Full Spectrum Laser

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General

  • Owner/Loaner: LVL1
  • Serial Number: 2011052503
  • Make/Model: Full Spectrum Laser MLE-40
  • Arrival Date: July 2011
  • Usability: Working
  • Contact: Tyler, Tim M, Chris, Aaron
  • Where: Main space near the makerbot
Small Laser.jpg


Safety information and training

Please be familiar with all of this safety information before using the laser cutter. Improper use will result in destruction of the laser.

  • Please speak to one of the people who is experienced with this laser cutter before using it so we can show you where everything is, how to setup the software, how to use it without breaking it, basic safety tips, etc.
  • Read the instructions first. Manual
  • Always make sure the water pump and air assist are running before operating the laser! A failure of the water pump will destroy the laser.
  • Never operate the laser cutter unattended. Because sometimes things catch fire. A CO2 fire extinguisher is kept next to the laser to put out small fires. Again, NEVER STEP AWAY WHILE THE LASER CUTTER IS OPERATING. You must be nearby and undistracted in order to stop the laser cutter in an emergency.
  • Only use the E-stop in the case of an emergency. Usually this means things are on fire. To stop the laser in the case of material positioning or other non-emergency, cancel the job in the Retina Engrave software. If the E-stop has been implemented, stop all laser jobs and turn off the laser before unsetting the E-stop. Failure to do this will fry the electronics and has happened before.
  • Never turn the current up above 15 milliamps, as indicated on the analog meter. Exceeding 15mA will destroy the laser tube quickly. The multi-turn potentiometer should rarely, if ever, be adjusted. Power percentages below 100% of the 15mA can be adjusted in the Retina Engrave software.
  • If little flames shoot up off of your material, turn down the power. Little flames can start fires and will fog up the lens, which is difficult to clean. Flames will also melt the laser's plastic rollers and cause problems traversing the X-axis until they are replaced.
  • It is easy to make the laser head bang against the side or top of the unit. This causes an awful noise and must be very bad for the gears. If the laser cutter makes a banging noise, stop it immediately and reposition the laser head before the next cut, or resize the artwork.
  • Do not cut plastics which create hazardous fumes when burned. Acrylic is ok. PVC and vinyl releases the very toxic gas phosgene when heated. Cutting ABS produces cyanide gases. As a general rule, chemical resistant plastics should not be put in the laser cutter. If you are not 100% certain your material is safe, you must verify it first. Try the test video or this identification chart[1].
  • Be very careful with the silver honeycomb, especially when removing it from the machine to clean little bits of debris off of it. It bends very easily and once bent can not be straightened out completely. It is mostly a cosmetic issue, but pressing your thumb in the wrong place will cause permanent marks.
  • Do not laser materials that make an excessive amount of smoke. A little smoke is ok, but a large amount can fog up the lens. If it is making a lot of smoke, use more passes at a lower power.
  • When cutting paper, turn down the power to a couple milliamps, or it will catch fire.

Non-commercial and Commercial Use

  • LVL1 provides use of our laser cutter free of charge for non-commercial use as a public resource. The laser tube has a limited lifetime, but LVL1 pays for the cost of replacement tubes as part of our standard space maintenance costs. We hope this encourages creative use of this fantastic tool, without getting bogged down in accounting. Please note that this is considered 'non-excessive usage within reason'. Excessive, monopolizing, or dangerous use of the Full Spectrum Laser may mean members politely ask you to stop using it or help pay the costs of laser tube replacement.
  • For commercial use of our laser (i.e. lasering something that you plan to sell), it is expected that you reimburse LVL1 for your laser time at $1 per minute of operation.

Maintenance

  • NEVER use paper towels or other abrasives to clean the mirrors, as it will scratch them. Scratched mirrors will dramaticly reduce the laser's cutting power. Only use alcohol and cotton swabs. Check with the area host if you are unsure.

