Visualization of thermal cutting fluid flows
Hypertherm, Inc., 21 Great Hollow Road, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755, USA
Outside of the fields where flow visualization is traditionally applied, there exist many processes where fluid phenomena are critical. Here, we survey flow visualization work with a focus on two thermal metal cutting processes. These two processes – plasma-arc cutting and gas assisted laser cutting – account for a large fraction of the means by which steel is cut in our world. Plasma-arc cutting utilizes an electric arc transferred between a cathode and the steel being cut to produce a high temperature gas jet that melts and removes metal. In gas assisted laser cutting, the assist jet is often high-pressure supersonic nitrogen for stainless steel, or near-atmospheric pressure, low-speed oxygen for carbon steel. Visualization of these millimeter-range diameter jets helps to understand the different roles that the assist gas has in these cutting processes, particularly with how the jets interact with the metal being cut. We describe experimental techniques for visualization of the arc jet and gas assist jet, as well as the liquid metal flows being removed from the cut and the gas flow in the torch itself. These visualizations overcome the small physical scales of the process, the bright illumination from the arc itself, and harsh high-temperature environment. The results lend perspective and understanding of the physical phenomena important to process control.
© EDP Sciences, Springer-Verlag, 2010