Plasma cutting has come quite a long way since it was first developed in the late 1950s. Today plasma cutting is one of the most widely used metal plate cutting processes for many different industries. The earlier cutting systems were mainly used for cutting aluminum and stainless steel plate from 0.5 up to more than 6 inches thick. These systems, which are primitive by today’s design standards, were one of the most practical methods when it came to cutting heavy nonferrous plates. Most of them were mounted on XY cutting pantograph-style machines that made use of either a magnetic tracer to follow the path of a steel template or photo-cell tracers to duplicate large black line engineering drawings of parts that were to be cut.
Throughout the 1960s, many engineers worked on the process with the goal of improving the cut quality and the life of the electrodes in the cutting torch and the consumable nozzles. During this period, plasma slowly started to gain momentum as the process was improving and users were becoming more aware of its ability to cut complex shapes in nonferrous materials at high speeds.
Radial water injection was then introduced in 1968. This patented nozzle technology made use of pure water which is injected radially around the plasma jet in order to constrict the arc. This increases the energy density while it improves the nozzle cooling and then allows higher-quality cutting, a much faster cutting speed, and the ability to cut carbon steels at speeds 4 to 6 times faster than an oxyfuel cutting process.
XY coordinate drive cutting machine technology was also being improved at around this time. With microprocessor control technology starting to become the brains of the XY motion control machines, which allowed for higher cutting speeds (necessary for the new technology plasma systems), better accuracy and much higher levels of productivity and automation on the shop floor.
Many oxyfuel-based steel cutting applications from 0.25 to 1 inch thick were being replaced by plasma cutting technology in the 1970s, plasma-cutting technology still managed to maintain its stronghold on the aluminum and stainless markets. Even though plasma was able to cut steel thicker than 1 inch, the oxyfuel process was still a lower cost alternative for heavier steel plate.
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