The installations costs of plasma cutters have plummeted over recent years. This has seen these powerful cutting devices now being available for many technical machinists, ranging from the general hobbyist through to small scale auto shops. Despite their hi-tech power it's still essential that plasma cutter operators still follow the basic rules of cutting materials to size; and also appreciate the power of the tool in their hands. In this guide we'll run through the most common plasma cutter problems, the majority of which all come down to sheer maintenance and adhering to good practice.
Replacements & Upgrades Are Essential
Many proud owners of a plasma cutter seem to overlook the fact that this is still a device that needs occasional replacement parts. Like many high performance machines the longer these are dismissed or overlooked the worse the performance. In the worst case scenario it can lead to damaging the machine - resulting in expensive repairs when the problem could have been entirely avoided for the sake of a small part replacement.
It can be tricky to spot when a part is beginning to fail, as initial signs can be very subtle. As a rule of thumb an evident decline in cut quality is a sure-fire suggestion that parts are starting to fail. A common mistake is to place these below par cuts down to operator neglect, and in 90% of the time this isn't the case. Check:
The Nozzle: Internally any signs of oxide residue are a clear indication that the nozzle ought to be replaced. Look out for both internal and external gouging too.
Electrodes: Inspect the pitting of the element. Carefully measure the depth depending on what gas is being employed. Any more than 3/32 inch for oxygen or air or 1/8 inch for argon or nitrogen should suggest it's time for a replacement.
Gas Swirlers: These are easier to spot issues with. Signs of basic material degradation such as cracks, burns or residue. These do need to be replaced more often than many plasma cutter's would like!
General Good Practice To Avoid Common Plasma Cutter Problems
Like many workshop machines it's ever so easy to become complacent or overconfident. Remember that plasma cutters are high performance machines that need regular checkups.
Always make sure the appropriate parts are being used for a specific task. This basically sums down to ensuring that the appropriate plasma gas and cutting amperage are being employed. Likewise gas pressure needs to be set up right in order to prevent hard starting, maintained at a consistent an steady flow. This is a very common plasma cutter problem that is easy to fix yet difficult to diagnose for inexperienced operators.
It's important also not to get carried away with using O level lubricant. Using too much will burn out the torch, and whatever you do never apply any lubricant to the torch itself. It never needs any. Another factor to always bear in mind is that lubricant conducts electricity, so when splashed on too thick it can attract counter current and damage the torch.
Last but not least for general good practice: make sure it's properly assembled! Not too long ago plasma cutters were very complicated - nowadays they should be assembled from the crate in less than an hour. Ensure that components are slotted together uniformly and without any contamination of dirt, or in the case of second hand machines metal rust.
Simple Tips For Getting Great Results
1) Avoid over stretching the arc. This places undue pressure upon consumable parts and even the best configured set-up will deliver poor results. If you need to move the metal to make a cut, do so.
2) Never 'hammer' with the torch. This is lazy and will cause the torch to fail much quicker.
3) Avoid torch collisions. Most modern machines are set up with fail safes and alarms to prevent this from happening, but always double check as variations in height can still cause this to happen. There's simply no swifter way of destroying a torch!
4) Ensure that the standoff is appropriate to the thickness of the metal. Programmable machines will usually automatically configure gas flow, handhelds usually require this to be done manually. Using too much or little gas will cause problems to equipment and material results.
5) Clean the plasma cutter after every use. This is especially true of the torch itself.
For the sake of a little practice, planning and adhering to routine for every task it's possible to avoid any issue that may arise from using a plasma cutter. Torches and components are expensive to replace and their longevity can be massively enhanced by following these simple rules.
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