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Why is “Cold Cutting” Superior to Plasma Cutting?

Posted by Writer - August 1, 2016 - Metal Cutting

Water jet metal cutting in San Francisco, CA is one of the most rapidly growing machining methods available in the area. But does that mean it’s
really better than the more familiar forms of cutting like lasers and plasma? Although plasma cutting has its own benefits, water jet cutting is superior
for one particular reason: it doesn’t use heat to cut through materials.

Plasma cutters basically channel superheated gases to cut through raw materials. Although this is a very effective way to cut through metals, there are
certain side effects of using such extreme heat.

Water jet cutting, on the other hand, is referred to as “cold cutting” because it’s unique process requires no extra heat. In fact, because only high
pressure water and abrasives are used, water jet cutting generates very little heat, even from friction. Because of this, there are some very real
advantages of choosing cold cutting over plasma cutting:

No heat affected zone

The heat affected zone (HAZ), refers to the area of the material being cut that is affected by the heat from the plasma cutter. Extreme heat affects the
“virgin” quality of the material. HAZ surfaces can burn, melt or even become more brittle. These changes affect the overall quality of the material
and the performance of the end product.

Water jet cutting, on the other hand, uses no heat, so there is no risk of burning, melting or affecting the material in any way.

Faster cutting
Cold cutting, because high pressure water is used, is typically faster than plasma cutting. Cold cutting also reduces overall production time because
there is little to no need for clamping or bracing materials during set-up. You also save time by not having to wait for materials to “cool down” before
moving on to the next step in production.

Cold cutting also offers a level of precision that you just can’t get with plasma cutting. Because you are dealing with a very small area for the
pressurized water to flow through, you have greater control over the cuts being made. This is why cold cutting is used for more detailed cuts, like
geometric shapes or designs.

More materials
Cold cutting can be used to cut a wider variety of materials than plasma cutting. Plasma cutting can only be used to cut materials that can handle the
extreme heat. Plasma can also only be used on fairly even surfaces. Cold cutting, on the other hand, can be used on a wide range of materials and
more irregular surfaces.

If you were interested in water jet metal cutting in San Francisco, CA, but you were unsure of the benefits, now you know that “cold cutting” offers
certain advantages that you just can’t get with plasma cutting. Cold cutting will not only help you avoid the heat affected zone on your materials, but
it will also help with production times, precision, and the variety of materials you can work with.

Many factors are involved in choosing a particular method or technology for cutting tube or
Many factors are involved in choosing a particular method or technology for cutting tube or pipe. The basic factors
that affect the cut are the tube or pipe material, wall thickness, squareness of ends, end-conditioning requirements,
and secondary process requirements.Other factors that play a role include production volume, cutting efficiency,
overhead costs, and special requirements of the tube or pipe material.
Abrasive Cutting
Abrasive sawing is a basic, manual method of cutting-to-length
product to the customer's specification in any alloy. An abrasive
saw operates with a circular abrasive blade or resin-composition
wheel—either wet or dry—that grinds through the product.
Cut size capabilities depend on the machine. Some abrasive
cutting machines can handle a solid round up to 4 in. outside
diameter (OD). This general-purpose method is useful for hand-
loading applications and small product runs that do not require
critical end conditions.
While an abrasive saw is easy to use and requires little or no setup
time, it cannot provide a square cut or tight tolerances. Because
the process uses a cutting or burning action, it is not efficient for
thick-walled material. It also might leave a heat-affected zone (HAZ) that can affect secondary processing.

While abrasive sawing is inexpensive and quick, it produces significant kerf and a heavy burr that might have to be
removed by deburring.

