The Plasma Cutting Process : PAC
Plasma Arc Cutting (PAC) is probably one of the single most coveted items in a well equipped shop. Almost all commercial shops are equipped with Oxy-fuel for cutting. In fact, I can’t think of any reason a commercial shop would not have a Oxy-Acetylene rig. But up until the last 10 years, many established shops did not have a plasma cutter. A few still don’t. As technology has improved, and prices have gone down and availability has gone up, more and more shops and even hobbyists are making the plasma plunge.
What makes plasma so desirable? It would be difficult to pinpoint any one feature. Plasma cutters are capable of making extremely clean and accurate in any metal, something that cannot be done with Oxy-Acetylene torches. Speed is another factor, with plasma having an edge over Oxy-Acetylene when trying to achieve similar cut quality. Low temperature input also reduces metal distortion while cutting. A major deciding factor for most is the relatively low skill required to operate one. Almost anyone can turn out competent cuts within a short amount of time with just a little practice. Most plasma cutters are easily taken right to the site to work. There’s no dangerous gases to work with. There’s no large bottles to carry around or fill. Most plasma cutters use air compressors which are already found in many shops. Air hoses can be run quite a long ways to the unit giving a lot more portability around the shop with a reduced foot print. Some plasma cutters even have the compressor built in and will operate on 120 volts, allowing it to be used almost anywhere in or out of the shop.
There are some drawbacks to plasma though. While plasma may give Oxy-Fuel a run for its money on performance cutting, it cannot be used in situations where it is necessary to heat metal. Nor can it weld or braze. Plasma can only be used to cut or gouge any metal. Oxy/Acetyelene will weld, cut, braze and heat…though it is limited mostly to steel on cutting. The initial purchase of a plasma system is much higher as well, especially if an air compressor is needed. Consumables should always be kept handy as this is a wear item that is constantly needed. Also, electricity is needed and may be a limiting factor in remote locations. Oxy-Fuel rigs have no such requirements. Torch tips for Oxy-Fuel last much longer for sure and rarely need replacing.
Carefully evaluate your needs and capabilities before purchasing a plasma cutter. It is not a good fit for everyone. It is not a substitute for a good Oxy-Fuel rig because of its limitations. But if you do feel it’s a good fit for you, Everlast offers a full range of plasma cutters from 50 to 100 amps, with cutting capacities up to nearly 2 inches. Well priced from $700 dollars, there’s probably a unit that will fit your needs.