Settings for Cuts

Check near the laser for a clipboard and sample bin with various material laser settings. These have been compiled by members through trial-and-error, and is fairly complete. Here are some settings that I believe to be working for various types of materials

  1. Plexiglass (.08 thick) Cut: 100% power, 30% speed, 1 pass
  2. Plexiglass (.20 thick) Cut: 100% power, 30% speed, 3 passes
  3. Masonite (1/8" thick) Cut: 50% power, 50% speed, 5 passes (it really smokes and stinks)
  4. Coroplast (1/8") Cut: 50% power, 50% speed, 4 passes. (You need a knife to finish cutting the corrugated flutes. Any more passes and you get back scatter on the bottom surface.
  5. Plywood (1/8" thick from Michaels) Cut 100% power, 30% speed, one pass (NOTE: Best success if you set the focus height at the center of the thickness rather than the top surface.)
  6. Plexiglass (.08 glued to .20 with super glue ) Cut: 100% power, 20% speed, 4 passes. (NOTE: Set focal height to center of thickness rather than top surface.)

Settings for Raster Engrave

  1. Plywood (1/8 thick from Michaels) 50% speed, 500 dpi, 1 pass


Things you can put in the laser cutter

  • Paper (cardstock could have additives that should not go in the cutter, test a sample)
  • Acrylic and several other plastics
  • Wood (careful of fire, treated wood could have additives)
  • Cotton
  • Many other fabrics (moleskin books can have high chlorine content)
  • Cell phones (check for chlorine in the plastic)
  • Laptops (check for chlorine in the plastic)
  • Leather
  • Glass
  • Anodized/coated metal
  • Chocolate

Things you should not put in the laser cutter

  • Anything containing chlorine
  • ABS
  • PVC (this includes Moleskine notebooks)
  • Lexan
  • Vinyl
  • Bare metal
  • Animals
  • People
  • Butane lighters
  • Gasoline or other liquids
  • Any powder (the compressed air will blow it away)

If you are unsure, check if your material to see if it contains bad PVCs

http://vimeo.com/1615418

http://www.chymist.com/Polymer%20Identification.pdf

How to use the freakin' laser

1. Turn the power strip under the table. This powers the laser, water pump and air pump.

2. Make sure the water pump is on. (You can feel the 5 gal. bucket vibrate)

3. Verify the water pump is on. The laser tube will crack in 30 seconds if the water pump is not on.

4. If the water pump is off GO BACK TO STEP 2.

5. Make sure the air compressor is on.

6. Reset the emergency stop button.

7. Turn the key to the on position.

8. Rejoice in the light (the florescent light should be on)

9. Read this --> File:Laser Presentation.pdf (some items don't apply this was written by another hackerspace)

Do

  1. Check for water flow on startup
  2. Make sure exhaust fan is running
  3. Check for fires and put them out ;) 

Don't

 1.  Ever leave the laser unattended (see fires above)
 2.  Turn off the “Air” button. That needs to be on to protect the lens
 3.  Laser on Vinyl, PVC, Sintra (will produce corrosive and toxic gases)
 4.  Cut metals (it won't work)
 5.  Bump or touch the mirrors or lenses (will put the machine out of alignment or damage optics)

Docs

Lasercutter/V4 Full Spectrum Laser 40W|Full Spectrum Laser 4th Generation 40W CO2 Laser Engraver - Deluxe Model


Software

Any program can print to the laser cutter, I had success using Inkscape and Gimp. Gimp is not very good for doing vector cuts, a major limitation. Inkscape is not the easiest software to learn but it is not difficult either.

RetinaEngrave (Windows)

Requirements

Windows XP or Windows 7

Supported formats/modes

How to install

  • Download and install USB drivers
  • Download and install RetinaEngrave
  • Download and install Direct Print drivers

How to use

Rastor

  • Get an image, any format
  • Load the image into The Gimp and make any necessary changes
  • Start RetinaEngrave
  • Print the image to the Full Spectrum Engineering Driver
  • Switch to RetinaEngrave. Set the speed to 75% or less. Press Go.

Vector

  • Get an image, any format
  • Load the image into The Gimp and make any necessary changes
  • Copy the image to the clipboard
  • Start Inkscape and create a new A4 Landscape document
  • Paste the image into the new document
  • Select all. Go to the Path menu and select Trace Bitmap
  • Print the image to the Full Spectrum Engineering Driver
  • Switch to RetinaEngrave. Select the Vector tab.
  • Set the speed on the right hand side. Press Go.

