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The plasma cutting process was first developed in the 1950s by engineers working independently in both the US and Germany. Nearly seventy (70) years later, the following companies around the world continue to work on the advancement of the process: ESAB (Sweden), Hypertherm (US), Kjellberg (Germany), Komatsu (Japan), Kaliburn/Lincoln (US), and Thermal Dynamics (US).

 

PLASMA CUTTING PROCESS DEVELOPMENT TIMELINE 

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1950
James Browning and Merle Thorpe at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH were developing plasma technology for metalizing, cutting and heating for various customers under contract. They developed non-transferred arc torches used to simulate re-entry temperatures for the growing US space program. According to James Browning, the largest of these had an exit orifice (nozzle) with an incredible diameter of 12” which operated at 7 Megawatts.
 
 
Legends of thermal spray (YouTube video) James Browning and Merle Thorpe...Rocket Scientists ...Innovators...Thermal Spray Legends.  This 12min video is part of the ASM International Thermal Spray Society's "Legends of Thermal Spray" series.
 
 
 
1957
Dr. Robert Gage at Union Carbide’s Linde Division was granted the first plasma cutting patent in the US on September 10, 1957. Union Carbide held the patent for plasma cutting during the next 17 years.
 
 
 
1958
James Browning and Merle Thorpe start Thermal Dynamics to expand their work with plasma torches. Their first torch, the F-40, was originally designed for metal spraying and later modified other applications including metal cutting.
 
 
 
1959
The Manfred von Ardenne Institute in Dresden, Germany conducted basic tests for plasma-arc cutting of high-alloyed steel and aluminum with argon-hydrogen in cooperation with Kjellberg Finsterwalde of Finsterwalde, East Germany. 
 
 

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1960
Thermal Dynamics sold their first plasma cutting system to Ryerson Steel in Chicago, IL for processing large quantities of stainless steel. The system featured a modified F-40 torch and a high frequency starter set in a control console. 

 

 
Thermal Dynamics sales in 1960 reached $1.0 million split equally between high temperature research, plasma spraying equipment and metal cutting equipment.
 
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1961
Thermal Dynamics released their single gas U-50 universal torch for operation at up to 1,000 amps for heating, spraying metal, welding or cutting to 6”.
 

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1962
Kjellberg Finsterwalde began selling the WSH III-M (50 KW) plasma cutting system. The first European industry-ready plasma cutting system. In the same year, Kjellberg further developed the process into FineFocus plasma cutting technology and received a patent.
 
 
 
1963
Thermal Dynamics received a patent for a Dual Flow Plasma cutting torch using a Secondary gas. The secondary flow cooled the exterior of the torch tip (nozzle) and assisted the cutting process. Thermal Dynamics also released the Dual Flow M-200 (1,000 Amp machine torch) and the H-100 (750 Amp hand torch). That year they released the first US made 1,000 Amp component plasma cutting system configured with their M-200 machine torch, two PSC-500 500A power supplies in parallel (Westinghouse), CC-50 control console (TDC) and HE-200 heat exchanger (TDC).
 

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Early US experiments with air plasma cutting resulted in limited success. However, the process was successfully pursued in East Germany by Mannsfeld for customers in the USSR & Japan.

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1965
Thermal Dynamics introduced Secondary water mist, in which the secondary gas was substituted with tap water flowing out around the exterior of the cutting tip. The process provided additional cooling of the cutting tip which improved the effective life of the tip. Additionally, when cutting non-ferrous metals, the Hydrogen (H2) contained in the water would provide a limited reducing reaction. Secondary water mist provided a cleaner, more weld-ready cut faces on non-ferrous metals. Thermal Dynamics did not patent this new process.

