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Laser Cutting Metals vs. Plasma Cutting Metals

Laser cutting and plasma cutting machines can save you time and money. Both share similar qualities, but there are unique features that differentiate the two. Before choosing which machine best fits your needs, you should understand the ins and outs of each. We hope to help you find the right fit.

Our relationships with customers are just as solid as the metals we work with, forged on quality service for the highest quality parts. Glenn Metalcraft is an extension of each customer. We want to grow in the right direction, so we are careful about the type of work we accept and strive to achieve a good fit above all else.

Have you ever harnessed sunlight to create a laser beam?

If you have ever used a magnifying glass to direct sunlight into a concentrated beam, you created a laser! Channeling direct sunlight through a lens produces a focused column of light. This column is also known as a laser beam.

When you think of lasers, you might be reminded of sci-fi movies or laser light shows. The lasers you envision are similar to those that laser cutting machines use. A concentrated beam is directed through the machine and onto the material you desire to cut. This beam is controlled by a complex network of parts, all controlled by a computer.

The computer controls the machine and directs the laser beam with fantastic accuracy. Laser cutting metals is a process well known for clean cuts and tight tolerances.

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Plasma cutting machines work differently.

Plasma cutting machines create a stream of electricity flowing through gas and force it through a small orifice using compressed air. That stream jumps from an electrode in the nozzle to the conductive material being cut. It is why plasma cutting is limited to only conductive materials.

Plasma cutting machines offer powerful cutting capabilities but provide less accuracy than laser cutting machines. Unlike laser cutting machines, many plasma cutting machines are handheld. They are an affordable and effective way to cut through metal sheeting easily.

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Differences in precision: Laser vs. Plasma cutting metals

As you might imagine, laser cutting is the more precise option. 

A laser can cut a metal sheet with extreme accuracy because the cut width is so thin. Most lasers are only one-thousandths of an inch thick. This thin cut width results in an ideal cut.

Plasma cutting machines are mighty but do not meet the same level of accuracy as lasers. The propelled spray that plasma cutting machines send out to cut through materials is one-hundredths of an inch thick. This is close to ten times less accurate than laser cutting.

Cut quality comparison: Laser cut metals vs. plasma cut metals

Plasma cutting requires more “clean up” time.

Plasma cutting often leave jagged edges and imperfections on parts. This means that you may revisit the piece after cutting to clean up the cut edges.

When watching a laser cutting machine and a plasma cutting machine go head-to-head, the differences in cut quality and speed are apparent. 

Material restrictions for laser cutting machines:

Laser cutting machines create crisp edges, but they’re picky eaters.

Unlike plasma, laser cutting machines can only work with materials generally less than ½” thick. Any larger and you may need a very big, extremely specialized laser. Laser cutting metals are limited to clean, rust-free, non-mirrored metal materials.

Laser cutting machines cut a variety of metal materials. 

These range from typical cardstock paper to thick acrylic boards. When considering how well it can cut metals, the ideal thickness is ¼” steel or aluminum sheeting. The cardinal rule is that these surfaces need to be unblemished and unpainted for the laser cutter to work correctly.

Material restrictions for plasma cutting machines:

Plasma cutting machines require a conductive material to get the job done.

The favorites of these machines are steel and aluminum. One perk to plasma cutting is that they do not require clean cuts of the material and will work appropriately, trimming through rust and blemishes on the surface.

Thicker materials that require simple cuts are ideal candidates for the plasma cutting machine. Plasma cutting is possible at thicknesses up to 6 inches. The maximum thickness possible for each plasma cutter varies the machine’s power and setup. Plasma cutters can be handheld or table-mounted systems.

Here to address your questions about laser metal cutting and plasma metal cutting.

Our relationships with customers are as solid as the metals we work with, forged on quality service for the highest quality parts. Glenn Metalcraft is an extension of each customer. We want to grow in the right direction, so we are careful about the type of work we accept and strive to achieve a good fit above all else.

