PRECISION IN PLASMA CUTTING: MAKE A LIST, CHECK IT TWICE

(featured in Fabricating & Metalworking – Nov/Dec 2015)

A plasma cutting system requires care to operate at peak efficiency. Regular, ongoing maintenance is the smartest and most efficient way to optimize its output, reduce unplanned downtime and minimize its operating costs. Follow these routines of cleaning, inspection, and replacing common wear items so that your part tolerances won’t deviate and your cut quality at higher speeds won’t suffer. 

The list of items needing regular maintenance in your shop is likely long. It probably seems there is always something to be done. Unfortunately, while most shops are great at inspecting equipment like cranes, forklifts, and air compressors, one machine that tends to slip through the cracks is the plasma cutting system. Perhaps the old adage “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” proves true here. Plasma cutting systems — at least good, quality systems — typically don’t tend to be troublesome. Instead, they go about the job day in and day out, slicing through whatever metal is thrown at them.

But even though your plasma system may appear to work just fine, failing to properly maintain this machine is quietly impacting its functional performance and life. Eventually over time, its mechanical parts will start to wear and cause rough machine motion. Part tolerances will deviate. Cut quality, particularly at higher speeds, will suffer.

This is no different than maintaining the tires on your car. To get the best life and performance from your tires, you need to make sure they have the right amount of air and are rotated regularly. If you don’t do those two things, will your car still roll? Sure it will, but does the comfort of the ride and the gas mileage suffer? Yes. Do your tires last as long? No. Are you more apt to get a flat tire at the worst possible time? Yes. This same logic applies to your plasma system. If you don’t take good care of it, the machine will eventually break down when you need it most… such as being in the middle of the largest plate cutting job your shop ever had for your most lucrative customer. Not only do you let down an important customer (at up to $200 per hour fully burdened), you’ve just cost your shop a lot of money.

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Plasma Cleaning & Inspection Checklist