Fiber Laser VS Plasma – Which One Should You Choose?

Fiber Laser Cutting VS Plasma Cutting

So you need to cut some metal. And you’re wondering what will be the best technology to cut the metal you need.

In this post I will talk about two of the most used metal cutting technologies out there: fiber laser vs plasma. And I will discuss what are the differences between them and which one you should buy for your business. That way you can make a more informed decision on the technology you choose for your business. Let’s get to it!

Quick Explanation On How Plasma and Laser Work

I’m not gonna get so much into detail into how plasma and laser work. Instead, I want to get into what a laser and plasma can do for you and your business. So I’m just gonna give you an overview on how plasma and laser work, then I’ll get on to the real deal.

Laser uses light to cut metal. Light is concentrated into a single point to be able to pierce and cut metal. Just think of a magnifying glass that can be used to focus sunlight into a single point and burn it. That’s how cutting with light pretty much works.

How plasma works can get a little complicated. So, I’m explain as simply and quickly as possible. Plasma cutters basically heat up gas so much that it gets hot enough to melt metal. Then, when the metal is heated up enough to melt, it is blown away with gas to make the cut. There’s a complicated science behind this, but I’ll save that for another day! (or you can research on your own if you like).

Materials That Plasma and Laser Cutters Can Cut

Plasma can cut anything that is conductive, which pretty much means it can cut all kinds of metals.  That includes reflective metals such as aluminum, copper, and brass (something laser machines struggle with).

Plasma can also cut glass and ceramic. Stuff like plastic and wood cannot really be cut with plasma because they are electrically conductive.

Laser machines can cut all kinds of materials. The material you can cut though will depend on what kind of laser machine you have. CO2 laser machine can’t cut through reflective metals like aluminum, copper, and brass. But they can cut through nonmetallic materials like wood and plastic.

Fiber lasers on the other hand can cut through reflective materials if the have enough power. They can pretty much cut through any kind of metal with enough power. They will only be limited by how thick they can cut.

Material Thickness

When it comes to cutting various Fiber laser machines are more efficient at cutting thin metals. A fiber laser machine can cut thin metals efficiently up to 25mm or 1 inch. After that, fiber lasers start cutting metal less efficiently. You would need high amounts of power, which by the way cost a lot more money, to cut ticker metals above 25mm or 1 inch.   

Plasma on the other hand can effectively cut any kind of metal up to 80mm thick or 3 inches. Interestingly, plasma can start cutting faster than laser when cutting thicker materials.

Accuracy of Cuts

The major thing that makes laser cutting machines great is that they can cut metal very accurately. They can cut 2X more accurate than plasma cutters.  Plasma lasers can cut metals at an accuracy of 0.1mm or .004 inches. Laser cutters cuts: .05mm or .002 inches.

Also, if you can get the cutting parameters right in laser cutting, you won’t have to worry so much about leftover cutting residue like dross.

With plasma, you usually have to finish the cut with scraping or shaving because there’s leftover residue like dross.

So, if your metal cuts need to be precise, then you need a laser cutter. If you just need to cut simple shapes, and thick ones, then a plasma laser should be alright.

Cost Over Time – Operation And Maintenance Cost

Laser cutting machines are expensive at first. They can cost 2x more than a plasma cutter initially. A plasma machine cost starts somewhere around 40,000+ and a laser machine is about 80,000+. Off course this depends on where you buy your metal cutting machine and how powerful it would be. There are some plasma machines that are as low as 15,000 and laser machine as low as 50,000. But like I said, it all depends.

But we all know cost does not just stop when you first buy a laser machine. Both laser and plasma have cost associated with them for operating and maintenance. Things you need to consider are stuff like power consumption, maintenance, consumables, and labor (how much time/money it cost to operate the machine).

Getting into the details of the operation cost of both laser and plasma is complicated. So I will write about that in another post.

Just know that the running cost of plasma is lower than laser. In general, it cost about 15/hr to run plasma cutting machines. It takes about 20/hr to run a laser machine.

Here are a few things you should also know about laser and plasma when it comes to operation and maintenance:

  • Both laser and plasma use consumables gasses such as oxygen nitrogen, and so on. These gasses can cost you a lot of money over time. I suggest using compressed air which is supported by both machines if you want to save money on gas consumption.
  • Plasma cutters require more maintenance than lasers over time. Plasma cutters have more parts to replace. They also will require more cleaning than laser machines.
  • Plasma cutters consume less energy than lasers.

With laser, the real value comes from your production speed. If you can cut many parts in less time, you will get more money in return for time invested. So, if your production rate is high, a laser machine can still be great even though it has high operating cost.

The exception is you are cutting medium to thick metal plates. At this point, laser starts becoming less efficient. Laser cuts medium to thick plates slower. Plasma interestingly can be much faster than laser when cutting medium to thick plates 25mm or 1inch +. The thicker the metal, the better plasma can do vs laser.

Using Experience

When it comes to using the machines, laser cutters and plasma cutters are very similar. The software they use to cut metal is also remarkably similar. So if you have a plasma and want to switch to laser for it’s speed, it will be a very fast learning process.

People who use plasma always tell me they must watch over their plasma cutter. They say the plasma machine can start cutting wrong or get out of control (imagine seeing a plasma machine head swirling around in crazy motion?)

With lasers, as long as you have your cutting parameters set right, you don’t really have to watch them. Laser cutters will do their things like automated robots. Occasionally though, they could go wrong. So, it’s recommended you watch them here and there. Plus, watching laser cutters cut is super awesome anyways.

Conclusion

If most of your production is cutting thin metals up to 25mm, then a fiber laser cutter will be ideal.

If you’re cutting very thick metals mostly, and they don’t need to be precisely cut, then plasma might be a better choice.

If you’re cutting metals that are highly reflective, like aluminum, copper, or brass, and they are in the thicker side of cutting, then a plasma will be ideal. Lasers machines usually struggle with cutting reflective metals, especially if they are on thicker side. You’ll see that if you want to cut reflective metal, then you’ll need a higher amount of power to do so. And more power means more $$$.

Conclusion Points

  • The cost of a laser cutter at first is much higher than plasma.
  • The accuracy of cut in laser machine is much higher than plasma.
  • When cutting thin material cutting, fiber laser cutter are much faster and accurate at cutting it. But it has it’s limits. Laser cutter can cut up to 25mm (1 inch) efficiently and with no problems. After that it struggles. You will need a high powered (and expensive) laser machine to cut through higher thickness.
  • When cutting thicker material, plasma is best. Plasma can cut up to 80mm (3inchs) of any kind of metal.
  • Eco friendly: Uses a lot less energy than plasma cutting. You can save a lot in electricity overtime when using laser cutting.
  • Plasma can cut through almost every single metal type. Lasers will either need to be extremely high powered (more expensive) to cut through certain metals like aluminium, brass, and copper.
  • Operating cost of laser is higher than plasma. If plasma were to operate at $15/hr, laser will operate at $20/hr.

Hopefully you learned something in this post. Just remember, I will always be updating posts on my website. So be sure to come back and learn some more. Thank you for reading, and hope you come back to learn some more. Also, come and check out our laser machines! This is William from Senfeng and hope you have a great day!

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