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An Intro To Plasma Cutting Metals

There are four primary states of matter: liquid, solid, gas, and plasma. Plasma is gas that has energy added to it, causing molecules to speed up and collide with greater force into each other. This electrified, ionized gas creates the power behind plasma cutting metals and technologies.

The technology for plasma cutting metals is here to make fabrication and welding more manageable and precise than ever before.

At GMI, we have been offering our customers cutting-edge technology for fabrication and metalworking since 1947. Please contact us today to discuss how our team of engineers and craftsmen can save you time and money with our superior service.

This article will look into plasma cutting metals, a widely used process in the manufacturing industry. Let’s dig into…

The World Of Plasma Cutting Metals

Plasma cutting is a fabrication process used to cut through conductive metals like stainless steel and aluminum. We find the technology in automotive repair, manufacturing, and industrial construction. But how exactly does it work?

The process begins with a gas. The type of gas you utilize depends on the material cut, as different gasses can produce different results. Compressed air, nitrogen, oxygen, and argon-hydrogen mixtures are a few examples, but manufacturers most often use compressed air.

Next, the gas is injected into the plasma chamber, where it is electrified. This process breaks the molecules of gas into atoms. Atoms are disassociated from their electrons. The process is also known as ionization. The fast-moving ionized gas produces large amounts of heat as the electrons are displaced from the atoms and then reabsorbed by other particles.

The ionized gas is funneled towards the very narrow opening, the focused nozzle, of the cutter itself. As the pressurized, ionized gas rushes past the electrode, it is sparked by an electric arc, making the plasma electrically conductive. The nozzle focuses and constricts the plasma, giving it a higher density and velocity.

The plasma exiting the cutter’s tip and the workpiece itself create an electrical circuit. The cutter and workpiece have been grounded by an earth terminal, allowing for a completed circuit to form. The process makes it safe to use for the craftsperson.

Finally, the workpiece needs to be a conductive metal for this electrical plasma to connect and melt the metal. The plasma reaches temperatures up to 30,000 degrees Celcius, which is hot enough to initiate the melting process. It can cut through metals between .5mm and 180mm.

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What Metals Are Conductive?

Plasma cutting is only useful for conductive metals. That means that the material must conduct electricity, as plasma is electrical, ionized gas.

Metals that are conductive and typically cut by plasma technology include:

  • Stainless steel
  • Steel
  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Titanium
  • Iron

Thermal Separation

There are three main thermal separation methods used in metal fabrication and welding. Lasers are potent but often cost-prohibitive. . The plasma cutting technology can do more intricate cuts and is more affordable than a laser cutting system

Oxyfuel Cutting 

This thermal separation method comprises the chemical reaction between oxygen and steel, which form iron oxide. The high-powered oxygen flame reacts with steel, causing it to disintegrate (or rust) rapidly. This method is ideal for cutting thick metal.

Laser Beam Cutting

A laser generates the machine’s resonator cavity, directed towards a tip, and then cuts through or engraves metal. This method uses a focused beam of laser light to cut through metal or other materials. This focused laser beam allows for a high degree of accuracy and precision. The laser beam melts, burns, or vaporizes the materials it contacts.

Plasma Cutting

An ionized gas stream is sparked by electricity, creating a plasma tip that can melt through any conductive metal. The method developed in the 1950s manipulates materials and cannot but cut by flame. It is an ideal method for fast and efficient cutting.

Metalworkers also use plasma cutting for cutting thin or thick metals up to 180mm because it has a high degree of accuracy. The cut’s precision and the clean edge are impacted by the gas used in the plasma cutter. The versatility of use is increased by combining different gases or water injection methods to produce different finishes of cuts or kerfs. The process makes plasma cutting metals a trusted method for metalworkers.

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Pros & Cons Of Plasma Cutting Metals

There are many reasons why plasma cutting materials would greatly benefit the user. It is very user-friendly, cleaner, and safer than the oxyfuel style of thermal cutters.

