Oxy-fuel vs Plasma Cutting :
Material Characteristics Comparison

Oxy-fuel vs Plasma Cutting :
Material Characteristics Comparison

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What is Oxy-fuel cutting?

5 common metal laser cutting problems

Oxy-fuel cutting uses oxygen and fuel gas to heat metal to ignition temperature. The high pressure of the gases used causes the iron oxide, referred to as slag, to be blown out of the gap by an exothermic chemical reaction between oxygen and carbon steel. The most common types of fuel gases are propane, propylene, natural gas, and acetylene.

One of the major downsides of oxy-fuel is that it can only be used to cut ferrous metals. The solution is ineffective on non-ferrous metals, such as stainless steel and aluminum. Generally, it is used for cutting metals up to 2 inches thick. The reason is that other methods, such as plasma, are faster on thinner materials.

Oxy-fuel cutting materials

Oxyfuel cutting is one method available for fabricating parts from thick metal plates. Most manufacturers have a maximum thickness of 150 mm, but they can have much higher ones.

The process consists of heating the metal with an oxygen-fuel gas mixture, followed by oxidizing it. By applying high-pressure oxygen jets, slag is removed and the cut is also created. While there are limits to how many materials can be cut with flame cutting due to the heating and oxidation processes.

Materials suitable for oxy-fuel cutting

When the oxygen flow hits the material, the metal needs to be heated to a suitable temperature in order to start the flame cutting process. The temperature must be lower than the melting point of the metal.

This eliminates many metals from the possible list of cutting materials

So, what can you cut using oxyfuel cutting?

There are two types of steel suitable for oxy-fuel cutting - low carbon, or mild steel, and wrought iron. Due to its relatively low process cost, flame-cutting still has its place cemented in the manufacturing industry, despite its comparatively small option pool.

The cost of the material is another factor to consider. Whenever possible, carbon steel plates or blocks are used for really thick plates or blocks to reduce costs. Although the material limitations are quite strict, they still leave a lot of suitable work for oxy-fuel cutters.

Materials cannot be cut by the Oxyfuel process

The flame cutting process is not suitable for anything other than carbon steel and wrought iron. Here are a few reasons why these limitations exist. The reasons are all related to the process described earlier.

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First of all, high-carbon steel doesn’t seem to be all that different from low-carbon steel. It is because slag melts at a much higher temperature than base metal that high carbon steels must be excluded. The slag interferes with oxygen's ability to reach the base metal when mixed with the clean melt near the cut.

Cast iron is another metal that is not suitable for cutting from the outset. Because of the high concentration of graphite and the microstructure of the metal, it is impossible to cut.

Another problem with stainless steel is corrosion. The underlying oxidation resistance qualities of the metal undercut the whole concept since oxidation is a key part of the cutting process.

Last but not least, non-ferrous metals. The melting points of aluminum and copper alloys are both relatively low. A preheating step is an essential part of flame cutting, but it just does not work with these metals.

Plasma cutting

Plasma cutting involves cutting through any electrically conductive material using a high temperature and a gas that conducts electricity. Additionally, it can handle metal in any condition, including rusted, painted, or grated metal. It is usually used to cut metal up to two inches thick, though recent advances have led to plasma systems that can cut metal up to three inches thick and sever metal up to six inches thick.

Plasma cutting is known for its ability to cut ferrous and non-ferrous materials, often at speeds faster than oxyfuel.

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Choosing Between Plasma Cutting and Oxy-fuel Systems

Companies often make their decisions based on the differences between cutting systems. Typically, the decision isn’t as simple for most companies. In addition to safety, ease of use, quality, productivity and cost, companies must also consider the specific business requirements.

Considering the ease of use

Easy-to-use has become a key decision factor, in part because it minimizes training, improves results, and ultimately increases profitability. In comparison to plasma, oxyfuel is more efficient. As previously mentioned, many plasma systems only require compressed air, and there are no gases to mix or regulate.

To achieve proper gas flow from the tip with oxyfuel, operators must set and maintain flame chemistry and keep a steady distance between the tip and the surface being cut. Mastering this skill requires time and lots of practice.

The operator of many handheld plasma torches, on the other hand, can touch and drag the torch directly against the material being cut due to the shield on the front of the torch. Known as drag cutting, this type of cutting allows for ease.

Further, plasma can cut a wider variety of metal types and thicknesses than oxyfuel. As an added benefit, plasma can also bevel cut or cut expanded metals, which are difficult to cut with oxyfuel.

Advantages of Plasma cutting

Plasma cutting is an excellent method for cutting all electrically conductive materials, such as structural steel, high-alloy steels, nonferrous metals like aluminium and copper, and plates with clad metal. A plasma cutter can cut sheet metal between the thicknesses of 0.5 mm and 180 mm, depending on the plasma cutting technology, cutting system capacity, and material.

For cutting medium to thick sheets of high-alloy steel and aluminium, plasma cutting is unsurpassed. It can be used to cut normal structural steel up to about 40 mm in thickness, and it results in very little distortion, especially for thin workpieces. A low heat input makes it ideal for cutting high-strength fine-grained structural steel as well. It is particularly important to achieve high cutting speeds during this process: cutting speeds can be up to six times faster than with oxy-fuel.

Automation can be easily implemented for cutting. Plasma cutter guidance systems can be used to produce both flat and three-dimensional components of various contours. As well as manual cutting, modern peripheral devices and accessories are available for assembling and repairing parts, allowing for easier handling during processing. Cutting with plasma technology is becoming increasingly popular. Particularly when cutting thin, high-alloy steels, plasma cutting produces vertical cuts on multiple sheets simultaneously at laser quality without requiring further machining.


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Oxyfuel and plasma cutting are both well-established methods of cutting metals. Each has advantages and disadvantages. It is important for businesses to weigh the aforementioned factors against their own needs when selecting a method. However, when the plasma process is viewed as a whole, it is the most efficient and effective solution for most applications. This process is safer, easier to operate, produces better cuts and is faster than the other

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You can learn more about manufacturing services offered by Omnidex CN by visiting this page.

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