Hypertherm Manual Plasma Vs Low cost Import alternatives
I often run into posts on various forums with a potential air plasma
system purchaser that is asking what is the difference between the low
cost air plasma systems (mostly of Chinese origin) and the more costly
Hypertherm Powermax systems…….why should I spend the extra money
for a Hypertherm?
Generally speaking….all plasma cutters will cut metal….and in some
cases that is enough to satisfy some hobbyist applications. I put
together a quick snapshot of some of the differences in design and
function that make for a quick comparison of the Powermax units vs the
imports (many of the imports are of identical design, but are sold
under a variety of trade names)….these are a few, but certainly do
not cover all of the comparisons.
The differences that you will see if you step up to the more costly
(to buy…..less costly to use) Hypertherm systems:
– Power supplies are of the latest technology (Hypertherm introduced
inverter technology to plasma cutting in the late 1980’s…and remains
the leader in their design). They are designed, reliability tested and
built in Hanover, NH, USA. The primary goal of the power supply is to
be operator friendly, reliable and to support the torch design that is
used with the power supply.
-Internal circuit boards are conformally coated (so shop dust does not
short them) and are mounted vertically (so shop dust does not build up
on them). Cooling fans operate on demand only (so less dust is pulled
through the unit). There is a “clean side, dirty side” design that
keeps critical components out of the fan flow area and cools them with
pass through heat sinks. Some units have automatic gas
pressure….sets the proper pressure for the consumables being used,
the torch length, as well as for changing incoming pressure. Ease of
use, reliability……there are many more parts of the Hypertherm
design designed to make the systems perform for a long term.
-All Hypertherm torches are designed, engineered and built in NH as
well. They are specifically designed to work with the power supplies
they are used with….these are not “universal, one size fits” all
torches. Hypertherm has an extremely talented engineering team with
over 90 engineers, 15 with pHD’s in various areas (high temperature
physics, ergonomics, electronics, software, reliability, safety,
conformity to regional electrical specs). To get the best performance
from a plasma torch….cooling, energy density, ease of use…..as
well as electrical power ramp up/down and gas flows are all extremely
critical….putting a plasma torch on a power supply that was not
specifically designed with it will not allow performance to its full
Documentation…operators manuals and service manuals are available
for each unit…and often are over 100 pages long. All good
information for use, performance, troubleshooting issues and have
detailed parts diagrams as well as many pages of suggested operating
specs for both hand and mechanized cutting.
-Safety is of key importance as well….plasma cutting operates at
higher voltage levels as compared to most welding processes. Many low
cost import systems have exposed highvoltage connections….and have
internal and external wiring that simply does not pass safety codes
(CE certifications) in many regions of the world. All
Hypertherm systems exceed the safety specs in virtually every region
of the world.
-Power supply and cutting capability specifications are correct on
Hypertherm systems….this means you can expect to cut at the
thicknessses and speeds that the units are advertised at. The cut
charts listed in the manuals will provide excellent cut quality….and
the duty cycle ratings are conservative. (duty cycle ratings require
an ambient temperature, an amperage and a load voltage rating in order
to be accurate…most of the imports simply supply a duty cycle
percentage without backing it up with data).
-Torch consumable sets are designed to provide the best cut quality in
conjunction with long life. One set of consumables will not cut all
materials with the best cut quality…..so Hypertherm offers choices.
As an example the Powermax65 can use FineCut consumables (under 45
amps on less than 10 gauge) 45 amp shielded (under 45 amps for up to
1/2″ with excellent edge squareness) and 65 amp shielded consumables
for max thickness and speed. You can choose to use the 65 amp
consumables for all cutting…or you can fine tune cut quality on
thinne materials as advised by the cut charts.
Bottom line….the Hypertherm units cut metal….like all plasma
cutters. They cut metal very well, with extremely long consumable
life…and will be around for your children to inherit with the rest
of your quality tools.
It is really the decision of the buyer….spend less up front at the
time of purchase for a tool, or spend a bit more and purchase a high
quality tool that will (over time) cost far less (cost of ownership).