British Statesman Winston Churchill once said, “… give us the tools and we will finish the job.” Motivational words indeed, but we’d modify them to, “Give us the right tools and we will finish the job quicker.” And that’s why we recently acquired a Whitney plasma punch.

Plasma is a wonderful way of cutting metal, but as our Controller asked us, we already have laser and waterjet machines plus punches and shears, so why add another technology? Well the simple answer is, sometimes it’s the best tool for the job. Let’s explain why.

Plasma Cutting Basics

Physicists call plasma the fourth state of matter. It’s what you get when gas is heated to nearly 40,000°F. For comparison, the surface of the sun is about 10,000°F, so when you use plasma to cut metal, aluminum, mild steel and even stainless don’t stand a chance.

The gas is heated with an electric arc. In plasma cutting an arc is struck between a torch and the workpiece, (much like welding,) but then gas is blown down around the arc at high velocity. The arc melts the metal and the gas blows it away.

Combining Processes

With the torch mounted on a gantry, computer control moves it in X and Y axes, letting us cut complex shapes from plates as big as 120 by 60 inches. With the heat it produces it’s very fast, but where it really wins over the laser is on thicker material and especially aluminum. (Lasers can struggle with aluminum, and copper too, because they’re so reflective.) On the other hand, plasma does have some limitations.

To begin, because the gas flow and arc aren’t entirely predictable it’s not quite as precise as a laser. Also, the edge quality isn’t what you’d expect from a laser or waterjet. And third, the consumables (electrode and gas,) can become expensive. However, there is a way around this.

Our machine is a “plasma punch.” That means it combines plasma cutting with a turret punch. In fact there are 42 punch tools in the carousel and it can apply up to 55 tons of hydraulic force. The punch tools are ideal for creating accurate functional holes with great edge quality. The plasma on the other hand is the fastest way to cut longer lengths. Put them together and you get a machine that cuts rapidly where it needs to, but accurately and cleanly when that matters. Not re-igniting an arc for those punched holes helps too, because it keeps down the cost of consumables

Benefiting our Customers

Our customers care about quality, delivery and price. Our new Whitney plasma punch helps us achieve all three. We’re not going to use it on every metal fabrication order, but there are jobs where it helps us keep costs down while still providing the quality you expect.

The Whitney plasma punch probably isn’t what Churchill had in mind when he uttered those words about finishing the job. If he’d been asked though, we’re pretty sure he’d subscribe to the view that a man can never have enough tools. And that’s why we went out and bought a new one.