Plasma, Fiber Laser or Oxyfuel? Which is the best technology?
It all depends on the specifications of the material we want to cut. The type of metal, its thickness, how fast we need it to be cut and the quality we are looking for, and, of course, the budget we have to invest.
Currently, the three main cutting technologies on the market are Plasma, Fiber Laser and Oxyfuel.
This is probably the technology used for more years. It appeared in the 50s with the need to cut metals that could not be "burned" (such as aluminum and copper).
In the plasma cutting process, a gas with a high temperature is released through a nozzle which, when in contact with the metal, causes it to melt. The high speed with which gas is released causes the material that is melted to be removed, resulting in a clean cut. The metals that can be cut with plasma are steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper and other metals that conduct electricity.
Plasma cutting started to be widely used, both in large industrial applications (such as beam cutting), as well as in small jobs by Small business, due to its great speed and precision, together with the low cost of accessories and maintenance.
(Having these small companies in mind, with smaller production volumes, Motofil has developed a low-cost, high-performance plasma cutting machine, FELINE.)
With this technology it’s possible to cut differnt thicknesses and different materials, but the quality of the cut is slightly lower when compared to recent technologies, such as the laser cutting.
Due to its fast development, Fiber Laser Cutting has been one of the most disruptive technologies in recent years. The fiber laser is capable of cutting different types of metals with great precision (no other technology is capable of cutting as wide a variety of materials as the laser).
This technology allows an efficient use energy, since the amount of energy received by the laser is almost 100% used. There is not much waste when converting it to heat. The heat that is produced is distributed along the length of the fiber, so it doesn’t damage the parts that are being cut.
Depending on the power of the laser generator, it is possible to cut large thicknesses, however in the current market it’s more usual to see fiber laser cutting machines with powers of 3, 4 or 6 Kw, which is not ideal for thicknesses beyond 30mm. This can limit the thickness of the material to be cut.
(Motofil develops fiber laser cutting machines - MFL - withe generators that can go up to 10kW. Contact us for more information.)
A laser cutting machine is still a big investment, so it is important to look to our long term production to see the type of metal we will want to cut and its thickness to make a conscious decision.
Oxyfuel is also a technology with several years (like plasma), and widely used in large-scale projects (heavy-duty).
With oxyfuel, a jet of gas (oxygen) is released, which heats the metal to its ignition point (temperature at which released vapors start spontaneous combustion). At that moment, a jet of pure oxygen is applied, causing the formation of liquid oxides in the metal. The speed of the gas jet promotes the removal of the liquid metal, separating the metal into two parts. As it is a process based on oxidation, it is not recommended for metals with low reactivity to oxygen (such as brass, copper, aluminum ...). On the other hand, it can be used in all types of steels (such as carbon steel, stainless steel ...).
Unlike the other two technologies mentioned, oxyfuel is a technology applicable to very high thicknesses, where great precision is not required. Hence it is more common to find it in companies that deal with large structures such as wind towers, turbines, hydroelectors ... To cut large thicknesses at great speeds, it is possible to add more cutting heads, increasing the speed to 20% more than with just a torch.
(In our DRAGOm, multi-process cutting machine, it is possible to integrate several oxyfuel torches, as well as plasma torches and even a drilling station.)
This type of technology is not recommended for small thicknesses, as the heat generated easily damages the materials.
When it comes the time to choose a technology for cutting metal plates, the question is not so much which is the best cutting technology itself, but what technology is best suited to the material we wanto to cut.
If we constantly cut materials with great thicknesses, maybe the correct answer can pass through the plasma or oxyfuel, depending on the precision and speed we are looking for.
However, if you are looking for high precision cutting of metals with small thicknesses, fiber laser technology is the answer you are looking for.