Greg Collins

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DIY LASER CUTTER: IS IT A GOOD IDEA?

 

diy laser cutting machineAt a distance many will say that laser cutters aren’t that easy to build – even for a diy’er. But, you’d be surprised by how easy it is to really build one.  It may not be quality but you’ll learn a lot.  Not to mention how cheap it can be as compared to buying one from an online retailer…or worse buying direct from China.

Also, I’ll make this clear right up front…

I’d strongly encourage you to build a small laser cutter before ever buying one direct from China.  Horror stories abound for those that take the risk.  Sadly most only think the risk is a loss of money, time, support, or quality of the laser.  But, more important that that understand this:  China laser cutters are often made with counterfeit components.  I mean if you’re a China supplier – that’s what you do.  (I sound like a Geico commercial).  But, producing counterfeit (whether it’s done willfully or ignorantly)  is at epidemic proportions for any type of product made in China.

But, seriously I’ve listened to stories of innocent, hard working, DIY’ers wanting to save a buck go ahead and order a machine from an Alibaba approved laser cutting supplier (typically because of the price) and it end up costing them a fortune.

How’s that?

If at the border the CBP decides to pop the hood on your imported hobby laser from XYZ company in Jinan and happens to find a UL or CE symbol on any of the components –  He’ll run that accession number through his computer system and if it doesn’t track back to your supplier…as the importer you’ll be held accountable for importing counterfeit laser equipment.  And let me tell you.  Not only will you lose the machine, you’ll be responsible for the storage fees while they hold it and then FINE you as the importer.  Of course you’ll need a customs attorney to mitigate the fines, but it will be expensive.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know or it was the exporters fault – Tough Luck. The CBP won’t care and will absolutely hold you accountable. And you will be dearly.

So, that’s why unless you really know, have visited, and have experience with your China supplier –  Never buy a laser cutter direct from China – ever. Period.

So let’s just get straight to it.

Why make one yourself?

No matter what someone says the facts remain the same. The technology behind lasers isn’t any secret, light is basically energy, focus it on a single point and you’re increasing the energy that point is absorbing. Turn the power up and it’ll start heating, keep turning the knobs and you’ll be getting rid of anything that the light beam touches.

So what’s stopping everyone from making one? It takes time and a bit of money. Companies don’t just ask you for the $8k – $10k amount because they want to milk it all, to be honest even making a 100W laser cutter at your home is going to cost around $7k according to Lasersaur’s starter manual.

If you’re really serious about working on a homemade laser cutter then make sure read their manual and follow the links, they’re quire thorough.

There are however several other reasons for pursuing the idea as well, whether it be just your own interest in the field or perhaps you want to save some money or you just don’t want to give your money up to the corporations, regardless of your motivations; building a laser cutter is fun.

The pros and cons

Nearly every activity in our lives has a pros and cons list behind it, whether we acknowledge it is our choice but the fact remains that even when you’re crossing the road you make a small pros and cons list in your mind. Then you decide not to cross it because the cons list only says “You can die”, no matter how long the pros list is. That one singular point matters more to you than everything else.

So why not do the same for this activity? We’ll help you up a little.

The cons

Our reason for listing these before the positive aspects is simple. You should be aware of the negative aspects of what you’re getting into.

  • It’ll take time. It’s not as simple as ordering one online because you’ll be building it up yourself.
  • It might cost more than what you were hoping for. Mistakes do happen.

Building up a laser cutter isn’t easy. Among the things you’ll have to do is cutting wood, certain metals, connecting wires, doing tests etc. As far as money is concerned however, you should be prepared for some surprised along the way just in case, unless you’re amazing at following instructions and have a good experience with handling tools, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. These mistakes are going to cost you; literally.

Don’t forget the fact that if you’ve never done this before. You’ll need all the time that you can find because this isn’t just something that you can get ready in an hour or two. You’ll need to be devoted to it because it will seem like a very complicated and slow process. It’s worth it.

The pros

Let’s get to the real part.

  • You’ll be saving some money.
  • You’ll be learning quite a lot about how this stuff works.
  • The looks, it’s all about the looks.

It’s not just straight up production costs. Of course you’ll be spending less money than what would cost you if you had bought a brand new one. But most of the money you’ll save will be over the course of time that you use the cutter. You won’t have to pay anyone to repair it if something goes wrong, you’ll be able to get your replacement parts yourself instead of any middle man; so no overbilling (it does happen).

But the best part is that you’ll have full control over the design, you’ll be able to change anything that you don’t like about the design during the building process. So instead of having to buy an $8000 cutter, then spending even more on design alterations. You’ll be getting the combo package.