Band Saw Cutting

Band saw cutting is a fully automatic process and the most common method for cutting rod, bar, pipe, and tubing.
This process is excellent for large-volume cutting. Some band saws can handle large product bundles.
The blade is a continuous band of metal, available in various tooth configurations, that rotates on two wheels.
Depending on the model's design, the blade's approach to the metal may be horizontal or vertical. Each
configuration has advantages for particular products or applications.
Band saw cutting is a viable method for cutting a variety of shapes, such as squares, rectangles, channels, I beams,
and extrusions. A band saw's capabilities vary depending on the model. Most are automated, and some feature
CNCs. Shuttles make it possible to cut any material length. While shuttles typically are 20 to 24 in. in length, longer
ones are available.
Despite the many advantages of band saw cutting, it is not an efficient process for cutting thin-walled products.
Moreover, band saw cutting produces a burr and does not achieve tight tolerances.

Cold Sawing
High-precision cold sawing is suitable for cutting smaller-diameter or thin-walled material that requires tight
tolerances. A circular cold saw uses a wheel blade and cutting fluid, which usually is applied with a mist lubricator.
While some cold saw units can handle round tube up to 3.5 in. and round solid up to 2 in., they are most effective at
cutting product with a maximum OD of 1.75 in.
A cold saw's steel blade is fixed and does not walk or wander. Cold sawing produces square or perpendicular cuts
and minimal or no burrs. This automated cutting method can bundle-cut material with a length tolerance of ±0.004
in. and squareness tolerance of 0.002 in. per diameter inch.
Because it is a cold cutting process, cold sawing does not produce a HAZ, which can be a benefit for product that
requires subsequent finishing.

Laser Cutting
Despite the high capital cost, a laser cutting system provides a range of capabilities and associated advantages.
Easily controlled with automation equipment (CNC), a laser allows an operator to cut, deburr, inspect, and even
pack material while the laser runs continuously.Lasers, which concentrate a tremendous amount of heat energy into
an extremely small area, produce narrow kerf widths, tight tolerances, and minimal HAZs. They cut with little
distortion to the workpiece and can cut harder materials, including stainless steel alloys, nickel alloys, and titanium.
However, the inside of the tubing must be coated with antispatter fluid.
A laser is best as a contouring tool. It can be programmed for a variety of special requirements, such as making
small holes (with diameters smaller than the material thickness), etching part numbers, and cutting difficult-to-reach

Lathe Cutting
Single-spindle lathe-type machines are designed for high-volume production cutting-to-length of round tubing, pipe,
and solid bar-stock. The operator feeds the stock through the spindle to a stop, which gauges the cut length. The
stock is held by a collet and rotated as it is cut off by tools mounted on cross slides. A cooling liquid is necessary to
control the temperature and reduce tool wear.
Lathe cutting is ideal for thin-walled material, producing square cut ends with minimum burr. Multiple cross slides
permit deburring orchamfering the OD of both ends during the lathe cutting process.
Lathes vary in their capabilities. Depending on the machine, precision cuts can be made on product ranging from
0.25 to 8 in. in diameter. While a standard lathe cutting shuttle is 24 in., longer shuttles are available, enabling
cutting of 60-in.-long product with ±0.010-in. tolerance. Depending on the lathe unit, secondary tooling, slides, or
attachments provide the capability to groove the OD at the ends or deburring, chamfering, boring, or grooving the ID
at one end of the tubing.
High production yields are a significant benefit of lathe cutting. However, setup time ranges from 30 minutes to an
hour. Depending on the cutting tools, the kerf loss may run as high as 0.125 in. Another limitation of lathe cutting is
that it can handle round products only, one piece at a time.