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1968
Dick Couch and Bob Dean founded Hypertherm in Hanover, NH. They received a patent for their PAC500 Water injection plasma torch. The torch design constricted a nitrogen plasma arc column by using small jets of water injected radially onto the plasma arc. The effect significantly compressed the arc and created a more concentrated heat column resulting in a squarer cut surface. The injected water also created a layer of steam between the plasma column and the inside of the torch nozzle increasing nozzle life. The PAC500 torch offered a significant improvement in steel cutting steel.

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1969
Thermal Dynamics introduced the Plas-Cut 400 system with a PSC-500 power supply, CC50 console, HE-200 recirculator and their new PCH-4 torch. According to the instruction manual, when operating at 400 amps @ 100 DC load volts, the 40Kw system could cut 1” steel at 10 IPM producing a ¼” kerf width. The system with 25 ft. torch leads sold for $4,175. Thermal Dynamics also offered several mechanized plasma systems.
 

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1970
Thermal Dynamics released (5) new plasma welding torches this year – PWH-2, PWH-3A, PWH-4A, PWH-5A and the PWH-7A. The 4A, 5A & 7A were also used for plasma cutting when unique cutting consumables were installed in the torch.
 
Thermal Dynamics released the first truly unitized plasma cutting system. The PAK 40 (40 Kw) combined a 400 Amp power supply, coolant recirculator, control console and their PCH/M-5A torch into a single portable system. It sold for $4,900 and offered a 2” cut capacity on most metals.

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Volkseigener Betrieb Schweißtechnik Finsterwalde was formed in Germany.

 
Many Mansfeld mechanized plasma cutting systems from VEB Schweißtechnik Finsterwalde were delivered to Japan. Mansfeld became the market leader in Japan’s shipyards.

 
Hypertherm sold their first automated plasma system to the Mixing Equipment Company in Rochester, NY. The system was configured with a PAC-500 torch and (2) PAC-400 power supplies.
 
 
1972
Thermal Dynamics launched the LO-AMP PAK 20 (20 Kw) which offered cutting current output up to 100 Amps. This system that was much smaller, more portable and less expensive.
 
 
 
1973
Volkseigener Betrieb Schweißtechnik Kjellberg Finsterwalde launched the PA 40 Cut using oxygen plasma for the first time.
 

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1974
Thermal Dynamics launched the PAK 20A (100A) and PAK 40A (400A) which offered step-less variable amperage control.
 
 
 
1975
Thermal Dynamics launched the PAK 44 with a main transformer that was liquid cooled. This system had a 3” maximum capacity and was very well received for both manual and mechanized applications. The PAK 44 sold for $8,220.
 
 
 
1977
Thermal Dynamics launched the first air cooled plasma cutting system - the PAK 10 (100A). This first of its kind system eliminated the need for a liquid coolant recirculator and liquid cooled torch.
 
 
 
1979
A collective of researchers from Kjellberg and the Professor Manfred von Ardenne Institute were awarded the German Democratic Republic National Prize for Science and Technology for their scientific and technical work developing the plasma cutting process.

 

 
Thermal Dynamics launched the TA-500 (500 A) & TA-1000 (1,000 A) 100% duty cycle Dual gas system configured with their M-200 torch for mechanized cutting up to 5”.

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1980
Thermal Dynamics launched the first US made plasma cutting system that could operate on single-phase input power named the PAK 5 using nitrogen plasma and air secondary. The PAK 5 sold for $2,950.
 
The 1980s saw rapid growth in air plasma cutting technology. Many systems from 20 amps to 200 amps with both hand and machine torches were developed.
 
 
 
1981
Thermal Dynamics launched the first US made hand held plasma cutting system that could operate on air plasma. It was named the PAK 3 (28 A).
 
Thermal Dynamics launched the PAK 45 (400 A) 100% duty cycle Dual gas system with both hand and mechanized torches.

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1984
Kjellberg granted the O-A-Machine Corporation in Japan a license to produce and sell their plasma cutting torches. Kjellberg in Germany could not satisfy the demand in the Japanese market.
 
