Are you planning to go to a metal fabricator to have machine components made? Are you unsure about whether you should select laser cutting or plasma cutting? Read on and discover how those two cutting methods compare with each other. Use this information to make an informed decision about the most appropriate method to fabricate the parts that you want.

What They Are

Plasma cutting refers to a method of cutting materials using energy generated when electric current is passed through a combination of compressed plasma gases such as argon and nitrogen. The high temperature of the arc created melts the material where that arc has been directed.

Laser cutting refers to the use of a beam of light to heat compressed air so that it can cut a metal where that laser beam has been directed. Mirrors are used to focus the light onto the surface that is being cut.

Quality of Cut Edges

Laser cutting has a better quality edge when compared to plasma cutting. This is because the laser beam can focus all the cutting energy on a very small part of the material so that square edges are produced. The arc of a plasma cutter cannot achieve that square edge.

Precision of the Finished Part

Precision in this case refers to how accurately a cutting technology can produce the exact specifications provided in a computer model of a component. Laser cutting again scores highly on this parameter. It is so precise that it can reproduce an exact replica of a computer model. Plasma cutting is less precise because the large amount of heat generated during the cutting process can cause distortions within the metal that is being cut. The resultant warping reduces the precision of the fabricated component.

Materials That Can Be Cut

Plasma cutting is limited to materials that can conduct electricity, such as aluminium and stainless steel. This is because the plasma arc would have no effect on a material, such as plastic, that cannot transmit the electric current and generate the heat needed to melt the point at which a cut is being made. Laser cutting is largely applicable to metals, fibreglass and some plastics. However, laser cutting is less effective on materials that are reflective (aluminium, for example) because the laser beam would bounce off those materials.

As you can see, each cutting method has its own pros and cons. Talk to a metal fabrication expert for more information.