cutting to determine how fast and effective a certain cutter will be. This information is sometimes displayed as Inches Per Minute or IMP on machines.
This will help you determine how quickly a cutter will be able to complete the task at hand and gage the level of productivity you will be able to have with that option.
What is the difference between built in and separate air plasma cutters?
When choosing a plasma cutter, it’s important to know whether it contains a built in air compressor or you will need to buy a separate compressor. If you choose a cutter that requires a separate air compressor, you should look at the compressor’s CFM, (cubic feet per minute) rating and how much CFM the cutter uses. While all compressors will work for short cutting periods, longer cuts require an air compressor that is large enough to cope with the air consumption used by the cutter.
If you choose a cutter that does not have a built in compressor, you will also need to make sure that the air pressure is right as incorrect pressure will not cut the metal correctly. For a cutter with a built in air compressor, the Powermax 30 air is a great choice while other Hypertherm cutters are suitable if you want to buy a separate compressor.
How often will you use it?
When choosing a plasma cutter, you should consider how frequently you will use it. Not only might this affect the power of the cutter you choose as one recommendation is to buy a cutter that is capable of handling twice the thickness of material that you’ll regularly work with to ensure it can cope, but it will also help you decide how portable you need the cutter to be.
If you plan to use the cutter for long periods at a time or on an expansive project, you may want a lighter, more portable option like the Esab Handy Plasma Cutter 35l that will be more convenient and comfortable in the long term.
What is the torch cost vs the consumable cost?
As with any welding or cutting equipment, you should consider the short term and long term costs. Plasma cutters require consumables like cutting tips and electrodes which need to be replaced over time to avoid poor quality cutting or inefficient output.
This is also where frequency of use can factor in as you may want to invest in a more expensive machine that has a high work capacity like the Hypertherm Powermax 45Xp if you will be using the cutter frequently, whereas a machine with a smaller upfront cost might be suitable if it will not be used often.