A tube shear is a completely automatic, high-speed machine that uses two shearing plates and two ID punches
under extreme pressure to cut tubing. The shearing action is the same for all sizes and wall thicknesses with
maximum limits.
Speed and volume are the benefits of tube shearing technology. The shorter the cut piece (minimum of 0.25 in.), the
higher the production rate. This extremely high-output operation can produce as many as 7,000 pieces per hour in
an eight-hour shift. Specific capabilities depend on the shear and the material's wall thickness.
Shearing produces no kerf loss. For high-production, smaller-OD product, this benefit can provide a significant
savings in material.
Tube shearing can achieve tight tolerances. However, because of the shearing action, sheared tubing is slightly out-
of-round. Other disadvantages include tooling cost—dies are custom-made for specific ID requirements—and setup
time, which can take one to two hours. Therefore, shearing is not cost-effective for small runs.
Leonard Eaton is vice president of operations with TW Metals, 760 Constitution Drive, Exton, PA 19341-0644,
phone 800-228-3950, fax 610-458-1399, Web site www.twmetals. com. TW Metals, a metals processor and
distributor, offers extrusions, fittings, pipe, plate, rod and bar, sheet, and tube.

Frequently Asked Questions

Process Advantages Disadvantages

Low capital cost Primarily limited to mild and low alloy steels

Oxy-fuel No electrical requirements Less suitable for stainless steels and aluminium

Consumable costs low Wide HAZ

Quality influenced by parameters and torch nozzle
Can be used manually or mechanised
and plate surface condition


Can be used to cut thick sections

All positions

Wide range of materials including stainless

Typically limited to 50mm (air-plasma) plate
steel and aluminium

Narrow HAZ Noise when cutting thick sections

Low consumable (air) costs Fume when cutting in air


Ideal for this sheet material Arc glare when cutting in air

Low fume when cutting underwater Consumables (electrode and nozzle) costs

High quality cut edge (HTPAC)

Extremely narrow cut width (0.1mm) High capital cost

Minimal distortion High maintenance costs

Small HAZ Cutting thickness <20mm

Very high cutting speeds (up to 10m/min) Screening of beam

Cut edge does not require dressing

Metals and non-metals

No heat generated High capital cost

Minimal distortion Safe handling of water jet

Abrasive water
Wide range of metals and non-metals Containment of water

Hazardous (explosive) environments Noise

Wide cut width

Abrasive cost (cannot be recycled)

For more information, please contact us.

What is Cold Cutting?

Cold Cutting refers to cutting pipe without the use of heat from a torch (hot cutting) where
open flame is used.

Why Cold Cutting?

A series of serious incidents have contributed to the development of cold cutting technology
to advance pipeline repair safety. A main contributor of these incidents is the presence of
hydrocarbons (a basic building block of energy products) in pipelines that creates a potentially
hazardous situation when pipeline repairs, modifications or decommissioning are needed.

Cold cutting machines are designed to eliminate the hazards associated with thermal cutting,
and are increasingly being specified for their inherent safety advantages. Their development
reflects the priorities in pipeline repairs as follows:

1. Safety - is first and foremost as the primary consideration before any pipeline project is
planned. This covers the safety of the operators of the tools and the safety of the product
flowing through the pipeline.
2. Time – time is a critical factor affecting pipeline repairs when the community is relying on
you to consistently provide safe sources of water, gas and other infrastructural elements.
3. Money – there is always a budget that needs to be kept in so it is important that while
cold cutting machines are both safe and save time, they need to have a good ROI.

Benefits of Cold Cutting:

 Prevention of HAZ

A significant
advantage of the
cold cutting
process over
torch cutting is
the prevention of
a HAZ (Heat
Zone). A HAZ is
created when
such as those
produced by
plasma or Undesirable HAZ (Heat Affected No HAZ after cold cutting - the
acetylene Zone) perfect weld prep!
torches, is
applied to a
pipe. This changes the molecular structure of metal itself and often alters its properties to
detrimental effect.
 Eliminates need to grind
Torch cutting requires a second step of hand grinding to create a suitable weld ready
surface. This is a difficult, laborious and time consuming process that involves inerting the
pipeline with nitrogen gas to prevent combustion. Eliminating these steps saves a
considerable amount of time, cost and labour.
 Fast method
Time is a critical factor in pipeline repairs where environmental concerns and prior
experiences demonstrate that faster is better to stop or prevent leaks and spills that harm
the environment. This means that any tool that can perform its task faster is well worth
investing in.