Thermal Dynamics introduced the PAK 3XR (31 A) air plasma - the first of their XR plasma systems.
 
 
 
1985
Thermal Dynamics launched the PAK 5XR (55 A) ½” capacity air plasma system selling for $2,995. It offered three cutting ranges – 20, 35 and 55 A. Five thousand systems (5,000) were sold in the first 12 months of production.
 
Hypertherm launched the MAX 40 (40A) single gas air plasma system using a solid-state chopper power supply with a 3/8” cutting capacity. This was Hypertherm’s first hand held system. By years’ end, they had sold 1,000 systems.

 

 
Hypertherm introduced a torch that used nitrogen plasma but injected oxygen into the arc column outside of arc chamber. This approach avoided the normal reduction in electrode life. However, it only minimally increased travel speed, kerf width was excessive and nozzle life was reduced.

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1986
Steve Hardwick and Joe Warren start InnerLogic in Charleston, SC. The company founders recognized that the plasma industry needed a full featured, high quality and precise method of finding plate height and maintaining “arc voltage” during cutting. Over the coming years, the company’s series of “RSVP (rapid-servo-voltage-positioner) torch height control systems were adopted by many plasma system manufacturers and cutting machine OEMs.
 
Thermal Dynamics releases the PAK 10XR (105 A) dual gas air plasma cutting system – the first US made 100 A air plasma cutting system.
 
 
 
1987
Thermal Dynamics released the first US made inverter power supply. The DynaPak 110 (20 A) sold for $1,290.
 
 
 
1988
Hypertherm releases the MAX100 (100 A) single gas air plasma cutting system.
 
 
 
1989
InnerLogic releases the SR45i (45 A) inverter plasma cutting system – their first of many more plasma systems to come.

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1990
During the decade from 1990 to 2000, the plasma cutting market grew by fifty (50) times.
 
Komatsu in Japan introduced their 90 Amp Fine Plasma system. The world’s first high definition plasma system providing a narrow-cut kerf and extremely square cut edge on metals up to 1/2” thickness.

 

 
Thermal Dynamics launches the Merlin PAK15XC (150A) dual gas plasma system with hand and machine torches.
 

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Hypertherm launches the MAX200 (200A) dual gas plasma cutting system with hand and machine torches.

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Hypertherm released and patented the LongLife Oxygen process. This was achieved using nitrogen as the arc starting gas and then switching to oxygen for the actual cutting process. The nitrogen starting gas along with arc current ramping at the beginning and end of the cutting process contributed to longer consumable parts life than experienced with conventional oxygen plasma cutting.
 
 
 
1991
Following German reunification, Kjellberg was restructured and the product range fundamentally overhauled. Thermal Dynamics releases a modular plasma cutting system named Stak Pak. Stak Pak enabled a control module and up to (4) power modules to be configured into systems with capacities from ½” to 2”. Four different torches were available for hand and machine cutting applications - 35 A air cooled, 70 A air cooled, 140 A air cooled and a 140 A liquid cooled. Unfortunately, this revolutionary product was not sufficiently reliable and was ultimately dropped from the TDC product line by 2000.
 
 
 
1992
InnerLogic releases the SR100i (100 A) inverter plasma cutting system.
 

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1993
Hypertherm releases the HT2000 (200 A) oxygen plasma cutting system.

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Hypertherm releases the HD1070 (70 A) with manual gas console – the first US made high definition plasma system.

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1995
Hypertherm releases HT4100 air injected water muffler system.
 
 
 
1996
Hypertherm releases HD3070 (100 A) high definition plasma system with Manual Gas Console and manual amperage control.

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1998
Small portable plasma cutting systems were introduced with a built-in air compressor; eliminating the need for a compressed gas source. Hypertherm releases HD3070 (100 A) high definition plasma system with Auto Gas Console
 
InnerLogic releases the FineLine 100 (100 A) high definition plasma system with a manual gas console.
 
