An informational guide on plate metals and processes.

Learn all about metal cutting basics in Messer Cutting Systems’ information-rich guide on cutting common materials like mild steel plate, stainless steel plate, and aluminum plate.

Cutting metal plate with CNC cutting machines: Metal types and equipment processes.

Metal mill plants most commonly produce metal plates and also other forms like blanks, flats, bars, plates, pipe, and tube, etc. The material that you would like to cut has to be conductive, and choosing the right metal plate is contingent on grade and strength.

In the metalworking industry, numerous metal cutting methods exist, from the simplest handheld cutting devices to metal cutting machines. Let’s explore several of Messer Cutting Systems’ metal cutting processes and how they work with various plate types. Plasma, oxyfuel, and laser cutting are the thermal and flame metal cutting processes, with drilling, milling, marking, and grinding serving as the secondary metal processes.

What are the types of metal cut on Messer cutting machines?

  • Ferrous metals and alloys are conductive metals containing iron as the base material in the alloy. Common ferrous metals and alloys used to manufacture metal plates include carbon steel, alloy steel, stainless steel, steel, and other specialty ferrous metals. These steels are also magnetic because they contain a high amount of iron and ferrite.
  • Nonferrous metals and alloys are also conductive metals that lack iron as the base metal. The most common materials used for metal and alloy plates are aluminum, copper, nickel, magnesium, precious metals, and titanium.

The metal plate types most commonly used for cutting listed below:

Standard Metals Specialty Metals
Mild Steel Hardox Steel Nickel
Stainless Steel Manganese Bronze
Aluminum Titanium Brass
Chrome Cast Iron
Magnesium Copper

In Focus: Three standard plate-cutting metals cut using different processes with CNC cutting machines.

Let’s zoom in on the three standard plate-cutting metals and how they may be cut using a range of processes.

Mild steel plate cutting.

Mild steel is usually called “low carbon steel” because of its low amount of carbon within the steel. Mild steel is not an alloy, and its low carbon level makes mild steel more ductile, easier to cut, machine, and weld compared with higher carbon steel’s. Mild steel and some low-alloy steels have a lower melting point than higher-carbon steels and require less energy to melt the steel.

Mild steel plate sizes manufactured by steel mills are commonly cut down to 4-feet-by-8-feet or 5-feet-by-10-feet sheets but can be cut to whatever size a customer requires. Nonstandard sheet sizes will often be more expensive to produce than standard sizes.

Mild steel plate cutting with plasma.

Mild steel is the most commonly used plate for thermal cutting machines. Mild steel can be cut with plasma up to 3 inches thick. Saving production time and money using automated plasma steel cutting machines to cut mild steel is a sensible option for many companies to consider.

Plasma cutting requires a higher energy output, making mild steel cutting precise, easy, and the fastest way to cut out vertical and beveled plate shapes.

Mild steel plate cutting with oxyfuel.

Mild steel cut with oxyfuel allows for thicker plate cutting greater than 3 inches. Mild steel oxyfuel gas cutting is cut with oxygen and other types of fuel gases. Acetylene is one of the most commonly used fuel gases, but natural gas and propane can also be used.

Oxyfuel cutting with mild steel is a more economical solution than plasma cutting because consumables and operating costs are all lower than costs connected to plasma cutting with mild steel.

Mild steel plate cutting with laser.

Laser cutting mild steel creates a reaction with the oxygen and the carbon at high heat to oxidize the material. This process is much more precise than plasma cutting and is, therefore, the better option when high tolerances are required.

Less slag and more precise parts allow for the faster production of accurate parts that do not require secondary processes to get to the final part.

Stainless steel plate cutting on CNC steel cutting machines

Stainless Steel

Iron, chromium alloy and other common additives comprise stainless steel’s core. Stainless steel suits a variety of industries and serves applications where corrosion, oxidation or cost can raise issues. It also offers strength and ductility at low temperatures. Stainless steel plate is aesthetically pleasing beyond bearing properties that make it an easy material to work with.

Steel mills sell stainless steel plates in different grades and material types, with textured, embossed, brushed, and coated finishes. Stainless steel may be used in many of the same applications as mild steel but this material is more expensive.

Stainless steel plate cutting with plasma.

Will a plasma cutter cut stainless steel? Yes, indeed! Plasma cutting stainless steel is a quick, affordable and easy way to cut these plates. Messer’s steel cutting machines, also referred to as steel cutting machinery and stainless steel cutter machines, automatically select gas types, pressures and cut speeds to give you the best cut quality or speed when you’re looking to plasma cut stainless steel.