 Safe
Dangers of the open flame produced by a gas torch is eliminated. In addition, airborne
contaminants that are introduced into the environment by torch cutting are no longer a
potential health hazard.

Cold Cutting Machines:

Most pipeliners today specify the split frame (clamshell) rotating ring pipe cutter that splits in
half to mount around the OD of inline pipe. There are various configurations of split frames
available such as:

 Low Clearance models - designed to balance weight, clearance and portability issues
 Heavy Duty models - designed for large diameter or heavy wall pipe
Introduced in 1949, the Trav-L-Cutter® was the first pipe cutting machine that utilised the cold
cutting method.

Designed to crawl around the pipe on its mounting chain, the Trav-L-Cutter® utilized a high
speed milling head to simultaneously cut and bevel the pipe. The two main benefits of this

1. Flame was eliminated - an obvious safety benefit

2. Created precision beveled surface ready for welding

Recommended Cold Cutting Machines:

The Trav-L-Cutter is ideal for severing and beveling all
common pipe materials, wall thicknesses and sizes from 6”
(DN150) on up. Its special milling blades, leaves the pipe
ends with a fine milled finish with no heat affected zone

The DynaPrep® Split Frame is a cold cutting tool that splits
in half to mount over inline pipe. It is designed for cutting,
bevelling, facing, counter boring and flange facing on heavy
wall pipe including high alloy material.

GFX 6.6 Pipe Cutting & Bevelling Machine

The ideal solution for cutting of thin-walled tubes, typical to
food processing, beverage, pharmaceutical and chemical
industries where it's rugged design ensures a long product
Large Diameter Split Frame
The Large Diameter Split Frame (LDSF) is designed for cold
cutting, beveling, facing and counterboring on large diameter
pipes, vessels and flanges. Each machine covers a 15in
(381mm) diameter range.

Guillotine Saw
Guillotine pipe saws are designed to cold cut 2” through 32”
(DN50-800) pipe, as well as solids such as bar stock, rails
and beams. They’re strong yet light, simple to mount, simple
to operate and simply bulletproof.

Unique Features of the Split Frames:

 Machining Abilities
Split Frames are able to cut and bevel simultaneously and are capable of machining much
faster and more accurately than the milling process allows. They allow you to produce the
compound bevels and complex “J” prep specified by leading welding equipment
manufacturers, which cannot be done using thermal cutting and grinding.

 Complete Machining System

Machine accessories enable the Split Frames to tackle just about any onsite machining
project likely to be encountered in the field. Accessories including tool slides (that hold the
tooling) and tooling (cutting bits) are available to cut, bevel, counterbore (machine the
inside of the pipe) and face flanges.

 Speed & Quality of Cut

Split Frames are designed to set up quickly, to cut quickly and to cut and bevel with great
precision. Destructive cutting is easy no matter the tool used, but what really counts is the
critical cut needed for fit up, nicknamed the “money cut”. This cut must be exactly correct to
deliver the goods, time in and time out.

 Out-of-Round Tooling
The pipe generally used in pipelines is a medium to large diameter pipe with relatively thin
walls of about .5” (12.7mm) or less. This type of pipe is seldom perfectly round and can be
egg shaped, a condition known as “out-of-round”. To ensure consistent contact of the
tooling, spring tracking or out-of-round (tool) slides are available. They use springs to
locate a wheel that rides along the contour of the pipe, preventing the tooling from diving in
and out of the work. Out-of-round slides also speed the set-up of the machine by making it
less critical that the machine be perfectly centred on the pipe.

 Tracking Slides for Uniform Land

The land is the most important part of the weld prep. If the land is too narrow, then the
welder may burn a hole through it. If the land is too thick, there may not be proper
penetration to the base metal. Tracking slides allow the creation of a uniform land, which is
that portion of the weld prep that accepts the critical weld root pass.