Category:Laser Cutter

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Zone Information
Laser Zone 5-1-14.jpg
Zone Name Laser Cutter
Zone Slogan PEW PEW PEW!!!!1!
Zone Coordinator(s) Mike Fink
Zone E-mail laser@i3detroit.org
Map Area G
Zone Color Yellow


Welcome

Welcome to the Laser zone! The zone contains 2 almost identical laser cutters, each with a 4'x3' bed. They are located on the west wall of the shop, you can't miss them!

Training Required

To be authorized to use Bumblebee or Wolverine, you must complete two training sessions (at least) with two different trainers. The first should be an intro to using the lasers and the LaserCut software (often a group session). In the second you should be able to demonstrate to the trainer that you understand how to use the laser cutters effectively and, more importantly, safely. Between trainings, you're encouraged to review the info here, observe others using the laser, ask questions, etc. Guests may be trained and authorized to use the lasers, but they must be accompanied by another current member who is also authorized to use the lasers.

Equipment

Equipment Authorization Owner(s) Status
Laser Cutter - Wolverine Yes Roger Slykhouse Running
Laser Rotary Wheel Attachment Yes i3Detroit Running
Laser Rotary Chuck Attachment Yes i3Detroit Running
Laser Zone Vent Fan No i3Detroit Running
Laser Zone Ceiling Fan No i3Detroit Running
Laser Power Meter Yes i3Detroit Running
Laser Cutter - Bumblebee Yes i3Detroit Running
Strip Heater No i3Detroit Running

Laser Cutters

Two nearly identical G. Weike 150 Watt laser cutters with 1200mm x 900mm cutting area, Bumblebee & Wolverine

Laser PCs

Two PCs (one desktop, one laptop) with

  • LaserCut and Inkscape installed
  • "SoftDog" USB software license dongle, which is required to start LaserCut and send files to the laser cutter
  • Network connection to the local i3 fileshare
  • Shortcut to access the Adobe_VM to use software such as Illustrator and Photoshop

Materials Storage

  • Grey Drawers by BumbleBee: Store small scraps intended for open use in the appropriately labeled drawer.
  • Rack under the BumbleBee desk: Store medium sized pieces here. Pieces should be labeled with member name, email, and date of storage. Unlabeled pieces are assumed to be for open use, and may be culled from time to time.
  • Storage for larger sheet goods is in the Wood Shop A-frame and sheet goods racks.

Choosing Materials

The laser cutter can cut or etch a wide variety of materials. However some are not possible to cut with our current set-up, and other materials are dangerous - they release fumes that damage humans or the laser cutter itself. There are some materials that cannot be cut, only etched.

You are responsible for knowing exactly what your material is before you try to cut it. DO NOT cut any of the banned materials. You are liable for expensive damage to the machine or worse - you may release toxic fumes that could easily harm or kill!.

DO NOT CUT

  1. Materials that contain a high proportion of glue (such as particle board)
  2. Plastics (or any other materials) that contain chlorine (such as all varieties of vinyl like PVC).media:LaserProcessingGuide_Plastics.pdf A trace amount of chlorine, such as found in the glue in thin plywood or the resin of medium density fiberboard, is acceptable. Particle board has too much glue. You are responsible to know whether there is chlorine in your material before you try to cut it.
  3. ABS Plastics and NBR (nitrile) - while they do not contain chlorine, when laser'd they give off Hydrogen Cyanide gas. While not necessarily damaging to the equipment, this gas is used in pesticides and is classified as a chemical weapon. (Not good.)
  4. "Plexiglass" - please be sure that it is acrylic and not polycarbonate. Look along the cut edge of the material, from the side. Polycarbonate is dark on this area; acrylic is light. Polycarbonate is one of the most dangerous materials you could try to laser. It instantly starts producing yellow, acrid, toxic fumes which will corrode your lungs, and the mechanisms and lens of the laser. When the lens clouds up with these fumes, it may reflect the laser back into the machine, which may melt the head and set the machine on fire. You may not be able to reach the fire extinguisher due to what is in your lungs. Both these outcomes will upset the community.
  5. PTFE (Teflon) will release Fluorine gas, which when inhaled by humans causes flu-like symptoms, and when mixed with hydrogen (in the atmosphere) will create hydrofluoric acid. This is corrosive and will fog up the optics of the laser.

