CANADA'S LEADING INFORMATION SOURCE FOR THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY

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CANADA'S LEADING INFORMATION SOURCE FOR THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY

CANADA'S LEADING INFORMATION SOURCE FOR THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY

TECH TIPS: Choosing the right fuel for Oxy-fuel cutting or welding

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This TECH TIPS is provided by the experts at ESAB University.

What’s the best choice when you’re oxy-fuel cutting? While acetylene is the most popular fuel for cutting and heating, using an alternative fuel such as propane or natural gas can offer cost, safety and performance benefits. Here’s a look at each of these factors and what to consider when you’re choosing fuel.

Cost

Cost is always a big consideration when it comes to fabrication. Typically, fuel costs are around 20-25% of the total cutting cost. Any cost reductions measures can therefore add up to significant savings, which is where alternative fuels come in. They have a higher heat unit when compared to acetylene, and also offer lower storage and handling costs. This is because it takes around five acetylene cylinders to do the same work of one alternate-fuel cylinder.

Safety

OSHA has rigid requirements when it comes to oxy-fuel gas cutting and welding. Severe explosions and serious burns can happen if you’re not following proper safety requirements for storing and handling gas.

With acetylene, it is highly explosive if over-pressurized. A special pressure regulator therefore must be used. It also has to be stored, transported and used in an upright position. If it’s on its side, it should stand upright for an hour before use.

Alternate fuels, on the other hand, tend to be more stable and do not have acetylene’s stringent withdrawal limits. They can also be used at higher pressures safely without shock sensitive flow rates. They also come with fewer respiratory concerns when compared to acetylene.

Performance

Acetylene has the highest flame temperature – in excess of 5,800 degrees F with a neutral flame temperature of 5,580 degrees – and the lowest secondary flame temperature. However, the heat content of acetylene is the lowest of all fuel gases except natural gas, which can require significant preheat time in heavy cutting applications.

In comparison, alternative fuels can reach the targeted heat temperature faster. They also offer increased travel speeds, clean kerfs, less top-edge rollover, less hardening of the cut face, and less slag. This translates into a higher-quality cut.

A Final Note

“Gas welding” requires acetylene for the fuel gas because it gives off CO2 during combustion to shield the molten puddle. Additionally, if you choose an alternate fuel, it will require fuel-specific equipment regulators, hoses and cutting and heating tips.

For fuel gas flexibility, select torches with a “spiral” or “equal pressure” mixer. These are calibrated to work with both lower-pressure fuels (such as propane) and higher-pressure fuels (like acetylene). These torches keep the gas pressurized and mix them via turbulence between the handle and the torch head.

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