Comparative Analysis of Laser Cutting And Plasma Cutting

At present, there are two main methods for cutting metal plates: plasma cutting and laser cutting. Plasma cutting can be traced back to the 1950s, when it emerged as a substitute for flame cutting. The working principle of plasma cutting is: spray the overheated ionized gas (plasma) from the nozzle to the workpiece at high speed, and then form an arc in the gas. This arc ionizes some gases, forming a conductive plasma channel in the process. When the power from the self-cutting plasma is transmitted along the plasma, it will generate enough heat to melt the workpiece, Subsequently, plasma and compressed gas blow away the hot molten metal, resulting in workpiece separation.

Laser cutting was first developed in the 1960s as a method of drilling holes in diamond moulds. This thermal cutting process uses a computer-guided high-power laser, assisted by oxygen, nitrogen or compressed air, to burn, melt, vaporize or blow away the cut material. The laser beam is emitted from the laser source, and then transmitted to the laser cutting head containing a lens through a suitable light guide line (including multiple mirrors or optical fibers). The lens focuses the beam on the material surface for cutting and perforation.

Laser cutting mainly uses two types of lasers; CO laser with operating wavelength of 10.6um and solid state laser with operating wavelength of about lum (disc laser and fiber laser). CO lasers are cheaper, but they are not suitable for cutting copper, brass and aluminum because CO2 lasers cannot work on reflective surfaces. In contrast, solid state lasers have higher processing speed in addition to higher energy/electro-optical conversion efficiency and can process a wider range of materials, because the absorptivity of the above materials to – lum laser is higher than that of~10um laser.

Of course, each cutting method has its own functions and benefits, and each cutting method also has its own applicable fields. In general, the main advantage of laser cutting is its non-contact. It uses heat to cut materials and is more accurate; The main advantage of plasma cutting is that it is suitable for cutting different types of metal.

There are several key differences between laser cutting and plasma cutting:

(1) Cutting technology: plasma cutting uses gas mixture with arc, while laser cutting uses focused beam.

(2) Cutting accuracy: Some high-precision cutting tasks cannot be handled by plasma cutting, such as cutting fine saw blades. In contrast, the accuracy of laser cutting is much higher.

(3) Capital investment required: plasma cutting is relatively low, while laser cutting is relatively high.

(4) Cutting speed: plasma cutting machine is relatively slow; The laser cutting machine can usually cut metal faster than the plasma cutting machine, with less energy consumption, and is a more environmentally friendly metal cutting method.

(5) Cutting thickness: plasma cutting machine can generally cut any type of metal, with thickness up to 80mm. Laser cutting machines can only cut materials up to 25 mm thick.

(6) Generality: plasma cutting machine is limited to cutting applications and can cut all types of metal. Laser cutting machine can cut, carve and weld, and can be used to cut non-metallic materials such as ceramics and glass.
In conclusion, compared with plasma cutting, laser cutting has more advantages. First of all, the range of materials processed is wide. Laser cutting is applicable to all materials commonly used in industrial cutting, from steel to aluminum, stainless steel and non-ferrous metal plates, to non-metallic materials such as plastics, glass, wood or ceramics. Second, in terms of machining shape, the degree of freedom is high, and the laser beam only heats the material locally. The rest of the workpiece has almost no heat effect. This means that the width of the cut is similar to the diameter of the light spot, so that the complex workpiece contour can be cut smoothly and without burr. Third, laser cutting can also form “cold processing” through ultrashort pulses. Almost all materials will evaporate rapidly under the action of ultrashort pulses, with almost no thermal effect, and achieve high-quality edge cutting. This makes laser very suitable for processing complex metal parts, such as cutting medical supports and chemically hardened glass used in the display industry.

In the current laser cutting market, the power of fiber laser is increasing, which greatly improves the applicability and productivity of laser cutting technology, and makes laser cutting technology more competitive than mechanical cutting and plasma cutting.

About HGSTAR: HGSTAR is is a sub-brand of HGTECH.HGTECH the pioneer and leader of laser industrial application in China, and the authoritative provider of global laser processing solutions. We have comprehensively arranged laser intelligent machine, measurement and automation production lines, and smart factory construction to provide overall solutions for intelligent manufacturing.

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