Thin stainless steel can be cut with just nitrogen gas or with nitrogen as the plasma gas and water as a shield gas. Although some inquire about whether a plasma cutter can cut 1-inch stainless steel, thicker stainless steel—measuring 0.375 inches or greater—will cut better with either F5 or H35 gas.

Stainless steel plate cutting with oxyfuel.

Stainless cannot be cut with oxyfuel because there is little to no carbon in it.

Stainless steel plate cutting with laser cutting.

When cutting stainless steel plate via laser cutting, both CO2 lasers—CO2 laser (straight) and CO2 laser (bevel)—and fiber lasers—fiber laser plasma combination and fiber laser (straight)—are able to cut through stainless steel. Stainless steel melts at the same rate as mild steel with a minimal heat-affected zone.

Laser cutting typically comes with a dross-free quality with a smooth-edge finish, especially in thin-gauge material. If you are looking for precision accuracy at high-speed cutting rates, Messer Cutting Systems’ MetalMaster Xcel is the perfect machine for you.

Aluminum Plate Cutting for Messer Cutting Machines


Aluminum does not occur in pure form but is chemically refined from bauxite ore, chemically extracted into alumina compound and then smelted to aluminum metal. This material features some outstanding and highly desirable properties. Aluminum can be easily recycled, has a very high strength-to-weight ratio and is corrosion-resistant.

Aluminum sheet metal is used for a wide range of applications. It is used in everything from aircraft and automobile manufacturing to beverage packaging, cryogenic storage applications, construction, and building facades.

Aluminum mills produce plates to sell in a variety of grades, shapes, textures, and colors. Aluminum is a lighter and inexpensive material, making it widely used.

Aluminum plate cutting with plasma.

Many ask “Can you cut aluminum with a plasma cutter?” The answer is a resounding yes! For clean and precise aluminum plate cutting, the most commonly used gases are nitrogen or air for thinner aluminum plates. A mixed-fuel gas, typically a combination of hydrogen and argon, is used for thicker plates greater than a half-inch thick.

Messer’s CNC plasma cutters for aluminum are low-cost alternatives compared with laser cutting. They’re also an effective and efficient way to utilize a plasma cutter in creating aluminum cuts with high tolerances.

If you cut aluminum with plasma on a water table, the aluminum oxide byproduct mixes with the water underneath to create explosive hydrogen gas. At Messer Cutting Systems, we recommend you regularly drain and clean the table to avoid putting your team at risk of explosive gases. Dry plasma cutting, however, creates combustible dry dust when cutting. Messer Cutting Systems has taken extra precautionary steps to resolve issues connected to smoke removal and the combustible dust from dry tables. We have collaborated with two dust-collector suppliers, Camfil APC and Donaldson, to manage these safety issues.

If you cut aluminum with plasma on a water table, the aluminum oxide byproduct mixes with the water underneath to create an explosive hydrogen gas. At Messer Cutting Systems, we recommend you regularly drain and clean the table to avoid putting your team at risk of explosive gases. Dry plasma cutting, however, creates a combustible dry dust when cutting. Messer Cutting Systems has taken extra precautionary steps to resolve issues connected to smoke removal and the combustible dust from dry tables. We have collaborated with two dust-collector suppliers, Camfil APC and Donaldson, to manage these safety issues.

We believe that dry cutting aluminum with a plasma cutter is the best alternative for thermal cutting. Simply put, cutting aluminum with a plasma cutter is beneficial for the work environment and lower maintenance.

Aluminum plate cutting with oxyfuel.

Aluminum plates cannot be cut with oxyfuel cutting machines because the material lacks carbon.

Aluminum plate cutting with laser.

Nitrogen and oxygen are the most common gases used with fiber laser cutting machines to cut aluminum parts. Aluminum plate cutting is faster, requiring higher power capacity, resulting in precision-quality cuts with low to no dross.

Lasers can cut through thin-gauge aluminum plates up to about 1 inch thick.

Secondary Equipment For Metal Plate Processing

Drilling, Tapping, Milling and Marking

Messer’s robust cutting machines can cut, drill, tap, mill, mark, and extract chips all without needing to move the material, saving your organization time and labor costs.

Plate drilling on mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum plate.

Mild steel plate is the most commonly drilled material.

Stainless steel plate, however, is a more challenging plate to apply the correct cutting conditions. Tool geometries can dramatically affect hole quality along with tool life. When drilling stainless steel, you are generating high temperatures because the material itself can handle these temperatures. These high temperatures can wear on drilling tool bits. When using the proper coolants to extend tool life and following the parameters and geometries set by the drilling software, drilling in stainless steel can be performed efficiently and accurately.

