You can find a helpful quick-start guide here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NWY752a8IuDqy952IMYGUiHUPahH_cP7SLecwrwec8E/edit#heading=h.ll8fqop77zc7
The cutter has an 80W infrared CO2 DC laser, with a 1400mm x 900mm bed. It essentially burns away small portions of material to make its cuts. Designs are created in or imported into LightBurn, which is responsible for tweaking and downloading the design to the laser cutter. Lightburn is installed on the control computer, and is available at a discount to AHA members. The discount code is posted on the laser cutter. The laser is a Jinan TransonCNC 1490A in a 1490B shell, for easier disassembly when it needs to be moved around. It is well suited to precise and repeatable cuts on flat and relatively thin material, such as for art or particular parts. Materials such as paper, certain woods, or acrylic work well, but some simply won't cut, or are dangerous to cut, such as chlorine-containing plastics.
There are 3 main safety issues when using the laser cutter. These are covered in the class that is required to use the laser, but are also covered here.
Because the laser essentially burns material to make its cuts, there is always a risk of fire. Because of this, you must supervise your cuts the entire time, and be prepared to stop the cut if a fire is started. Different materials are at different levels of risk of fire. Very thin materials have the highest risk for fire, although nothing is 100% safe.
In case of fire:
- Hit the Emergency Stop Button.
- Open the hood and remove the work piece from the machine if possible.
- Use your best judgement to put out the fire. Many can be smothered or blown out. Use the loud noise room fire extinguisher to put out the fire if necessary.
Cutting Unsafe Materials
For unsafe materials, simply put, it is dangerous to cut certain materials with the laser cutter. Please consult one of many materials lists, such as the i3 Detroit or ATX Hackerspace lists. This is easy to manage by knowing what your material is made of, and only using safe materials.
Commonly cut materials that behave well are sheets of acrylic (make sure it's meant for laser cutting), and thin woods. Some woods that are hard or oily may be more trouble than they're worth to cut, or may produce excessive amounts of smoke. Other materials like foil-backed paperboard may cut fine from the paper side, and hardly at all from the foil side. Unsafe materials like PVC, and other plastics containing chlorine, are unsafe to cut, as they will produce Chlorine gas when cut. If you accidently cut chlorine containing plastics, it will produce a yellow, acrid gas. Stop the machine and evacuate the room. The volume of chlorine gas produced per second will be low, but could be dangerous to individuals with breathing difficulties. Chronic exposure is also dangerous.
Damaging the Machine
Using the laser cutter involves moving the cutting head around, but hitting the head against the work piece or ramming it into the bed surface can break the cutting head and require expensive repair. Avoiding this just requires paying attention while manually moving the head in the X and Y axes, and being very careful when adjusting the bed height (Z axis) to not ram the head into the work piece or cutter bed. This also means that only your work piece should be in laser when cutting, so that there isn't anything to run into.
Also, the industrial chiller must be running to cool the laser tube. Without cooling the laser cutter should not be used, as the tube can be quickly damaged without cooling.
Cutting some materials can also increase the need for maintenance on the machine. Chlorine gas from vinyl is hazardous to health, but also corrodes the machine. Cutting polycarbonate is not hazardous to health, but does create lots of smoke which settles on the laser tube, mirrors, and on the linear rails.
You must be trained on this LASER before using it. Get trained by taking the class! The class covers all this info, but it is covered here as well.
All necessary components are wired into the surge protector on the back right part of the machine, so turning them on is just a matter of hitting the red switch on the surge protector. This turns on the fan for the exhaust, the industrial chiller, and the laser cutter itself. The computer itself is on a different outlet, and normally just stays on.
When turning the machine on, make sure that the industrial chiller beeps, and that the fan spins up. The chiller will also have a readout on the front of the current water temperature in Celsius.
Everything is safe to turn off by turning off the surge protector, just like turning the machine on. This turns off the cutter, the fan, and the chiller. The computer is generally left on.
The laser cutter can only use vector files for cutting or engraving. Many .svg files are available on the web at sites like https://freesvg.org/ and https://thenounproject.com/ are good options for finding files if you aren't an artist yourself. These files can be opened directly with Lightburn.
It is sometimes useful to have single stroke fonts which can be used with a low power cut instead of the engrave function. Text can be generated using https://www.templatemaker.nl/singlelinetext/ or https://martenjacobs.github.io/LineFont/linefont.html
When making assemblies, you may want to use this script to add joinery to the edges: https://www.instructables.com/Joinery-Joints-for-Laser-Cut-Assemblies/
Maintenance should only be done by experienced and qualified laser lords, or with their supervision. Much routine maintenance is easy and safe to do, but the machine is quite sensitive, and repairs are potentially expensive. If you think that the laser needs maintenance, join our matrix server at chat.allhandsactive.org and contact the Laser Cutter channel. You may also email email@example.com.
Generally the machine periodically needs:
- rails & bearings cleaned and lubricated
- mirrors cleaned
- lens cleaned
- laser tube replaced (as necessary; wear item)
- lower chamber cleaned of cut remnants
- belts and other tidbits replaced as necessary
- cooling water topped off with distilled water, tubing inspected
- fans and electronics blown off with compressed air
- laser power tested
- z-height plunger cleaned of soot
The laser was originally owned by Backyard Brains, and has been donated to AHA when they moved out. Thanks! It was also part of a group order, where i3 Detroit received 2 nearly identical lasers, so their own documentation is very helpful. See their Bumblebee laser cutter wiki page. The controller was upgraded in 2023 to a Ruida RDC6442S. This controller is compatible with two different control softwares,LightBurn, and RDWorks V8. Lightburn is the preferred software and is installed on the control computer. In addition, lightburn is available at a discount to AHA members. The discount code is posted on the laser cutter.
The laser tube and power supply were upgraded , and the rotary drive purchased in 1/23 using a grant funded by the American Rescue Plan Act and distributed by Creative Washtenaw.
1/23 Tube and power supply replaced. Tube measures 90W at full power
- Software Manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9x4RIcqwUojamYxMkswT3EwUWtFVWpwMHpZM0ZRN2hyRFdr/edit?usp=sharing (depreciated)
- Ruida Controller Manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xWPSj5Fq1dYQxb54TRhUhFM0FNFmWPCF/view?usp=share_link
- Machine Manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9x4RIcqwUojbm5tdzI2ZnFmV291anZBS0RaZGlOVXQweUZz/edit?usp=sharing
- Chiller Manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1h4K1ct3wl8PC46AfI-M--XA0x2hsqCWX/view?usp=share_link
- General info from Rabbit Laser: https://rabbitlaserusa.com/ManualsTutorials.html
- Laser Tube TR100 manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WrOQZivYUJCzVdJ0259w4m5ydQ4jitHL/view?usp=drive_link
- HV power supply MP09RBD100ES manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-ekJdmzLyHbe09Wbw4LYApt9CW00_ABm/view?usp=drive_link
- Rotary drive MP09RBD100ES manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WyTftoPQBZbvnM7ik5zNlAbD6n7Ualho/view?usp=drive_link
Put common questions and their answers here!
The i3 Detroit Laser FAQ is a good start/reference.