Pros Of Plasma Cutting Metals

  • Fast cutting speed
  • No handling of explosive gasses
  • Less clean up
  • Ideal for cutting shaped or curved metals
  • Cuts through any conductive metal
  • Precision cutting
  • No metal chips produced from cutting
  • Smaller handheld devices are easily portable
  • It cuts thicker metal than laser cutting machines

Cons Of Plasma Cutting Metals

  • High power consumption
  • Only able to make cuts up to 180mm
  • Pricier than oxyacetylene cutting systems
  • Cuts are not as refined as laser cutting methods

Plasma cutting technology continues to be developed, making this tool more accessible and portable. While it has a higher upfront cost than oxyfuel torches, it does not require the storage and replenishment of explosive gases, making up for costs over time.

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This tool’s versatility makes it a favorite amongst metalworkers of all backgrounds, from artists to manufacturers. We are proud to continue growing and innovating within the OEM industry with plasma cutting metals. Contact Glenn Metalcraft, Inc about your OEM project today.

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The Differences Between Welding And Metal Fabrication

From the cars we drive to the tall buildings we work at all day to the industrial plants that produce everything we use, today’s society owes its infrastructure to metal’s strength and durability. Extreme amounts of heat and pressure and skilled labor give the metal its final form. Two of the most crucial metalworking processes are welding and metal fabrication. Many people don’t understand the distinctions between these two processes. Let’s delve into some of the differences between welding and metal fabrication in today’s blog.

In the meantime, if you have a metalworking project that you need help with, contact us. Glenn Metalcraft’s customer relationships are as solid as the metals we work with, forged on quality service for the highest quality parts.

GMI is an extension of each of our customers. We strive to grow in the right direction, so we are prudent about the work we accept and aim to achieve a good fit above everything.

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Welding, Defined

Welding is the process of joining pieces of metal together using fusion. These material pieces must have similar melting points for the welding to be successful at holding them together.

Welders often work with hot metal, specialty tools, and heavy machinery. Therefore, it’s imperative to be trained in proper safety guidelines and use the correct safety equipment to prevent injuring themselves or others.

Welders should always have access to:

  • an auto-darkening welding helmet
  • coveralls or a leather apron
  • flame-resistant clothing
  • hearing protection
  • heavy work boots
  • safety goggles
  • welding gloves
  • and often a method for fume extraction equipment.

Workers must understand the importance of safety equipment, meaning the shop should have safety policies defined and communicated to their welders. Both the provision of equipment and the proper training in safety expectations are necessary for a metal fabrication shop to have a thriving safety culture and environment. This safety culture is part of the shop’s overall program of quality control.

Welding involves the fusing of two (or more) pieces of metal. Numerous welding techniques exist, and each has its particular strengths and weaknesses.

Standard welding techniques include:

  • Shielded metal arc welding.
  • Gas metal arc welding.
  • Gas tungsten arc welding.
  • Flux core arc welding.

All welding techniques have the same goal: to permanently bond metal pieces together.

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Metal Fabrication, Explained

Metal fabrication is the process of bringing together metal parts and assembling, or fabricating, something out of the elements. Usually, the process creates metal structures, machines, buildings, or other components.

Metal fabrication is the entire process of creating metal parts, from beginning to end. In comparison, welding is only one part of the fabrication process, which involves using heat to join two metal pieces.

Metal gives structural strength and efficiency. For instance, metal is strong and extends the life of structures. However, despite its strength, it can be manipulated to take on a new shape. Besides, due to its strength, it is incredibly cost-efficient. Metal fabricators can replicate the procedure to create a product, which brings down the cost per unit.

Also, metal is cost-efficient for the owners. Buildings or structures that utilize the fabrication process have a lower risk of fire damage, peeling paint, and even attract fewer pests. Best of all, its resistance to damage means there are lower insurance rates.

