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What is Plasma Cutting?

Plasma cutting is a manufacturing technology classified as a sheet metal cutting process since it is often used to cut metal sheet or tube stock quickly. Learn about the benefits of using plasma cutting over other types of subtractive manufacturing processes.

Greg Paulsen - Xometry Contributor
By Greg Paulsen
September 29, 2020
 3 min read
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Plasma Cutting is a manufacturing process that can cut metal sheet or tube stock quickly. It is often used for sheet metal projects and blank preparation of thicker gauges of aluminum, steel, and other metals. Learn more about the benefits of using plasma cutting over other types of subtractive manufacturing processes.

How it Works

Plasma cutting uses an accelerated jet of hot plasma to cut through electrically conductive materials. The plasma is created via a reaction of energy and gas, which overheats the gas into a plasma, and then is directed through a nozzle into the workpiece. The gas is typically a combination of argon and hydrogen, or argon and nitrogen. As the plasma arcs into the conductive material, the material is cut fully through.

Because of the high-intensity reaction required to generate the plasma, this process can cut thicker gauge material up to 6”, which is typically faster than water jetting or laser cutting. Plasma cutters can cut in 2-axis profiles, as well as in angled cuts if a 3+ axis plasma cutter is used.

Applications of Plasma Cutting

Plasma cutting is frequently used on large sheet metal parts due to its speed of cutting relative to most laser-based or waterjet systems. Plasma cutting is often used as a first manufacturing process to cut a profile before the part is moved to additional sheet metal services using brakes, dies, punches, or other forming operations. Plasma cutting is also used to cut tubing and even turn material blanks into net shapes before moving to CNC machining. Typical materials used for plasma cutting are Aluminum 6061-T6, Aluminum 5052, and Stainless Steel.

Is Plasma Cutting Right for Your Project?

Plasma cutting works best with external profile cutting and larger linear features on medium to thick metal gauges. Note that cut edges may have variations in vertical cuts due to the aggressive cutting method of the technology, often requiring post-machining to achieve tight tolerances, parallelism, smoother surfaces, or perpendicularity. Plasma cutting is excellent for manufacturing tube assemblies, brackets, enclosures, consoles, and work panels—especially if these are parts of larger weldment assemblies.

Plasma cutting services overlap with laser cutting services and water jet cutting services for many projects and often are used interchangeably depending on machine size, capacity, and availability. Laser cutting may be preferred if the material has multiple small cuts, perforations, or holes. For thicker gauged items, plasma cutting is preferred over waterjet for its speed, but water jet can also cut non-conductive materials like foams, gaskets, and plastics.

Plasma Cutting with Xometry

Xometry's quick-turn custom plasma cutting services offer a cost-effective and on-demand fabrication solution for your sheet metal needs. Thanks to the Xometry Instant Quoting Engine℠, we can provide instant pricing for any size of fabrication run from low-volume prototyping to high-volume production. Not sure what process you need? Xometry’s manufacturing experts are happy to review your online quote and provide feedback.

Greg Paulsen - Xometry Contributor
Greg Paulsen
They call me the Director of Application Engineering at Xometry. This means I not only get to produce great design-for-manufacturing content, but also consult on a variety of custom manufacturing projects using CNC machining, additive manufacturing, sheet metal, urethane casting, and injection molding. If you have a question, I'm your guy.