To deliver the designs or components that you need for projects big and small, we explore a variety of methods for cutting steel for metal fabrication.
Let’s break the process down into the 4 main types of CNC steel cutting so you can make an educated decision on which method is right for you based on accuracy, time for completion and even the cost.
We all know that having the correct tools makes any job easier, so here’s some insight into the process.
Laser cutting steel for metal fabrication uses a CAD file to guide it along. There are three main types of lasers employed in the industry: CO2 lasers, Nd lasers and Nd-YAG lasers. These cut by melting, burning, or vaporizing the chosen material.
You can achieve a very fine level of cutting detail on many types of materials, but CO2 lasers cannot cut metals and other hard materials very well, so are used mostly for engraving. Lasers cut up to a 1.25-inch mild steel grade thickness. The process can be rather slow going, but very reliable for producing many items at one time.
Oxy fuel cutting uses a combination of fuel gasses and oxygen to cut different thicknesses of metal. A variety of different fuels may be used, but the most common is acetylene.
The process begins by using a torch to heat a metal to its kindling temperature. At this stage, a rivulet of oxygen is directed onto the metal, burning it into a metal oxide. The new metal oxide flows out and away from the intact material, and leftover slag is wiped or tapped away.
Oxy fuel is one of the most traditional welding processes, but recently, as in almost all industries, it is taking a break due to various arc welding methods offering more consistent mechanical weld properties and faster application. It is still often used for metal-based artwork and smaller home-based businesses.
An oxy-fuel torch can cut through a very thick plate, depending on the amount of oxygen utilized, and it can easily cut through 36, or even 48 inches of steel using an oxy-fuel torch. A 12-inch-thick plate and thinner is generally the norm for this style of cutting, and the use of multiple torches makes it versatile.
Plasma cutting steel for metal fabrication uses a high-velocity jet of ionized gas delivered via constricting orifice. The high-velocity ionized gas, (the plasma) emits electricity from the torch of the plasma cutter to the material you are working on; the plasma heats the workpiece and melts it. The high-velocity stream of ionized gas mechanically blows the molten metal away, severing the material off.
Plasma cutting can be limiting because it requires power or compressed air. It can be more expensive than the other options and will not cut as thick or fast. In the past decade, technology involving plasma torching has made manufacturers engineer new models with smaller nozzles and a thinner plasma arc, allowing near-laser precision on plasma cut edges.
Many manufacturers have combined precision CNC control with these torches to allow fabricators to produce parts that require little or no finishing.
A water jet cutting tool is capable of slicing into metal and other materials, using a jet of water or a mixture of water and an abrasive substance, at high velocity and pressure.
The water erosion you see in nature is similar to how the process works, but at an accelerated and very concentrated speed. Water jet cutting is often used during fabrication of parts for machinery and other devices. Industries from mining to aerospace use this technique for cutting steel for metal fabrication.
Water jet cutting gives a smooth and accurate edge with no heat distortion and is not limited to the thickness it can cut, like other methods, which is usually about 6-8 inches. This process can also be expensive due to the garnet abrasive needed, the equipment costs, and of course, you will need water.
Just remember that there’s more than one way to cut a steel plate, and in fact, you could probably interchange all 4 of these cutting techniques at different stages of a project. The best idea is to sit down with our team at Cadet Steel. We have an expansive workshop ideal for any project. Our professionals think outside of the box and will get your project finished quickly, from the ground up. We look forward to your call and partnering with you on your next project.