How to Make Consumables Durable and Save Money
Do you buy a new set of consumables every week? If this is the case, you are not doing it right. There are a dozen things you can do to increase the consumable life. It will not only save you the money you spend every week, but also increase the life of your plasma cutter.
Simple things like cleaning the consumables, maintaining the right gas pressure, checking pierce height etc. can go a long way in increasing the life of your consumables. Give it a try and we’re sure you’ll come back to this page once you learn the value it provides.
What are consumables?
This is a no-brainer for anyone who already has a plasma cutter. But for beginners, even this is something they don’t know. Consumables are the parts you use with a plasma cutter, including nozzle, tip, shield cup, electrodes etc. which wear out from continuous use.
Using the consumables without proper directions can make them wear out faster. As buying consumables frequently leads to a lot of overhead expenses, it is essential to learn the right way of using them.
How consumables wear out?
Before you find the solution, take a moment to learn what is the exact problem. Which specific things make your consumables to wear out?
Here are the factors which contribute to consumables’ wear and tear:
- Number of pierces
- Cut duration
- Material thickness
- Height control
- Purity level of air
Before cutting through the metal, the plasma torch shield has to pierce the metal area first. Think of piercing as laying a foundation for cutting. While piercing, the beginning and ending cycles of plasma arc which require consistent plasma flow can cause wear and tear of shields and other consumables.
The longer you cut a material, the more stress is put on the plasma torch. Hence longer cut duration leads to quicker damage to consumables like tips, nozzles and shields. Therefore it is advised that you must try to work in short duration stretches for effective cutting and better use of consumables.
If you use your plasma cutter on thicker materials most of the time, your consumables are bound to wear out fast. The reason is that it takes huge power to pierce through thicker materials. Also, thicker materials require long cut duration to cut, adding to the wear and tear of consumables.
This factor is unavoidable as one can’t reduce the thickness of the material they are required to work on. However, if you can find thinner materials in the market, by all means get them.
It should be a no-brainer that you must use the right amperage settings on your plasma cutter. However, double check for the settings in case you have forgotten. Greater amperage can cause higher power to be applied by the plasma torch which makes the consumables run out faster.
Moreover, you will prevent any possible damage to the torch and the plasma cutter by setting the amperage to the accurate level.
You must ensure that the plasma cutter torch is at appropriate height at all times. If the torch is too close or too far while piercing or while cutting, it can get seriously damaged. Piercing too close will damage the shield cap in an instant. On the other hand, piercing from larger distance than required will lead to excessive plasma flow which further shortens the life of consumables.
The compressor supplies clean and dry air into the plasma cutter for optimum operation. But if this air gets dirty or moist, it can create problems. Clean and dry air is composed of 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen. And all the plasma cutter parts are meant to function under these gaseous concentrations. But dirty and moist air has a different chemistry altogether.
When moisture enters the air, it gets decomposed into hydrogen and oxygen due to the high temperature of plasma. This changes the overall composition of hydrogen and nitrogen. This not only changes the way the plasma torch functions but also reduces the cooling ability of the plasma gas. The hafnium emitter on the electrodes starts to wear out fast, which further causes damage to the nozzle bore and leads to wear and tear of other consumables.
Now that you know the basics of consumable life, let’s have a look at the things you need to do to increase consumable life.
1. Clean them after use
Holes play an important role in giving direction.
The swirl rings and retaining cap gets dusty and greasy after cutting material regularly. There are small holes on the ring that can get clogged and change the direction or the flow of the plasma arc. These holes act as a restricting boundary for the plasma arc.
If the holes are not clean, the direction or the flow of the plasma arc will not be accurate. As a result, your cut quality will suffer and you’ll need longer cut duration to make the same cut. So it is advised to keep your consumables clean always.
2. Check plasma gas pressure
You might forget to adjust the pressure which can lead to serious consequences. If the gas pressure is more than 5 psi, it will lead to severe wear and tear of electrodes. Refer to the manufacturer’s chart for gas pressure settings.
3. Pierce height should be adequate
You have learnt from the above points that pierce height is very important to the durability of shield cap and electrodes. When the plasma torch pierces through the metal, the molten metal comes out of the surface because of the high gas pressure. If the pierce height is too low, it will cause serious damage to the shield cap.