Inkscape Notes

  • You can import a bitmap and trace it (Path->Trace Bitmap)
  • Hit F2 to Edit Path by Nodes. Spend some time getting used to using this feature and all the nuances of node editing such as adding and subtracting nodes.
  • Use Path -> Break apart to be able to select and remove double lines
  • VERY IMPORTANT!!! If you add text to vector cut, be sure to Path->Object to Path on the text or the vector side of Retina Engrave will hang!
  • Save often. Inkscape crashes occasionally!
  • Use the Bezier Curves and Straight Lines (Pen tool) to draw vectors easily.
  • Take advantage of grids and snap
  • If you have something that you may want to cut again, you can use Retina Engrave to save your job. It works well and then you do not have to reopen Inkscape.

ctrl-cut

Amir Hassan and Marius Kintel are working on open source laser cutter drivers through the CUPS interface. Primarily they're working on getting it operational with an Epilog cutter, but would like to expand past that soon.

Quirks

  • If your PC is connected to the laser cutter with the usb cable, and you have the RetinaEngrave software and drivers installed, and you still can't get the machine to acknowledge you (e.g. you try to press the "jog" buttons and the laser head doesn't move) try these things:
    • There is a button between the "jog right" and "jog left" button. It shifts between UNLOCK and LOCK. Toggel it and try again!
    • There is a big red emergency stop button on top of the laser cutter. It might be pressed down, which means the machine won't work. Press it again.
  • It is easy to make the laser head bang against the side or top of the unit. Don't let it do that.
  • If you are doing a raster engrave, you can not set the speed too high. Here is some artwork on paper, raster engrave, 250 dpi 85% speed: [2]. Here is the same image at 71% speed: [3]

At 500 dpi, 75% speed was too much. 72% was also too fast. I also saw the problem at 250 dpi 71% and 1000 dpi 65%. Full spectrum engineering said on Feb 25 that this problem is caused by the belt being too tight. [4]

  • You don't need to watch the laser every single second, but you should at least stay in the little room while it's on and keep a general eye on it. Why? Because if you're using something burnable, there's a chance it can catch fire. Which is bad.
  • Turn off the machine when not in use. The air pump gets hot if left on for long periods. It is not quite hot enough to cause a problem, but it will last longer if it is not always on, and turning it off will keep dust from accumulating inside the laser unnecessarily.


Tips

  • Before putting your material into the laser cutter, test your image on paper. If you don't test on paper first you will ruin a lot of the material you are cutting. Once it looks good on paper you can place your material on the paper so you know it is positioned properly, and refocus if the material is thick.
  • When engraving raster images, they go much faster if you use a lower DPI. The lowest setting is 250 DPI and that is enough for most things. Use higher DPI only with high resolution images and with materials that show the difference.

Finger boxes

http://www.frag-den-spatz.de/index.php?menue=/shop/menue.htm&page=/shop/boxgenerator/fingerbox.html

http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:845



Cutting power / speeds

** There is a list floating around laser cutter with setting that have been tested **

The best way to use the laser is with a vector image. You will have more control over power and speed.

NYCR's Laser Power table

  • Typing paper - 100% speed, 3 milliamps
  • 2mm acrylic - 25% speed, 8 milliamps
  • 5/8ths inch acrylic - 1% speed, 12 milliamps, 2 passes
  • Plastic with metalic coating - 5 - 7 milliamps rastor, 3 ma vector
  • Linen - 70% speed, 4 milliamps, 1 pass

Specifications

  • Maximum material size: 13" x 16"
  • Maximum engravable area: 9.5" x 14.5"
  • Maximum material thickness: 2.75"
  • CO2 Laser Wavelength: 10.6um
  • Maximum Laser Power: 40W

Discussion

On the Discussion page!

Laser cutter purchase discussion is here http://wiki.lvl1.org/Laser_Cutter2

Maintenance Log

  • 04/18/2014 - Maintenance log created.