 
Hypertherm releases HD3070 (100 A) high definition plasma system with Auto Gas Console.

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2000
Kjellberg Finsterwalde released HiFocus high definition plasma cutting technology.
 
Hypertherm releases HT4400 (400 A) plasma system with 400 A operation using oxygen plasma.

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Hypertherm releases ARC WRITER or plasma marking from 4 to 19 amps using air or H5 plasma gas and air shield.
 

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InnerLogic launched the INOVA torch height control that featured microprocess control and a serial interface.
 
 
InnerLogic releases the FineLine 100 PC – first US made 100 A high definition plasma system with first PC-based automatic process control.

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InnerLogic releases the FineLine 200 PC – first US made 200 A high definition plasma system including the first PC-based automatic process control.
 
 
Kjellberg launched HiFocus (near laser quality) plasma cutting technology.
 
 
Hypertherm introduces HySpeed cutting technology that increased cutting speed by up to 50% for their HT plasma systems.
 
 
 
2001
Hypertherm releases the HD4070 (200 A) high definition plasma system with an Auto Gas Console.
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Kjellberg releases HiFinox technology permitting clean and dross-free cuts on thin sheets of chromium nickel steel.
 
 
 
2002
Thermal Dynamics releases the Merlin 1000 (100 A) Dual gas plasma system with an inverter power supply, liquid cooled torch and manual gas console.

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Thermal Dynamics releases ULTRA-CUT 150 high definition plasma system with Auto Gas Console.

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2003
Kjellberg releases a flow-controlled automatic plasma gas supply which significantly improved quality and reproducibility of plasma cuts.
 
Thermal Dynamics releases Merlin 6000 (150 & 300 A) and Merlin 6000 GST (150 & 300 A) Dual gas plasma systems with Manual Gas Consoles.

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Hypertherm releases the HPR130 (130 A) high definition plasma system with Manual Gas Console.

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2004
InnerLogic releases ProLine 2150 (150A), ProLine 2200 (200A) and ProLine 2260 (260A) high definition plasma cutting systems configured with manual amperage and gas control.

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2005
Thermal Dynamics releases ULTRA-CUT series of high definition plasma systems with XT-300 plasma torch. Amperage outputs of 100, 200 and 300 amps.

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Hypertherm releases HPR260 (260) high definition plasma power supply.

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Hypertherm releases the Automatic Gas Console for HPR130 & HPR260.
 
 
 
2006
Hypertherm launches the HSD130 (130 A) multi-gas plasma system.

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InnerLogic changes company name to Kaliburn.
 
 
 
2007
Komatsu releases Twister 150 (150 A / 30 Kw) Fine Plasma system.
 
Kaliburn releases the Spirit series of high definition plasma cutting systems with automatic gas consoles including the Spirit 150a, Spirit 200a and Spirit 275a.

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Kaliburn releases the Spirit 400a high definition plasma cutting systems with automatic gas console.
 

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2009
Hypertherm releases the HPR400XD (400A) Auto Gas Console high definition plasma system with Power Pierce and True Hole process.
 
The previous HPR systems were relaunched as the HPRXD version – HPR130XD and HPR260XD.
 

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2010
Hypertherm releases HPR800XD (800A) Auto Gas Console high definition plasma system.
 
Hypertherm releases the MAXPRO200 (200 A) multi-gas plasma system with hand and machine torches.

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2012
Lincoln Electric acquires Burny and Kaliburn.
 
 
 
 
2014
ESAB acquires Victor Technologies including Thermal Dynamics.
 
Kjellberg releases Smart Plasma series.
 
 
Hypertherm releases Hdi process for cutting thin stainless with their HPRXD plasma systems.
 
 
 
2016
ESAB releases the iSeries inverter systems, 100A, 200A, 300A & 400A.

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2017
Hypertherm releases XPR300 (300 A) high definition plasma system configured with the Core, Vented Water Injection or OptiMix gas consoles.

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