There is quite a bit of discussion in forums regarding the use of air dryers with plasma cutters. While they are not necessary for a plasma cutter to operate, they can make lots of difference in the money you invest, the time you spend operating your plasma cutter, and the final results.

What Is a Plasma Cutter Air Dryer and How Does it Function?

The plasma cutter air dryer is basically a filter that removes moisture, dust particulates, and oil particles that flow out of your air compressor into your plasma cutting machine. These are all types of contaminates that will contribute to wearing out your plasma cutter consumables more rapidly and will also negatively influence the operation of your plasma cutter.

plasma cutter cutting a iron board

Do You Need an Air Dryer on Your Plasma Cutter?

Yes, an air dryer can really make a difference in how precise your cuts are. Plasma cutters that use unfiltered compressed air will not produce cuts that are as clean as those done by plasma cutters with filtered compressed air. CNC plasma cutters and plasma cutters used in industry for production purposes are particularly at risk for this. Dirty air leads to consumable deterioration and the final cut quality will suffer.

plasma cutter can cutting cycle shapes

Not only will impurities reduce the life of consumables and the cutting performance, but they can also contribute to the malfunctioning of both the cutter and the torch, or cause damage to the torch, even accelerating its wear and torch heads are expensive to repair. 

Is an Air Dryer Worth the Money It Costs?

Again, yes. If you use your plasma cutter regularly or even every so often but for a total upwards of ten hours annually, then in the long-term, an air dryer will save you money on consumables alone.

If you own a quality name-brand plasma cutter, then you know how expensive a set of consumables can be. A single air dryer will cost you less than some sets of consumables and will pay for itself in under a year with the money you save not having to replace those consumables so frequently.

You’ll save time as well by not having to interrupt your work to replace the consumables. Plus, your plasma cutter will perform better executing cleaner cuts during operation.

The only reason not to purchase an air dryer is if you own a really inexpensive plasma cutter that uses cheap consumables. Cheaper cutters do not usually come equipped with a pilot arc, so the consumables will wear out quickly because the torch’s tip will be touching and dragging across the metal to be cut.

Even if you use an air dryer with a cheaper plasma cutter, your savings will be reduced because of the lack of a pilot arc, although cuts will be cleaner.

A cleaner air supply will afford you:

  • Increased cutting performance
  • Reduced malfunctions in both cutter and torch
  • Increased lifespan of consumables and torch parts
Even if you use an air dryer with a cheaper plasma cutter,

Types of Air Dryers

All air dryers are not equal. Types of air dryer filters include:

  • Basic air filter and regulator. This type of filter is the minimum necessary for a plasma cutter. Their efficiency is approximately 50% so they remove a lot of impurities but not all. This type of filter is connected directly to the plasma cutter and remains in position.
  • Roll air filters are often referred to as sub-micronic or toilet roll filters because they contain a cylindrical cartridge filter. These are generally high-performing filters because they filter out particles smaller than one micron and they are relatively inexpensive. However, there is the continuing cost of replacing filters often. They work fine if they are correctly maintained.
  • Inline air filters are the most compact filters that contain a plastic filtering piece. If moisture comes into contact, the plastic will close the passageway to impede water from passing through to the plasma cutter. These filters block particles that are 0.85 microns. They are also inexpensive. They are not self-draining so you must remove water manually and occasionally they can restrict the airflow which is essential to plasma cutting performance.
  • High-performance air filters are designed for use with a plasma cutter. These filters may feature cartridges that last up to six months. They are self-draining and do not restrict airflow. While these are lightweight and easy to install, they usually will be much more expensive but last much longer.

What’s the Best Air Dryer for a Plasma Cutter?

While there are numerous air dryer filters available on the market, here are a few examples of the various types we mentioned above.

Basic air filter and regulator

An inexpensive best-seller on Amazon is the Nanpu Compressed Air Filter and Regulator Combo. Nanpu offers a 3-part air dryer for the removal of most moisture and particulates from your compressed air supply. It also comes with its own integrated lubricator for increased tool lifespan. 

Roll air filter

Motor Guard offers the M-30NPT Submicronic Filter for less than $100 making it reasonably priced. These are exceptionally popular and reduce particles that are .01 microns in size. Easy to install and easier to maintain, they are also eco-friendly because produced in recycled cellulose. Refill cartridges are available for less than $20 from some suppliers.

Inline Air Filter

An example of an inline air filter is PneumaticPlus’s PPF2-NO2B Miniature Particulate Filter. This is small, compact, and a manual drain air dryer. Inexpensive, it is designed for bulk liquid removal and dirt particle removal. The micron particle filtering can be increased for the removal of extra-fine particles. Filters are replaceable.

High-Performance Air Filter

If you have invested a lot of money in your plasma cutter, you may want to go with a top-quality air filter designed specifically for use with plasma cutters. The Platinum Z-20 is just such an air dryer. It is a superior quality alternative to a roll filter, but it is also expensive. This air dryer will increase the lifespan of consumables, decrease operation costs, and improve cutting performance. It has been designed specifically with plasma cutters in mind and it shows.

How Do I Know When I Need to Replace an Air Dryer Filter?

One trick used by the experts is to blow air onto a mirror from your air nozzle. If the mirror fogs up and shows moisture, it’s time to replace the filter.

Can I Save When Using Air Dryer Filter Cartridges?

Certainly. You probably used compressed air for more than one tool in your shop. Not all of these will require that the air is filtered to run efficiently. One method for avoiding wasting filtered air is to mount the air dryer directly onto your plasma cutter. In this way, you only use it when you need filtered air. Another option, for those that need filtered air for more than one tool, is to mount the air dryer filter on one side so you can easily hook it up whenever you need it

Conclusion

Selecting the best Plasma Cutter Air Dryer will depend greatly on how often you use your cutter and how much your budget will allow. Fortunately, the marketplace offers quality products for everyone’s wallet and plasma cutter use. The important thing is to have a plasma cutter air dryer for machine care and maintenance and cutting performance.

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