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Which is the Best Plasma Cutting Fume Control Method: Water or Downdraft?

One of the biggest concerns with plasma cutting safety is fume control.  Without proper fume control and ventilation, the working environment may become hazardous.  When it comes to plasma cutting, there are different options for fume control and ventilation.  As anyone that has ever fabricated metal knows, when using a plasma cutter there will be a lot of smoke, fumes, and particles.  All of that has to go somewhere but which is better and more effective method of ventilation and fume control, water tables or downdraft?

Water Tables for Fume Control

Water tables filter fumes and particles without the use of filters.  Rather, water tables use a sealed frame that holds water and the water level is just below the material that is being fabricated.  During the cutting process, kinetic energy forces the fumes and particles into the water that captures and removes dust, debris, particles and fumes.

Downdraft Tables for Fume Control

Downdraft tables filter fumes and particles by circulating the air through perforations in the table and pulling out the dust and particles to remove them from the cutting area.  Those fumes have to go somewhere to be ventilated so a full ventilation system must be in place that takes the fumes out of the shop.  While the method is effective, you will have to change the filter every time you change the material that you are cutting because different materials require different filter settings.

Who Wins for Plasma Cutting Fume & Particle Control? Water Tables or Downdraft Tables?

While there are advantages to both options for plasma cutting, when looking strictly at fume and particle control, water is the more effective and less expensive method as The Fabricator points out, “Depending on the material being cut, cutting amperage, and the water level, a water table can capture 90 to 95 percent of the smoke and dust generated by plasma cutting. Cutting with the water level about 1 in. below the bottom of the material contains most of the smoke and dust. A dust collector is not required. If an air curtain is added, the plate can be fully submerged under 2 to 3 in. of water, so that the water traps almost all of the smoke. The air curtain uses compressed air to create a bubble around the front end of the torch, protecting the precision arc from the water. No matter the size of the plate on the table, underwater plasma cutting captures the same amount of smoke and dust…The downdraft table captures nearly all of the smoke and dust, provided certain criteria are met. Filters must be in good working condition. Also, sufficient air velocity must be moving downward into the open area of the table to prevent the smoke from billowing out and escaping capture. Downdraft tables and dust collector systems are designed with specific minimum coverage percentages, typically between 50 and 75 percent. The downdraft system is most effective when a full-size sheet is on the table, as this provides plenty of downward-moving air velocity because there are no open spaces. But when smaller sheets are used, or if much of the sheet has already been cut and removed, more of the table is exposed, and air velocity is reduced, affecting the table’s ability to contain smoke and dust.”

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