Robust and long-lasting, steel is a material we trust to be reliable in our everyday lives. Being so robust and strong can come with a downside, when you realize how difficult steel plate cutting can be. As a premier provider of metal fabrication services, JWK Engineering & Sales has a variety of metal cutting services available that can tackle the most challenging steel components. Using our advanced manufacturing capabilities, we offer a variety of CNC cutting services.
Oxy-fuel, Plasma, Laser, or Waterjet There are many ways to tackle steel plate cutting, some of which are suited for automation some are not. Some are suited for lighter gauge, some for heavy plate. Some are fast, some are slow. Some are low-cost, some expensive. Some are accurate, some are not. There are four primary methods used for steel plate cutting. Read below to determine which method might be best for your part/product.
Oxy-Fuel Cutting Oxy-fuel torch cutting, or flame cutting, is by far the oldest cutting process that can be used on mild steel plate cutting. It is generally viewed as a simple process, and the equipment and consumables are relatively inexpensive. An oxy-fuel torch can cut through very thick plate, limited primarily by the amount of oxygen that can be delivered. It is not unheard of to cut through 36, or even 48 inches of steel using an oxy-fuel torch. However, when it comes to shape cutting steel plate, most of the work is done on 12-inch-thick plate and thinner.
When adjusted properly, an oxy-fuel torch delivers a smooth, square cut surface. There is little slag on the bottom edge, and the top edge is only slightly rounded. This surface is ideally suited for many applications without further treatment.
Oxy-fuel cutting is ideal for steel plate cutting thicker than 1 inch but can be used all the way down to about 1/4-inch-thick plate, with some difficulty. It is a relatively slow process, topping out around 20 inches per minute on 1-inch material. Another great thing about oxy-fuel cutting is that you can easily cut with multiple torches at once, multiplying your productivity.
Plasma Cutting Plasma arc cutting is a great process for mild steel plate cutting, offering much higher speeds than oxy-fuel cutting, but sacrificing some edge quality. Edge quality has a sweet spot that generally ranges from about 1/4 inch up to 1.5 inches. Overall edge squareness starts to suffer when the plate gets really thin, or really thick (outside of the range just mentioned), even though the edge smoothness and dross performance may still be quite good.
Plasma equipment can be pricy when compared to an oxy-fuel torch, since a complete system requires a power supply, water cooler (on systems over about 100 Amps), a gas control, torch leads, interconnecting hoses & cables, and the torch itself. But the increased productivity of plasma vs. oxy-fuel will pay for the cost of the system in no time.
For those needing steel plate cutting services on more intricate pieces of steel, JWK Engineering and Sales also offers laser cutting services with the same CNC control. If your component is complex and requires the upmost precision in order to function properly, our laser cutting services may be your best option.
Laser Cutting The laser cutting process is suitable for mild steel plate cutting from gauge thickness up to about 1.25 inch. Laser is not a very fast process, because on mild steel it is basically just a burning process that uses the extreme heat of a focused laser beam instead of a preheat flame. Therefore, the speed is limited by the speed of the chemical reaction between Iron and Oxygen. Laser is, however, a very accurate process. It creates a very narrow kerf width, and therefore can cut very precise contours and accurate small holes. Edge quality is usually very good, with extremely small serrations and lag lines, very square edges, and little to no dross.
Waterjet Cutting Waterjet cutting also does a very nice job of mild steel plate cutting, giving a smooth and extremely accurate cut. Waterjet cutting accuracy can exceed that of laser cutting, because the edge smoothness can be better, and there is no heat distortion. Also, waterjet is not limited in thickness the way laser and plasma cutting are. The practical limit on waterjet cutting is around 6 to 8 inches, due to the length of time to cut that thickness, and the tendency of the water stream to diverge.
The drawback to waterjet cutting is the cost of operation. Up front equipment costs are usually a little higher than plasma, due to the high cost of an intensifier pump, but not as high as laser. But the cost-per-hour to run waterjet is much higher, primarily due to the cost of the garnet abrasive that goes into the cut.