Most dense materials can normally be cut up to about thicknesses of 3/8 to 1/2 inch in a single, slow pass. Some thicker materials can be with multiple passes. The thickest that can be practically cut through is about 1 inch (or 25 millimeters), since the focal point of the laser is just a little more than half an inch below the nozzle. You will have to get creative to cut anything thicker, such as cutting half way through, flipping the object over, and perfectly realigning it to cut from the other side.

Materials List

Material Cut? Etch? Mark? Notes
ABS Plastic
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Acrylic (Plexiglass) Yes Yes Yes for cutting 2mm (300 speed, 100 power, corner 50)
Basswood 3/16" Yes Yes Yes cut 30, corner 20, speed 120
Ceramic No
Yes
Yes
Cloth
Yes
Yes
No

Chipboard
Yes
Yes
Yes
for cutting 1-ply (120 speed, 100 power, corner 50) for scoring 1-ply (160 speed, 30 power, 20 corner)
Delrin Yes
Yes
Yes

Glass No
Yes
Yes

Leather Yes
Yes
Yes

Human flesh BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
(yes, this has come up )
Marble No
Yes
Yes

Matte Board Yes
Yes
Yes

MDF Yes
Yes
Yes
Speed 10, Power 100, Corner Power 50 to cut 1/4" material
Melamine Yes
Yes
Yes

Model Foam
Yes
Yes
Maybe
(expanded polystyrene)
Mylar
Yes
Yes
No

Metals
Yes
Yes
Yes
Very thin (>0.02 inch) steel can be cut at speed 1-2, power 100, 40 psi shop air assist
Metals - Painted
Yes
Yes
Yes
See Metals.
Nitrile (NBR)
BANNED BANNED BANNED see above
Particle board
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Paper
Yes
Yes
No
Speed 400, Power 30, Corner Power 16 to cut bristol board with high resolution (small kerf)

Speed 200, Power 30, Corner Power 16 to cut bristol board with low resolution-across long edges

Plywood
Yes
Yes
Yes
We've even recently had success with 3/4" birch plywood at speed 2.5, power 100, 20 PSI. though better luck might be had with lower power, higher speed, and several passes.
Polycarbonate (Lexan, Plexi, etc.)
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Polystyrene sheet Yes Yes No Also known as Styrene, and used in the Vacuum Former. The 0.03" sheets cut easily at speed 50, power 100, corner power 60.
PTFE (Teflon)
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Rubber (non-chlorine containing)
Yes
Yes
No

Tile
No
Yes
Yes

Vinyl or PVC of any kind
BANNED
BANNED
BANNED
see above
Wood, veneer
Yes
Yes
Yes

Wood, natural
Yes
Yes
Yes

Wood, Plywood, Birch - 1/8" thick
Yes
Yes
Yes
Cut - 40 (First pass, minimal char, some stray strands.)

External references on laserable materials

Using the laser cutters

Getting your design ready

You will need access to vector graphics software to design your parts. So far, DXF files seem to work the least-bad of the various vector filetypes, so use them. LaserCut is good for putting finished art into the laser, but barely adequate for designing art.

Using LaserCut software

Setting up the software on your personal laptop
Importing vector graphic files
Basic design set-up
Sending your file to the laser cutter

Setting cutting speed & power

See the Materials List for material-specific parameters

In general:

  • The 2 main settings for cutting are speed and power.
  • If your material isn't cutting through, decrease the speed and/or increase the power. (after checking that everything is set-up/aligned properly)
  • Lower speeds allow for lower cutting power, which saves life on the laser tube.
  • Lower speeds also cut a wider "kerf" (thickness of cut) through the material.
  • At higher speeds the cut is faster but requires higher power, which uses up the laser tube faster.
  • Corner power should be set below to the regular power to reduce the power going around a corner. This makes up for the fact that the laser decelerates around the corner for better control. (Lower speed at the same power would result in a higher effective power in the corners otherwise, making the corners look bad).
  • High power on wood and paper may cause some discoloration near the cuts (browning color from burned material).

