Saturday, February 12, 2011

TV Substitute

Google "hi-def plasma" and you'll be inundated with links at which you can convert your hard-earned dollars into maniacal devices of unbridled mindless entertainment. However, we all get to make choices about the way we live our lives, and it's OK to substitute time in front of the latest and greatest TV for time spent transfixed on a different device, in this case a high-definition plasma cutter. That was nearly a soapbox speech. Moving on...

So this is the beast that brings people's dreams to life, or at least one step along the path to their dreams. Countless projects progress from cocktail napkins to design and finally arrive at a stage where sumthin's gonna git made, and this high-definition plasma is a fascinating example of Stuff That Makes Other Stuff.

Plasma, the so-called fourth state of matter (solid...liquid...gas...), is generated by applying a metric shit-ton of electricity to a jet of gas and is focused down to a beam narrow enough to leave a nice smooth finished cut right where it's supposed to be.

Thanks to its ability to cut through steel like butter, it's been instrumental in the sculpture project. Seven 5'x12' sheets of 3/8" steel are carved into ~120 slices in the matter of a day or so. The plasma jet makes it through 80 linear inches of cut each minute.

It's not as precise as waterjet cutting or laser cutting (and certainly not CNC milling), but some projects are better suited to trading absolute precision for cutting speed.

There's all sort of whiz-bang flashy smoky stuff going on when the plasma is running, and it's pretty fun to watch. There's also an excellent chance I shouldn't be staring at the bright light through a 150mm lens.

The space underneath the table glows red with hot slag as the head makes its way around a sheet of steel with superheated purple plasma. Before long, the edges of each cut start seeping smoke. Fairly surreal.

Once the cutting is done, it's simply a matter of marking the pieces to keep them straight, picking them off the table like gingerbread men out of a sheet of dough, and sliding a new sheet of steel up there.

There's been a lot of planet aligning to make this project work, and it should go without saying that access to this technology and the talented guys who run it has been absolutely instrumental.

Party on!


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