Plasma cutter

How To Choose a Plasma Cutter [In-Depth Guide]

Plasma cutters are highly effective welding machines that cut through conductive metallic materials with a jet of hot plasma. This process is accomplished at an extreme temperature and requires careful preparation to ensure the workstation, welding equipment, and personal safety protection is set up before you begin.

A plasma cutting machine is used for all types of metal fabrication projects, it’s commonly used in autobody shops, construction sites, sculptures, decorative panels for interior design, and salvage yards.

It’s a versatile machine that works by sending an inert gas through a torch, which produces an electric arc. This process forces the plasm through the tip of the torch to cut through metal. Plasma cutting creates an arc that can reach an extreme temperature of up to 45,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s one of the most effective and fast ways to cut metal.

When you choose a plasma cutter, it’s essential to get familiar with the different types of machines available and the various advantages they provide for your project. A plasma cutting system includes amperage settings that control the power available for cutting and an on/off switch. Once a plasma cutter is appropriately set up with the proper tools and equipment, it is a clean, safe, and effective way of cutting metal.

While plasma cutters are initially an expensive investment, they are available for rent, which makes them significantly more affordable and accessible for a wide range of projects and materials.

It’s essential to determine which type of plasma cutter is best for your home-based workshop, business, repair shop, or construction operation. This guide will provide you with all the details you need to consider when you choose a suitable plasma cutting machine for your workspace.


What Are Your Needs for Your Plasma Cutting Project?


Before you decide which plasma cutter is best for your job, it’s essential to assess the needs of your project and determine which machine is the best fit. Remember various factors when choosing the right equipment for your workshop or business.

What type of work will you use with the plasma cutting machine? Generally, plasma cutters can cut through almost every type of metal, making it easy to use for many projects and materials. Oxy-fuel cutters are another fast way of cutting through metal.

It’s essential to consider the following when you’re deciding on which plasma cutter or similar welding equipment to rent:

  • How often do you plan on using a plasma cutter? Are you working on a one-time or occasional project or an ongoing production of specific items for business or commercial use?
  • Are you planning on using a plasma cutter in one location, or should it be portable to perform tasks in several places?
  • Do you have a generator you can use with a plasma cutter, or do you need to acquire the power to maintain consistent energy for your project?
  • How thick is the metal you’re cutting? Plasma cutters cut through many materials, though some welders are more effective, including oxy-fuel cutters, for specific metals.
  • The consistency of your electricity is crucial, as any fluctuation can impact the efficiency and productivity of plasma cutting.

Once you have a better idea of what you have available to accommodate a plasma cutter and the type of materials and work you plan on performing, you’ll have a better idea of the type of plasma cutter machine brand you’ll need for your upcoming project.

One of the most significant differences you’ll notice between brands are specific features or styles that the manufacturer highlights as an extra item or feature for a specific machine.


Different Types of Plasma Cutters


Various plasma cutting machines are combination units that perform various cutting and welding functions. These units often combine plasma cutters with a TIG welder and stick welder so that you can produce a variety of objects or repairs based on the type of materials. This option is ideal if you don’t require a plasma metal cutter regularly or occasionally, though you require a MIG or TIG welder for other tasks. A combination machine is ideal for your worksite.

If you plan on cutting materials in several locations, considering portable welding or plasma cutting machine that works with a generator, which provides a fluctuating power source, is worthwhile. For stationary projects, multi-use welding, plasma cutting machine, and equipment are often best to fit your production needs.

It’s also crucial to consider your budget, which can impact the type of machine you’ll be able to use. For this reason, renting a plasma cutter is often the best way to reduce operational costs while getting the most out of high-quality machinery.


What Are Your Output Power Requirements?


It’s essential to choose the proper plasma cutter power requirements based on the materials, purpose, and type of project. An inverter-based plasma cutter is ideal if you’re looking for high cutting output power. It’s a lightweight cutting machine that offers excellent capacity and is portable, making it convenient for multiple worksites and projects.

There are specific power levels that can achieve cutting certain metal thicknesses. For example, a 230-volt machine with 60 amps of power can cut through seven-eighths of an inch, and a machine with 120 volts and 12 amps of power can cut one-eighth of an inch.


What Is Your Plasma Cutting Speed?


When you choose a plasma cutter’s speed, this is noted as IPM, which stands for inches per minute. This measurement is essential for determining how quickly you’ll need to produce certain products or accomplish a specific project within a specific timeframe.

While plasma cutting machines can cut through metallic materials efficiently, some machines will move quickly through each piece, impacting a significant production over a week or longer. For this reason, choosing a cutting speed that works best for your operation is crucial.


What Is Your Plasma Cutter Duty Cycle?


The duty cycle of a plasma cutter refers to the amount of time it takes to cut continuously within ten minutes before it needs to stop and cool off. If a machine cuts for a consistent five minutes as a duty cycle, the same time frame is required for the cool-off period.

As a machine heats up, the hot operating conditions require that the duty cycle is shorted to prevent overheating. In contrast, a lower-powered plasma cutter can function for a more extended session.

The longer duty cycle is a good option if you want to make a more extended cut on larger pieces of steel or metal, whereas smaller cuts are best for a smaller project of home-based operation.


Choosing the Right Torch and Consumables


When deciding which plasma torch to use, two main types of cutting torches are available. High-frequency torches are most commonly used, creating a spark through a high-voltage transformer with capacitors and spark-gap assembly. These are dependable and durable torches that don’t use moving parts.

A contact start torch uses a moving nozzle of electrodes, creating a spark that makes a pilot arc. Unlike high-frequency plasma torches, which interfere with electronics and office equipment, these torches do not cause this issue and tend to work well without a pre-flow cycle.

Contact start torches are operational at total capacity when used at a constant standoff, where the standoff distance is adjusted to accommodate the thickness of the metal and the amperage level that you’ll need to cut it. A low amperage amount is required for a small amount of metal, and no standoff distance is required in this situation.

A single-flow torch with minimal amperage is ideal if you usually work with thin metallic materials. In these projects, you won’t need an extra shielding gas flow to cool down the torch, and it’s a good choice for a small operation or project. When considering all the plasma torch options, it’s essential to pick a design that fits best in your hand to feel comfortable using it for long periods or frequently.

When you review all the plasma cutting machines, torches, and consumables available for your project, it’s essential to consider the ongoing costs for replacing or renting equipment and maintenance expenses for short-term and long-term production. You’ll also want to get acquainted with each part of the machine, including how often to change the electrode, tip, and other parts to provide excellent quality cutting results.


Where to Get Your Plasma Cutter


Do you have questions on which type of plasma cutter is the best for your home-based project or business? Let Sunbelt Rentals’ expert team provide the tools and suggestions you need to make an informed decision for your business operations and construction needs.

Sunbelt Rentals offers a wide selection of welding equipment, plasma cutters, tools, safety protection, and much more. We’ll help you find the best plasma cutter, cutting torch, plasma table, and other accessories to suit your operational needs.