Fix the LaserCutter
RetinaEngrave USB Laser Engraving Processor Replacement
Update on the Lasercutter -
- Casey gives some great tips on how to fix the lasercutter without blowing $500 https://www.noisebridge.net/pipermail/noisebridge-discuss/2013-June/037777.html
- 1st week of July 2013 - Martin will help by checking out the RetinaEngrave board - https://www.noisebridge.net/pipermail/noisebridge-discuss/2013-June/037774.html
I took a look. The Mini-USB connector has been bashed off the board (which is unsurprising - it was pretty precarious to begin with). Of course, it's all surface mount. It needs to be re-soldered by someone who has the skillz. Some of the solder pads are borked too.
RetinaEngrave USB Laser Engraving Processor
- Link to the RetinaEngrave USB Laser Engraving Processor - http://www.fullspectrumengineering.com/RetinaEngrave.html
- Online it costs $449 from FullSpectrum Engineering without support and $749 for the full version with support - payment is over a Google Wallet site
LaserCutter might need a new tube
- April 2013 - Our lasercutter may need a new tube
- Unofficial manual (maintained on this wiki)
- Product Site
- V4 Laser Download Page
- Manual File:FSL 40w Hobby Laser Manual.pdf
- Drivers should be thrown onto Pony and the cutter machine once we get that setup.
- Driver Download
Safety information and training
We should have a bunch of helpful information here on safe operation of the device and who to go to to be trained on its use here.
Here are notes on Laser Cutter Use uploaded on March 9, 2012
- 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
- Never turn the current up above 15 milliamps, that will fry the laser tube quickly. Usually just a few milliamps is more than enough power to do what you want. Using too much power on wood or paper will start a fire. Instead of turning up the power, turn down the speed and/or use multiple passes. Always use the minimum power you can do to the job to prevent unsightly burn marks and extend the life of the laser tube.
- Never operate the laser cutter unattended because sometimes things catch fire. A squirt bottle with water is kept next to the laser to put out small fires. A fire extinguisher is in the corner of the room for larger issues.
- 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.
- 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. As a general rule, chemical resistant plastics should not be put in the laser cutter.
- 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.
Software - Windows - RetinaEngrave
Windows XP or Windows 7
How to install
- Download and install USB drivers
- Download and install RetinaEngrave
- Download and install Direct Print drivers
How to use
- 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.
- Get an image, any format
- Start Inkscape and create a new A4 Landscape document
- Drag the image icon from Winows Explorer into the new document
- Select all. Go to the Path menu and select Trace Bitmap
- Print the image. Select the printer "Full Spectrum Engineering Driver"
- Switch to RetinaEngrave. Select the Vector tab.
- Set the speed on the right hand side. Press Go.
Software - CUPS Driver
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. ctrl-cut
Software - OS X Driver - VisiCut
A possible OS X driver for our laser cutter. https://amedeo.informatik.rwth-aachen.de/groups/visicut/
- Vector fonts with lots of curves can take a long time for RetinaEngrave to process before it starts cutting. For instance, a single 5 letter word in Arial takes only 3 seconds to start in raster but 30 seconds to start in vector. The same word in the Pokimon font takes just 5 seconds to start.
- 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. Togge 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. Twist the button to unpress it.
- 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: . Here is the same image at 71% speed: 
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. 
- 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.
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)
- Many other fabrics (not moleskin books because they can have high chlorine content)
- Cell phones (check for chlorine in the plastic)
- Laptops (check for chlorine in the plastic)
- Anodized/coated metal
- "Speedy-cut" rubber
Things you should not put in the laser cutter
WARNING: Because many plastics are dangerous to cut, it is important to know what kind you are planning to use. Make has a How-To for identifying unknown plastics with a simple process.
|PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride)/vinyl/pleather/artificial leather/Moleskine notebooks||Emits pure chlorine gas when cut!||Don't ever cut this material as it will ruin the optics, cause the metal of the machine to corrode, and ruin the motion control system.|
|Thick ( >1mm ) Polycarbonate/Lexan||Cut very poorly, discolor, catch fire||Polycarbonate is often found as flat, sheet material. The window of the laser cutter is made of Polycarbonate because polycarbonate strongly absorbs infrared radiation! This is the frequency of light the laser cutter uses to cut materials, so it is very ineffective at cutting polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is a poor choice for laser cutting.|
|ABS||Emits cyanide gas and tends to melt||ABS does not cut well in a laser cutter. It tends to melt rather than vaporize, and has a higher chance of catching on fire and leaving behind melted gooey deposits on the vector cutting grid. It also does not engrave well (again, tends to melt).|
|HDPE/milk bottle plastic||Catches fire and melts||It melts. It gets gooey. Don't use it.|
|PolyStyrene Foam||Catches fire||It catches fire, it melts, and only thin pieces cut. This is the #1 material that causes laser fires!!!|
|PolyPropylene Foam||Catches fire||Like PolyStyrene, it melts, catches fire, and the melted drops continue to burn and turn into rock-hard drips and pebbles.|
|Fiberglass||Emits fumes||It's a mix of two materials that cant' be cut. Glass (etch, no cut) and epoxy resin (fumes)|
|Coated Carbon Fiber||Emits noxious fumes||A mix of two materials. Thin carbon fiber mat can be cut, with some fraying - but not when coated.|
|Any powder||the compressed air will blow it away|
|Gasoline or other liquids|
- 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.
- Build a table and shelves for the laser and laser materials
- Collect images that are good to use with the laser cutter
Cutting power / speeds
- 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
- 1/8″ plywood: Regulate the current to just a pinch under 15mA and use 3 Passes / 18.75% Speed / 100% power. The reduced speed (25% to 18.75% – a 25% reduction) seems to account for the needed power, while the reduced number of passes (also a 25% and thus proportional reduction) reduces the excess char that is produced by the laser. (figured out by elijah at noisebridge)
- "Speedy-cut" rubber - Raster: 15% speed, 3 milliamps, 1 pass.
- 1/16 inch basswood, to cut through: 34% speed, 14% power (of 15 milliamps max set on machine), 7 passes
- basswood to etch: 20% speed, 10% power (of 15 milliamps max set on machine), 1 pass
- 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