Processes Used In Metal Fabrication

  • Casting. The casting process occurs when molten metal is poured into a mold and is left to solidify into a specific form. Casting is one of the most flexible metal fabrication methods. It’s ideal for a wide range of complex shape-making. The most common materials used in casting include copper, gold, iron, magnesium, silver, and steel.
  • Cutting. Perhaps the most common metal fabrication processes involve cutting, where sheets split into halves, thirds, or smaller. Welders perform cutting on a range of machines, from lasers and plasma torches to elaborate high-tech machinery pieces.
  • Folding. One of the more complicated metal fabrication processes involves folding, where a metal surface is manipulated to shape at a certain angle.
  • Machining. When a machine removes portions from a metal piece, the process is known as machining. The method uses a lathe, which will rotate the metal piece against tools that trim corners and edges, cutting the section down to a desired shape or measurement.
  • Punching. When holes are formed in metal, the process involved consists of punching. Punching is when a metal piece is placed under a die and submitted to a drill “punch-through.” For the punched hole to be the correct size, the drill’s circumference must be accurate.
  • Shearing. For long cuts, the process is known as shearing. Shearing can be done horizontally, vertically, or by lowering the blade like a paper cutter. Shearing is used to trim down the edge of sheet metal, but the shearing process may be done anywhere on the metal piece.
  • Stamping. The metal fabrication process of stamping creates specific shapes, letters, or images within a metal piece. In effect, metal stamping is similar to a relief carving in wood or marble. Coins are a primary example of metal stamping: with words, currency amounts, and presidents’ faces stamped on each side on pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.
  • Welding. Welding is easily one of the most popular metal fabrication processes among enthusiasts, along with cutting.

Additional metal fabrication processes include broaching, grinding, honing, and milling. Depending on the needs of a particular metal fabrication application, some metal facilities even perform specially customized fabrication types.

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Differences Between Welding And Metal Fabrication

Welding is a metal forming technique necessary in many metal fabrication applications to complete work on a specific part or project.

Not all metal fabrication involves welding, but good welders are essential for a successful metal fabrication business to operate to its greatest potential.

Both welding and metal fabrication uses similar processes like assembling and bending. Many welders can fabricate, and many fabricators can also weld.

Metal Fabrication Encompasses Many Different Techniques

Metal fabrication encompasses the creation of a metal product from beginning to end. It involves everything from layout and design to shaping and finishing. In contrast, welding is simply one activity during metal fabrication.

As we stated above, all welding techniques have the same goal: to permanently bond metal pieces together. Metal fabrication, by comparison, encompasses many different metalworking strategies — welding included.

Welding and Metal Fabrication Use Different Tools

There are various tools used during welding and metal fabrication. Typically, professional welders need equipment such as abrasives, chipping hammers, electrode holders, soapstone, vice grips, vices, and welding clamps.

Metal fabricators, by trade, concern themselves with metal cutting, machining, or bending.

Fabricators accomplish this task using various cutting machines. A fabricator uses a lathe to remove portions of the metal. They can also create holes through which bolts will be able to pass. Bending machines then add necessary angles to the metal piece.

Welding utilizes a diverse toolset, including welding clamps, torches, power sources, and consumable electrodes.

Welding and Metal Fabrication Require Different Skills

Metal fabrication uses various metalworking processes — welding included — to create the structures and components necessary for the modern world to exist.

Most fabrication tools have a tabletop nature. Fabricators place the metal on the relevant device and then carefully manipulate the tool to accomplish the desired task.

On the other hand, welding has a vastly different strategy. While some welders do require stationary tools, welders mainly perform the welding process itself by hand.

While some metal fabricators also possess welding ability, the welding process’s complexity often requires more specialized practitioners. Without intense practice, a welder wouldn’t be able to create strong, neat welds. When creating high-performance metal products, only a welder with experience can operate with the necessary degree of skill and precision.

Why Trust Your Metal Manufacturing To Glenn Metalcraft?

Glenn Metalcraft’s customer relationships are as solid as the metals we work with, forged on quality service for the highest quality parts.

GMI is an extension of each of our customers. We strive to grow in the right direction, so we are prudent about the work we accept and aim to achieve a good fit above everything. Contact us about your project today.