Aluminum is one of the easiest machining materials but does present its own unique challenges, given the ductility and softness of the material. With the proper geometry, coolants and coatings, drilling multiple holes or milling can be achieved with high-speed and precision accuracy without compromising the plate’s or tool’s surface.

We recommend contacting our Applications Department for further drilling instruction.

When you equip your machine with a drill, it can give you:

  • Precision accuracy of holes.
  • Holes that are smaller in diameter than material thickness.
  • Tap 1½ inches to 6 unc for 2½-inch drill and 1½ inch to 6 unc for 4-inch drill.
  • Pneumatic drilling up to a ¼-inch capacity.
  • Drilling capacities of ½, ¾, 1 ¼, 2, 2 ½, and 4-inch capacities.

Drill Units

Messer Cutting Systems offers the following drill units:

  • Electric Drill Unit: Our Electric Drill Unit includes an optional drill feature that can be combined with standard plasma and oxyfuel cutting. Drills ⅜” to ¾” diameter dependent on material type. Drill up to 1” thick in mild steel.
  • MD400: Drills up to 4” diameter through 4” thick mild steel, tapping up to 1.5”- 6 unc in mild steel.
  • MD250: Drills up to 2 ½” diameter holes through 6” thick mild steel; Tapping 1.5” – 6 unc in mild steel.
  • Heavy-Duty Drill Unit: Drills up to 2” diameter holes through 4” thick mild steel. Tapping up to 1” – 8 unc.
  • Pneumatic Drill: Drills up to quarter-inch-diameter holes in mild steel and 5/16-inch-diameter holes in aluminum.


Plate milling can be done on all three standard materials, mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum. Messer milling units have the ability to drill, tap, countersink, counterbore, and mill (x-y) position critical internal features. 

  • MPC2000 MC: is a multi-process cutting machine that can be outfitted with multiple carriages up to five separate processes. Features the MD250 with a 24-tool rotary changer.
  • TMC4500 DB: A dependable workhouse featuring the MD400 with a 24-tool rotary changer.

Chip Extraction

Messer Cutting Systems makes available its MPC2000 MC machine for chip extraction for all metal types. Our high-suction chip vacuum system keeps the work surface clean by moving chips into a hopper for recycling.

Metal Plate Markers

When it comes to marking mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum plates, Messer Cutting Systems offers several plate marking equipment methods from which you may choose. Plate thickness and surface texture, as well as your budget, all contribute to your final marking aesthetic.

All Messer Cutting Systems’ plate markers can be used on mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum plates. You can achieve readable data, product markings, or just alphanumeric characters.

Following are just a few examples:

Ink-Jet Markers

Our Ink-Jet Markers may be used on mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum plates. It uses black ink to mark dot-matrix marks on any plate you can cut. It is a fast, quiet marking with no damage to the plate surface.

Telesis® Pinstamp®

Messer’s Telesis Pinstamp is a marking method that uses a hardened scribe that punches points into the metal, creating deep dot-matrix grooves in the plate that are permanent and difficult to deface. You can paint over the plate material and still see the mark. This process also works on any material you can cut on the CNC cutting table.

Air Scribe

Air Scribe is a high-strength, carbide-reciprocating pin that easily glides across the plate to make marks. The marker can be used on mild steel, stainless steel, and aluminum.

EZ Flow Powder Marker

Our EZ Flow Powder Marker applies a silver line on mild steel by melting zinc powder via the heating flame. Preheated oxygen is supplied to specially directed ports on the marker. The powder spins and enters the tube, traveling to the plate, where the flame causes it to bond to the metal. Colored powder provides a high-contrast line on stainless steel and aluminum.

In Conclusion: Metal Cutting Basics

Messer Cutting Systems’ cutting tables can accommodate metal plate sizes up to 200 feet long and in many widths. Explore our machines page to discover which CNC steel cutting machine is best for your shop.

Our Applications Department has fully trained engineers on staff with many years of experience in the fabrication industry. They’re equipped to answer most questions regarding the cutting and handling of common materials.

If you have questions about matching the right cutting machine to your metal cutting needs please contact our Sales Department to learn more about machines available for purchase.


Messer Cutting Systems, Inc.

W141 N9427 Fountain Blvd.
Menomonee Falls, WI 53051


+1 262-255-5520
+1 262-255-5170
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