History of plasma technology
Ok people, it’s now time for a little history lesson as we step back in time when plasma cutters were first invented.
Well…it might be, but don’t you find it a little strange that with so many advanced technological products on the market, almost none of it’s users know anything about the background of the actual product, like when it was first created, how did it evolved into today’s merchandize…etc
If you’re still keen, then let’s not waste time and get it started.
Starting with World War II
Did you know that the first plasma cutter was invented back in the 1940s during the second world war?
The plasma arc technology was originally created for a faster way of welding war aircrafts like aeroplanes, helicopters and even vehicles. Back then, the process of joining metal together was taking too long, especially during war times and hence, the US defence department was looking for a more efficient way of welding and that’s basically how the beginning of the electric arc process and welding was born.
What happened afterward?
Because the process required the use of gas such as argon and helium. At the time, it seemed like the perfect solution to be used for specific and detailed welding. Therefore, one of the leading gas manufacturer (Union Cabides Linde Division) decided to take on the technology and re-adapted to their own needs. They also had their own scientists and laboratories which allowed them to do further testings and research on the process. Hence, the Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW) process was invented, a transformation from the Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) process.
Beginning of 1950s
Shortly after the WWII, as research continued, scientists later found out that by restricting the inert gas flow opening to the nozzle, it actually altered the particles and properties of the electric gas arc, increasing the arc speed and temperature dramatically. Because the heat and the voltage became so powerful, so instead of joining or welding the metal together, it actually cut them up with ease. This was seen as an powerful and concentrated fire jet and what now is known as the plasma torch. Hence, the first plasma cutter was born!
During the Fifties, researchers have found many different ways to alter the characteristics and properties of the plasma jet. These were done by changing different gas type, their flow rate, voltage current and nozzle size. By doing numerous tests, they were to able to cut metal sheets as thick as 10 inches or around 23cm. Of course, this would required very expensive gases.
Research and development continued throughout the next 20 years with scientists coming up with the ideas of using air (oxygen) and water (h2o) to form as a secondary gas to establish a dual flow cutting process. Numerous experiments have been conducted and scientists were faced with a number of issues like cut consistency, short nozzle life, noise level, toxic gas, ultraviolet radiation and so on.
That’s why towards the end of the 70s, European companies have come up with the idea of underwater plasma cutting. The workpiece will be placed about 5-10cm under water (depending on the thickness of the work piece). This has been proven to greatly reduce level of noise, toxic smoke and radiation. However, the downside to this technique is that the operator can no longer distinguish whether the cutting was performed correctly and it’s also been claimed that the cutting speed will also decrease.
During the 1980s
In the beginning of the 1980s, Thermal Dynamics launched the very first Low Amp Air Plasma Cutter and it was a tremendous success in both the US and Europe and the market for plasma cutting technology really opened up. By 1983, Hypertherm took on the technology to further develop a way which they could use pure oxygen as plasma gas and they also succeeded by developing an improved torch that worked like a charm.
Throughout the mid 80s, Hypertherm went even further by developing the underwater muffler and oxygen injection techniques. This have made oxygen plasma and underwater cutting really popular and they literally dominated the market.
From 1990s onward
In the beginning of the 1990, plasma cutting faced a major challenge with it’s competition….LASER! Laser cutting was becoming very popular because of it’s high quality cuts and precise accuracy. Plasma cutting manufacturers saw the threat to this technology and immediately responded with a range of modifications which allowed them to manufacture cutting systems with low amps. This also lead to more precise cuts and higher cut speed.
Since laser cutters are very expensive and therefore, plasma cutters were a better option for many businesses and hence, it continued it’s rapid growth in terms of globalization. During the next 20 years, manufacturers continued to develop and invent new plasma technologies including the CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machines and many portable designs that have attracted many small businesses, home or personal users.
As you can see, this technology have really gone a long way (about 60 years) to get to this stage.
Well, you may also be interested in how a plasma cutter works.