Piercing the metal from too high will cause the plasma gun to fire away, wasting the plasma flow and causing unnecessary wear and tear to the consumables. Hence, always keep the adequate pierce height.
4. Lube for O-ring
The O-rings must be lubricated from time to time. If the lubrication is excessive, dust and grease will stick to the ring surface, while low lubrication will lead to damaged rings. So put the necessary amount of lube on the o-rings.
5. Check compressor for contaminated air
This is an element which can single-handedly increase your cut quality, your plasma cutter durability and consumable life all at the same time. You need to invest in a good air compressor first. Then you must ensure that the air supplied to the plasma cutter is clean and dirt-free. If the air is dirty, consumables will run out fast, cut quality will be poor and you’ll create an overall damage on your equipment.
But how to do this?
Too many blogs and websites advocate the use of clean and dry air, but too less provide any quality advice. Here’s what you can do about it:
Receiver tank check
Make sure the moisture in the receiver tank from the plasma cutter compressor is drained from time to time. This is the first simple step you can take to improve consumable life among other benefits.
Use Filters for Low-Duty
If your plasma cutter has a low duty cycle and is mostly used in low-duty operations, buy a quality coalescing filter. Such filters are made to take out the moisture from the air. Such small tweaks can go a long way in increasing consumable life.
Use Refrigerated Air Dryer for Heavy Duty
If your work involves heavy duty projects most of the time, we recommend buying a refrigerated air dryer. These air dryers will be connected directly to the air supply, and will take care of the air.
This is implemented by decreasing the temperature of the air supply. Hence any moisture or liquid that accumulates in the air gets condensed into heavy droplets and goes down the filter leaving clean and dry air. Note that coalescing filters are still necessary even with refrigerated air dryers.
6. Keep Shield Clean
The shield is the cup that is located at the outermost area of your plasma torch. It’s the shield that takes the load of the plasma flow when piercing through any metal.
However, the shield cup gets dirty with molten metal sometimes as the piercing happens. To remove the dirt around the orifice of the shield cup, use an abrasive hand pad.
7. Follow your manufacturer’s manual
Your manufacturer’s manual should be your first resort to search the correct pressure or height settings for your plasma cutter. This is an obvious step ignored by many people.
The manual contains information of valuable topics like increasing consumable life, making thick cuts, piercing thick cuts, finding damage on consumables, replacement of parts etc.
8. Buy the right consumable set
The consumables are made durable by employing all the above strategies. But if you buy the wrong consumables in the first place, then every strategy goes out the window. So, read the manual carefully to find the correct part numbers for the consumables.
Locate a trustworthy dealer and buy the appropriate consumables from them. And if you become their regular customer, you can even ask them for a discount.
9. Don’t try to do more
The plasma cutters comes with particular specifications that you’re meant to work according to. If you try to cut a 1” metal with a cutter made to cut ½” of severe thickness, you’ll inevitably destroy your machine. The power and amperage that your machine comes with are defined for a limited capacity, no matter how big your machine is. Even the million dollar machines come with a limited thickness capacity.
So always follow the guidelines by your manufacturer and never cross the boundaries. This step can cause damage worth thousands of dollars, if not taken care of.
10. Coolant Flow
All the heavy-duty plasma cutters come with liquid cooling systems. This liquid is meant to flow through the torch and cool the electrode. If the coolant flow is restricted due to accumulated dirt or other reasons, it will cause damage to the consumables.
If you find yourself changing your electrode every other day, check for the coolant on your plasma cutter. If you have a low-duty plasma cutter, you don’t have to worry about the coolant thing at all. Low-duty plasma cutter users must check their air supply to ensure everything is in order.
11. Check work cable
If the cord that connects your plasma torch to the plasma cutting machine isn’t properly connected, excessive plasma flow will cause damage to your torch nozzle. If the connection is not good, the arc will not be able to transfer.
Ideally, the arc transfer must occur within 100 milliseconds or 0.1 second, but poor connections can delay this to even 12 seconds. One more thing to check is the built up of dirt or metal slag on the slats. As slats is where the plasma machine is connected to the torch, it must be cleaned for proper connection.
Here is a video if you learn directly from an industry expert.