What are the Differences Between Laser Cutting and Plasma Cutting?
“Should I choose laser cut or plasma cut?” This is one of the most common questions in the industry; what is the difference between the two and which cutting process is more suitable for the final stage? Today we will examine the differences between laser cutting and plasma cutting.
At Aktif Lazer, we use laser cutting machines that provide extreme precision with impressive cutting speeds. This combination means we can offer competitive prices without sacrificing quality and can cut Mild Steel to 30mm, Stainless Steel to 40mm, Aluminum to 30mm, and Brass and Copper to 12mm and 16mm respectively.
“Plasma cutting machines” and “laser cutting machines” are often used interchangeably when referring to the use of hot, high-power light to cut workpieces. While they are similar, they are not necessarily the same. Plasma cutting and laser cutting use completely different mechanisms to perform the cutting operations. So what exactly is the difference between plasma cutting and laser cutting?
Both laser cutting and plasma cutting can cut metal workpieces. As explained earlier, though, they work in completely different ways. While laser cutting uses powered laser light, plasma cutting uses plasma.
Workers performing plasma cutting should wear appropriate personal protective equipment to avoid arcing eyes. Arc eye, also known as photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis, is an injury that occurs when a worker’s eyes are exposed to high levels of radiation. Because plasma torches emit radiation, workers must wear safety glasses or goggles to protect against arcing eyes. Laser cutting, on the other hand, does not produce or emit radiation. This is the biggest advantage of laser cutting. It is a safer cutting technique in terms of worker health.
Comparison of Laser Cutting and Plasma Cutting
What is Laser Cutting?
Laser cutting machines use high-power, computer-driven lasers combined with nitrogen, oxygen, or compressed air to slice a variety of metals. Carbon dioxide laser cutting is also used to engrave metals. Laser cutting machines are versatile and can take on a wide variety of metalworking jobs.
Laser cutting works by focusing an intense beam of infrared light on the surface to be cut. It uses small but powerful lasers to focus the beam and heat the material to the point of melting, burning, or evaporation. The technique then uses a booster gas to clean the molten or burned area to create the cut.
Laser cutting is quite versatile in its application. However, its most common use is for cutting metals, a material that plays a role in nearly all industries, from agriculture to construction, manufacturing, and security. The most commonly used metals are steel and aluminum, but the process can be successfully applied to most metals, including brass, copper, titanium, and tungsten. Laser cutting is common not only for metals but also for non-metals such as silicone, ceramics, plastics, rubber, polymers, and carbon composites. This wide application makes laser cutting crucial to a wide variety of industries.
The outstanding advantage of laser cutting is its high accuracy, making it the ideal choice when tolerances are tight. Some commercial lasers can reach tolerances of 0.1mm, and specialist lasers are even more precise: this precision is why laser cutting is the preferred method for the aerospace industry. Perhaps the only limitation of laser cutting is that it is not suitable for very thick materials. In this case, a water jet or plasma cutter is needed.
What is Plasma Cutting?
Plasma cutting machines use compressed air and inert gases such as hydrogen and nitrogen, which pass through a fine nozzle at high speeds. The combination of gases, high velocities, and a concentrated pressure field creates an electrically conductive ionized gas, also known as plasma. This method is used on metals that cannot be cut in flame-based cutting machines.
Plasma cutting was first developed in the 1950s as a technique for non-flame cut metals. It is a process that cuts materials with an accelerated hot plasma engine. But what is plasma? Plasma is the fourth state of matter; solid, liquid, and gas are the first three.
Although plasma is categorized as a subset of gases, it does not behave like gas because it consists of charged particles. It occurs naturally in the astrophysical field but can be created artificially when energy is added to the gas through intense heating. The result is ionized gas with high electrical conductivity: plasma.
Plasma cutting has one advantage over laser cutting, which is that it can process thicker materials. It can handle material thicknesses up to 180 mm. Plasma cutting works best on large workpieces and simple designs. In contrast, laser cutting can handle both small and large material sizes and handle highly complex designs.
Advantages of Laser Cutting and Plasma Cutting
Both laser and plasma cutting services offer their unique advantages based on variables such as time zones, job characteristics, and more.
- Plasma cutting is only used to cut a variety of metals, including stainless steel and aluminum. This includes metals with reflective surfaces that cannot be replaced with a laser cutting machine. Unlike plasma machines, laser cutters can be used for many other purposes such as trimming, engraving, welding, and engraving.
- Plasma cutters have a smaller kerf compared to laser machines, meaning less metal is lost during profiling. However, laser cutting machines offer a slightly higher tolerance compared to plasma cutters, minimizing metal degradation. This also means that they can cut and scrape very thin sheets without greatly affecting the material.
- Typically, plasma cutting machines are more commonly used to process most modern plasma machines, such as those that can cut sheet and sheet metal that is thick, and metal up to 80mm thick. In contrast, laser cutters are better equipped for thinner, more complex metals.
Benefits of Laser Cutting
- high sensitivity
- CAD / CAM integration
- high tolerance
- High-quality part reproduction
- Ability to perform complex cutting tasks
- Low distortion
- Affordable cost
- Mass production, short delivery time
Benefits of plasma cutting
- Little Notch
- CAD / CAM integration
- high-quality coating
- High-quality part reproduction
So which cutting process is better? It depends on your needs. Plasma cutting is a smart choice for anyone working in the construction industry. Laser cutting is also sought after primarily in construction but is also useful in other industries where more complex metalworking is required.
There are three main types of lasers used in laser cutting: CO2, neodymium (Oil), and yttrium-aluminum-garnet. Each of the three lasers has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, CO2 lasers are ideal for both cutting and engraving, whereas Nd lasers are better suited for cutting applications that require significant amounts of energy. Regardless, CO2, Nd, and Nd: YAG lasers all use amplified laser light to cut workpieces.
Regardless of the angle, laser cutting is a very practical and low-cost method for metal sheet cutting applications. Laser cutting machines do not harm health. For more information, you can review our laser cutting page and contact us for laser cutting prices.