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5 of the best metal cutting machines

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article image Oxy fuel cutting is entirely suitable for cutting a pipe to bury underground
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If you want to cut metal and you work in an industrial environment, you have several choices. You can use a traditional oxy-fuel cutter or you can opt for a more sophisticated plasma cutter or laser cutter.

So which is the best metal cutter?

There is no one answer to this question. The fact is that each has its place in the metalworking world and each can do its job effectively and efficiently.

Laser cutters can be relied upon for precision and accuracy; and increasingly they are being integrated into lights-out-manufacturing and full scale automation.

But this degree of accuracy is unnecessary for those who are cutting, say, a metal pipe which will be buried underground. The tried-and-true method, Oxy fuel cutting is entirely suitable for such applications and can still be relied upon for a good job.

ESAB Westgate offers the Cooljet BIE torch cutting machine. This offers fully integrated oxygen cooling for oxy-cutting.

Together with the design of the valve body, the cooling system is intended to deliver optimum dissipation of heat and better cutting gas mixture. In addition, its constant flow and consistent flow cross-sections are designed to offer a stable flame pattern.

Beyond oxy fuel cutting there are a number of options:

Plasma cutters

Plasma cutters are accurate and reliable. Yet their accuracy falls short of that offered by laser cutting machines.

Put simply, cutting tasks that can be measured with a tape measure can be successfully completed with a plasma cutter, while jobs that require measurement with a vernier should be left to a laser cutter.

Welding Industries Australia recently released the Miller Spectrum range of portable plasma cutters.

These 240V, inverter-based plasma cutting machines are said to produce ‘best-in-class’ results and performance for cutting capacity and cutting speed. Suitable for both on-site and workshop-based cutting applications, the range includes the Spectrum 500i, a 30A system, and the Spectrum 700i, a 40A system.

These plasma cutters are intended for use by the typical professional welder or tradesperson. Small and portable, economy is one of their selling points. Typical applications include sheet metal fabrication, engineering and maintenance.

The Spectrum 500i’stravel speed is rated at 467 mm/min when cutting 9.5mm mild steel, while the Spectrum 700i’s travel speed is rated at 330mm/min at 40A when cutting 15.9mm mild steel, with travel speeds approximately 80% of maximum.

Both machines feature Auto-Refire technology, which automatically controls the pilot arc when cutting expanded metal or multiple pieces of metal.

In contrast to this range from Miller, the HDP Series CNC Plasma profile cutters from Advanced Robotics Technology is intended for heavy-duty manufacturing environments where power, precision, speed, quality, low cost, productivity and durability are factors to consider.

Designed to cut steel, stainless steel and aluminium, these plasma cutters are available with process areas ranging in size from 3700mm x 1900mm up to 15000mm x 3200mm.  

They offer fast feeds, high acceleration and advanced motion control algorithms. They are powered by Hypertherm HyPerformance Plasma and also offer an efficient fume extraction system.

Further features include liquid cooled torch tips and full diagnostic screens to view pressure, voltage and flow levels.

Laser cutters

Despite claims made by some of their more enthusiastic manufacturers, there are some jobs that high-definition plasma cutters can’t handle.

For example, a plasma cutter can’t be used to cut a finely detailed saw blade. Such a job requires a laser cutter.

Laser cutters offer precision and can be relied upon to repeat jobs and repeat them with a high degree of precision. You can cut a piece today and then cut another piece in a year’s time with the exact same dimensions and precision.

Laser cutters come in two types, CO2 laser cutters and Fibre laser cutters. As Manufacturers Monthly has previously discussed, choosing the right type depends entirely on the application.

Here are a few worth considering:

CO2 laser cutters

The LH2100 and LH2125 CO2 laser cutters from Hypertherm Westgate feature the ‘Fastlaser’ process which is intended to improve the cut speeds, plate capacity and cut quality range. In addition, it delivers optimal gas flow directly to the cut zone; consistently matching beam width and gas flow geometry.

The heads are designed to increase cut speeds on thick mild steel by a minimum of 10-20%. As such, they can increase productivity through increased output, reduced operating costs and reduced waste.

The laser heads are recommended for applications such as signage, construction, automotive, scrapping, farming, manufacturing, steel servicing, and transportation.

Fibre Laser Cutters

Laser Resources offers the Rofin fibre laser series. Available in 12 models, the series is suitable for classical laser cutting and laser welding applications as well as for new applications such as remote cutting.

The emitted wavelength in the range of 1µm achieves high absorption in many materials. All common solid-state laser applications can be performed using the FL Series laser. With the multi-mode version of the FL laser, fibre optics of 50 to 600µm can be used.

The single-mode version produces very good beam quality, typically in the range of ≤ 0.4mm x mrad. The beam quality also allows the efficient use of “dynamic beam” scanner systems for high speed positioning as well as the fast and precise application of small geometries at work pieces. This reduces cycle times and increases productivity.

For easy integration into existing machining concepts, the compact version of the fibre laser is available as an alternative system solution. The compact version is provided as single-mode laser with fibre optics of 20µm or as a multi-mode laser with fibre optics of 50µm.

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