Plasma cutters contain a number of consumable parts, which is unsurprising when you consider the very high temperatures involved in producing and focussing an arc of plasma. Keeping on top of the condition of these consumables is very important as it will help to ensure a consistent high-quality cut, and reduce the time involved in the processing and refining of your finished parts.
Plasma cutter consumables are a set of components in your plasma cutter that gradually wear over time until they need to be replaced: they have a life cycle. The consumables are all found in the cutting torch itself, which is where most of the energy is focussed, and keeping track of wear and tear is a key part of maintaining an efficient machine that cuts well and lasts a long time. Plasma cutting torch consumables include a swirl ring, electrode, nozzle, retaining cap, and shield cap.
This is a small component inside the torch that swirls the gas surrounding the plasma arc. This outer layer of gas helps to focus and direct the arc for greater cutting precision and swirling it helps to keep it cool. As it is this protective layer of gas surrounding the arc that makes contact with the nozzle, the lower temperatures prevent the nozzle from burning up and slowing down degradation.
Plasma Arc Welding Machine
The electrode is a narrow piece of copper-containing hafnium (which is an excellent conductor of electricity). Its job is to receive the electrical current from a cathode block inside the torch to which it is connected and to focus the charge through its tip, which causes it to arc onto the workpiece.
The nozzle focuses the plasma arc and the gas that surrounds it to make a clean and precise cut. A nozzle with a larger opening is used for gouging, while a nozzle with a smaller opening is better able to direct the gas and so is used for fine, detailed work.
The retaining cap essentially holds all of the consumable parts of the torch together. As temperatures at this end of the machine are extremely high, it’s not just the parts creating and focussing the arc that are worn down; the component holding them together also degrades over time.
The shield is there to protect the torch and its other components from the sparks and molten metal that result from the plasma cutting process. It takes the brunt of the fallout so that wear to other components is minimized as much as possible.
Plasma Arc Welding Torch
The lifetime of plasma consumables depends on many factors, let's look at a few.
- Average duration of each cutting cycle (in seconds) and number of starts
- Current intensity
- Use of wear parts until they "burst"
- Humid air
- Cutting speed
- Material thickness
- Perishable part selection
- Wrong way of piercing
Normally, under normal conditions, we can say that the electrodes wear out first during the machine cutting process. The typical service life of a set of worn parts should be about 120 A for a mechanized cut lasting about 1 to 3 hours, which is in operation. Cutting at lower currents may give a longer life to the worn parts.
1. Cutting parameters: Cutting too fast, too slow, or at the incorrect distance from the workpiece will wear out your parts faster.
2. Proper Installation: For components to function properly, they must be installed carefully and correctly. This includes making sure that the tolerances of the consumables match the amperage you will be using, and that they are assembled correctly.
3. Monitoring: Tracking the wear of your components will allow you to prevent one worn component from prematurely degrading the performance of other components. You will need to replace nozzles and electrodes more frequently than other parts, and leaving them in place too long can add stress to the overall system and reduce cut quality.
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