Should You Fabricate Aluminum with a CNC Plasma Cutter?

A CNC plasma cutter is just one of many tools available to fabricate materials available on the market.  Some fabrication tools (such as laser or waterjet) may be ideal for fabricating certain materials over others.  Though in the past plasma cutting may not always be the top choice for fabricating aluminum, today’s modern CNC plasma cutting systems are cost effective and efficient way to cut aluminum.  Through education about today’s modern CNC plasma cutters, more and more people are realizing that plasma may be a great choice for fabricating aluminum.

As The Fabricator points out, there are many common misconceptions about using plasma to fabricate aluminum, “Misconception No. 1—Aluminum is not a good candidate to be plasma-cut because the material can’t stand up to the flame; for example, porosity is evident on the cut edge. This is an issue of gas selection, said Bob Fernicola, business manager, plasma cutting, for ESAB Welding & Cutting Products, Florence, S.C. Cutting aluminum with air produces a rough edge coated with aluminum oxide.  ‘With the proper selection of gases, you can get a very nice edge on aluminum with plasma,’ Fernicola said… Misconception No. 2—Plasma cutting aluminum plate doesn’t make sense because the technology can’t meet tight tolerances… ‘People haven’t realized how much plasma has changed, even in the last five to six years,’ Brandt said. ‘With the latest high-performance plasma systems, we’re holding excellent tolerances on all thicknesses and materials of plate. Angle variation on aluminum is actually quite good, even compared to mild steel and stainless.’… Misconception No. 3—Plasma cutting aluminum plate leaves a hard-to-clean mess on the surface of the material. ‘When plasma cutting is set up properly, there should be no surface dross or anything to clean up more than in any other process,’ Julian said.… Misconception No. 4—Cutting aluminum plate with a laser is more cost-effective than cutting it with plasma… Lasers get their speed from an exothermic reaction when they cut mild steel. The exothermic reaction uses oxygen as the assist gas, but this leads to problems in processing aluminum. Oxygen can’t be used to laser-cut aluminum—high-pressure nitrogen is needed instead… ‘Because of that, you don’t get the benefit of the exothermic reaction, so cutting speeds are much slower and you use a tremendous amount of nitrogen, to the point where the operating costs of cutting are much higher,’ Julian said. ‘So it’s quite the opposite on aluminum—plasma cutting offers tremendous cost benefits over lasers.’” By accounting for the various factors that impact aluminum fabrication and using the most modern CNC plasma technology, users can have a cost effective and high quality aluminum fabrication experience.