How Plasma Cutting Machines Work

How Plasma Cutting Machines Work

How Plasma Cutting Machines Work

Plasma cutting is the process of cutting material by pushing melted down, ionized gas set at twenty-thousand degrees or more through the opening of a plasma cutting machine. During this process, an electrical current travels through this gas, creating an arc between the workplace and an electrode. Plasma cutters are perfect for manufacturing projects because of their versatility in welding and similar projects. Here’s how plasma cutting machines work.

Plasma Cutting Machines: How They Work

A plasma cutter uses an electrical current to generate an arc from a gas that breaks through a constrained area. Typically, plasma cutters use shop air, nitrogen, oxygen, or argon. The electricity arcing through these gases raises their temperature, creating a fourth state of matter beyond solid, liquid, and gas: plasma. The plasma created by the electrical current makes an arc that cuts through metal.


The plasma squeezes through the nozzle of the plasma cutting machine very quickly. The high-speed gas passes through the molten metal, cutting it, and also surrounds the perimeter of the cut area, shielding it.

Pilot Arc Piece

Plasma cutting machines also contain a pilot arc piece, which ionizes gas to generate plasma before the arc transfers. Another method is to touch the tip of the torch to your work, creating a spark. These methods aren’t as practical with CNC cutting, which is automated.

Swirl Ring

Another part of the plasma cutting machine is the swirl ring. This ring is directly above the electrode and makes the plasma turn fast as it travels through. Often described as consumables, the electrode and nozzle will often need replacement.

CNC Software

CNC plasma cutters automate the projection of the shape during the production process. Early on, machines used hole-punched tape to instruct a computer on how to cut something out. The CNC units of today use computers that automate limited projects that are made to run only burning machines. Some even use personal computers to help with cutting. However, both methods give the same quality for cuts and speed of the product. You’ll often arrange cut shapes onto a computer and use a cutting machine to cut automatically.

CNC software can give you the special advantage of cutting materials out, as they contain pre-made blueprints of shapes, can pause for piercing, scale material, and set the proper speed for cutting corners.

Having a new knowledge of plasma cutting systems and how plasma cutting machines work will help set you up for your next project dealing with cutting metal or other material using a plasma cutter.

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