Plasma Cutting vs Laser Cutting

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Wondering whether plasma cutting or laser cutting is the best option for your project? This discussion provides a brief overview of these two metal fabrication processes. At Automated Metal Processing, we specialize in laser cutting because of its high tolerance, exceptional quality and the economical price that we can offer our customers.

Plasma cutting basics

Plasma cutting dates back to the 1950s and 60s. It was developed as an alternative for flame cutting, which fell short when cutting materials such as stainless steel, copper and aluminum. The process forces compressed air, oxygen or other inert gases through a nozzle at the same time that an electric arc is passed through the gas. This combination changes the gas into plasma (an electrically conductive ionized gas), which is hot enough to melt metal.

What is laser cutting?

Laser cutting, on the other hand, uses a computer-directed high-power laser in conjunction with oxygen, nitrogen or compressed air to melt, burn, vaporize or blow away the material being cut. The first laser cutting machines were created to cut holes in diamond dies in the mid-1960s, then for cutting titanium in the aerospace industry. Since then, laser technology has expanded into many settings beyond industrial manufacturing.

Applications and uses where laser cutting outperforms plasma cutting:

  • For processes such as cutting, drilling, engraving, ablation, welding and structuring (whereas plasma is limited to only cutting)
  • Cutting of flat sheet steel from very thin (0.003”) to medium thickness (1” – 1.5”)
  • For cutting small holes in thicker materials (where plasma is 1.5x material thickness, laser technology can cut approximately 0.375x the material thickness)
  • Improved positioning tolerances and better fitting together of parts
  • Faster cutting speed and delivery time due to advanced technology, ability to change settings between projects, etc., for common material thicknesses
  • Finally, cutting edge (degrees to parallel) is better with laser cutting than with plasma cutting

Plasma cutting could be considered for:

  • Cutting of sheet metal and plate for greater thicknesses (up to 2-3”, depending on the material)
  • Highly reflective metals

While the capital investment in laser cutting technology is much higher than for plasma cutting machinery, the superior cutting abilities, tolerances and overall quality of laser cutting made it a clear choice for us at Automated Metal Processing. The speed and increased productivity of our LaserTech machine also means quicker turnarounds and cost savings for you. Contact us today to discuss your specifications and needs. We’ll help you decide if laser cutting is the best choice for your project.