Cutting Parts on the Laser Cutter

Time-of-cut Checklist for Bumblebee

Other References

FAQ

A list of commonly asked questions

If I have a jpeg file, how do I etch it on a piece of acryllic?
The easiest way is to import the jpeg file into the LaserCut software, then put it on an engrave layer.
If I set speed on LaserCut, what does the SPEED % mean on the display of the Laser Cutter?
The speed on the Laser cutter screen is irrelevant. When uploading files manually (Without the LaserCut software) this is where you change your speed/power. However, LaserCut handles all of this for you, and the cutter will follow your settings from the program, regardless of what they are set for on the cutter itself.
I have a jpeg of a line drawing. How can I cut a piece of acryllic using that line drawing?
It is recommended that you upload the image into a vector art program (ie: Illustrator, Inkscape) and trace the into tool paths. If you try to cut the jpeg directly, the cutter will also try to cut the artifacts in the image and not only extend your cut time, but also create the potential of ruining your image.
Do I need training to use the Laser Cutter? If so, how do I get it?
Yes, use of the laser cutters must requires you to be a member and either training, or the supervision of a trained operator. If you would like to be trained, or need assistance, you may either contact the zone wardens, or one of the trained operators listed (both on the wiki and in the zone) and a time can be set up.
Why do we have 2 Laser Cutters?
When the lasers were originally purchased, we received a huge discount by ordering multiple. (Three were actually ordered. The third is located with our friends, Sector67.) After the funds were raised for the actual purchase (via a kick-starter), one of our members contributed the funds necessary to purchase all three units. As a result, Bumblebee is owned by the space, Wolverine is owned by Roger S., and the third was purchased/is owned by Sector67 in Madison, Wisconsin.
LaserCut is demanding that the dongle be re-installed, even though the dongle is plugged into the normal laser cutter laptop! How can I fix it?
Make sure the USB hub with the dongle is plugged into the side port, not the back port, of the laptop. Windows XP is apparently picky about which USB port drivers are installed to.
How can I tell how much my job is going to cost?
The best way to estimate cost is to run the job on the machine with the power set to 0. Unless you're doing something really complicated, the laser time probably won't cost you more than a few bucks. Some people try to use the LaserCut software to estimate cost based on path length, but there are many complications with this method. The laser will decelerate around corners and curves, so the head speed is not constant. Since we charge based on total run time as measured on the machine's UI, which includes the non-cut transits, path length means effectively nothing.

TODO List

Recurring Tasks

Task Name Description Frequency
Check chiller water levels Check water levels in chillers and refill with distilled water as needed (see the gauge on the back of the chiller) Potlock
Clean chiller dust filters Remove the chiller cases and clean out their dust filters Potlock
Cull scrap materials Sort scrap materials in grey drawers and under Bumblebee's desk into "Usable - keep as is", "Usable - needs trimming” and "Too small to keep.” Throw the latter in the dumpster, and for pieces that need trimming, cut unuseful sections off with the band saw. Sort pieces to be kept into their respective drawers or back under the desk. Guidelines: keep wood items larger than ~50in² and acrylics larger than 15in². Smaller colored acrylics may be kept too. Other materials, use your judgement or ask. Potlock
Thoroughly vacuum out debris Vacuum out all of the debris that accumulates in the back and sides of the cutting chamber, as well as all of the debris that has fallen below the laser bed. Potlock
Sweep underneath each laser Sweep out whatever debris has fallen on the floor underneath each laser. Some of this might be useful tools or other items that have gotten lost, so look things over before immediately tossing everything in the trash. Potlock
Clean dust filters on intake fans Remove and clean the small dust filter on the 120mm case fan on the left side of each laser. Monthly?
Clean optics and level the bed Please only attempt these if you've been trained to do them. As needed

Long Term

Task Name Description Priority Champion
Reconfigure Bumblebee Desk The scrap material storage area under the desk is awful and ends up a pile of crap way too quickly. The zone items stored on the floor under the desk don't necessarily need to be stored in bins there, since the set of drawers by Wolverine is now pretty functional zone storage. The whole area under the desk could be rebuilt as better material storage for small-to-medium sized sheet goods. 6
Add proper limit switches to Bumblebee Currently, the laser only knows it's position in software, based on initial homing. If this glitches for some reason, which it can be prone to do, the gantry will crash, which is Bad. The functionality for proper "STOP when you reach this point" limit switches exists on the laser controller so this could be done with 4 limit switches and some wiring--some of which will have to run through the flexible wire bundle that moves with the gantry. 1

Media in category "Laser Cutter"

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