Check this link on Wired:  http://www.wired.com/2012/10/diy-laser-cutter/

Reviews

Buyers have looked at Epilog and Trotec and have shyed away from the over bearing price tag.  Honestly, metal laser tubes aren’t as reliable and terribly expensive to maintain, repair, or replace.   Whereas, there are smaller companies offering hobbyists lower cost alternatives such as Full Spectrum Laser or Cheap CNC.  Prices are significantly less but read forums and you’ll find honest reviews of FS Laser.  It’s far better to take a little time prior to purchasing or building a DIY cutting machine in the beginning than spending too little on a machine that can cost you time an money to fix and repair all the time.  I would advise not going too cheap.

Should you be looking to further upgrade to a better quality laser but don’t want to pay for a 100% US manufactured machine you can also buy a ‘made in the USA’ hybrid co2 laser cutter.   Some US companies will import a laser machine they 100% designed in house but have it built overseas.  They’ll be careful to maintain US manufacturing standards.  They’ll also typically add their own critical components i.e laser power, power supply, software, etc.  The lesser parts will originate from overseas.  The end result is you get an imported machine that uses the best components especially those that make your laser machine really sing.

By |January 7th, 2017|Categories: cutting||0 Comments

What Can You Cut with A Laser?

laser cut steelMost people think that laser machinery is only applicable to industrial manufacturing applications.  However, more of these machines are becoming popular with saavy DIY’ers and small businesses as well.  In my day  I went to wood working class whereas today laser cutters are what’s getting school kids excited…or at least we’re getting their attention.

Cutting materials with a CO2 laser is a technology that makes use of  CO2 gases that are now used to make precision cuts in all types of organic and metallic materials.  You can find them in schools, Universities,  hobbyists garages, small business, and larger industries.  Cutting  material is accomplished by a pc with a laser interface that can take image files and “print” to the laser which simply tells the laser engrave or cut. Under the cutting process the material is melted, or removed, vaporized or – whooo!  Blown away by compressed gases leaving an impressive,  high-quality finished edge. Most industrial laser cutting machines have the capability of cutting flat material as well as cylindrical shaped items through the use of a rotary attachement


Laser Services


Making sure that you put your laser cutting machine through regular routine laser service is paramount to prolonging the life of your cutting device. Laser servicing also ensures that your laser is calibrated at all times, so that you get a clean cut whenever you need it. Performing a laser service and taking preventative maintenance will keep the downtime of your machine at an absolute minimum, while also improving the efficiency and reliability of your machine. If you schedule your maintenance beforehand your business will have no more than a day or two down time, which depends on the model of the machine you own.


Laser Cutters


There are three main types of laser cutters and engravers sold for commercial use. These are, mainly, identical in look and style, but differ greatly in the application of use. The three types of laser cutting machines are C02, Nd and Nd/YAG. C02 laser cutting machines are used for boring, cutting, scribing and engraving, among other light duty tasks. The Nd (which stands for Neodymium) is used for boring with high energy pulses, and low repetition speeds. Nd-YAG (stands for Neodymium doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet) is used in more powerful applications like where high pressure pulses are needed like deep boring, trimming and engraving. 


Laser Cut Acrylic


When you think of cutting acrylic you might be inclined to believe that it is easy to cut, and you will not be wrong. Making a laser cut in acrylic basically requires the setting of speed and maximum laser output. However, if you want to generate a clean, tidy, quality cut, you need to select your cutting parameters very specifically. For instance, if you were to drop the speed of your cut you will end up with a better quality cut. However, if you were to slow it down too much your cut will end up being too wide and extend towards the bottom of the cut. There are a number of other parameters to consider and these include the focus of the laser and the focus length used. Also, you need to watch the gas flow, which should be set as low as possible to keep your cut clean.


Laser Cutting Wood


If you want to get a clean edge when laser cutting wood, high processing speeds are a must. If your processing speed is set too low you risk burning the edge of your cut object. The temperature of the edge is dropped naturally with the escape of sublime smoke that is released when the wood is being cut. However, you can lower the temperature of the cut edge more by introducing compressed air in your cutting processing, allowing the air to blow directly onto the edge as the laser cuts into the wood. Although, many artists who work with wood have successfully used the “burned edge” effect in their products as part of the design.


Laser Cut Stainless Steel


When it comes to CO2 – processing or cutting metal or stainless steel or even thin sheet metal is probably the most common application in the laser industry.  There are many different uses and reasons for laser cutting steel, but most  is done using a fiber laser, yag, or C02 laser machines.  The issue is the thicker the steel the more power is necessary which can make the price of a laser cutter rather expensive.  This is especially true with fiber laser technology. As with wood cutting, lasering through steel will produce high heat volumes, which is why many companies needing thicker steel laser cuts do so by introducing water into the cutting process. You can submerge the steel into water, however, if the cut is going to be performed on a large steel sheet the water application needs to be compressed and sprayed onto the surface as the cut takes place. This application successfully keeps the temperature of the sheet manageable thus producing a quality cutting edge.

References:

http://www.thomasnet.com/articles/custom-manufacturing-fabricating/laser-cutting-machines

 

 

By |August 25th, 2014|Categories: cutting||0 Comments