posts tagged with the keyword ‘lasercutter’

2018.05.04

cohesion3d-020

I just completed the “upgrade” of a Full Spectrum 4th Generation Series 40w Hobby Laser. I replaced the existing Full Spectrum controller with a Cohesion3D Mini controller. I’ll do my best to walk through the process with this post. Some of the photos are terrible (sorry about that!) but hopefully I can explain things in text. If I get time I’ll try to shoot a few new photos or do some illustrations.

Oh, I should probably explain why I wanted to replace the controller. Plenty of people run these laser cutters with the stock control board and use RetinaEngrave software running on Windows. I tried to do this, but it didn’t work. I mean, it would work sometimes, but there were too many failures. I should mention that the previous owner(s) didn’t seem to have any issues, but then, we all know how I get along with Windows. Seriously. I first had to get the Windows PC on a network, and that meant I had to add a USB WiFi dongle, and I’m really not a fan of having old Windows 7 PCs connected to the Internet, but RetinaEngrave requires it. I was also informed that Full Spectrum requires new owners to “re-license” the software at $300. Uh, nope.

So besides me not wanting to use software that was possibly going to cost me $300, and Windows freaking out and ruining etching jobs, I thought replacing the controller and using other software seemed like a good idea. It also meant that if I did it right I could ditch Windows and actually use a Mac (or Linux PC) to do my laser cutting.

The Cohesion3D Mini board can function as a drop-in replacement for those cheap Chinese K40 laser cutters. The FSL 4th Gen is not a K40, but it’s similar in some ways, and I’d found others that seemed to have done the upgrade in the Google+ Cohesion3D Group.

cohesion3d-002

Above is the stock Full Spectrum control board. There are 4 connectors for limit switches at the top, 2 connectors for the stepper motors on the right, and the “Laser Connector” on the bottom. The metal plate is what the board was mounted to. I was able to reuse the plate by just drilling some new holes that matched the hole pattern of the Cohesion3D board.

cohesion3d-003

The orange shapes in the photo above show the holes the FSL board was using. I’ve X’d them out with a black marker so I knew they were the “old” holes.

cohesion3d-004

Here’s the Cohesion3D board, oriented so the USB port is on the left so it will stick out the slot in the side of the laser cutter body (just like the stock FSL board did.) I marked where the holes needed to be drilled and then…

cohesion3d-005

I drilled two holes. Luckily I was able to use the two preexisting holes on the left, so I only had to drill the other two. The standoffs used on the original board worked find with the Cohesion3D board, and I was able to attach it easily.

cohesion3d-006

Okay! the Cohesion3D board is now mounted in place, so the next task is to move over all the connections from the old board. Luckily I labeled them all before I removed them. I highly recommend you label them and take some photos to show how they were connected.

cohesion3d-007

The limit switches connected to the FLS board with a 4 pin connector that was “GND X Y GND” and the Cohesion3D has two separate connectors for the X and Y limit switches. I used some M/F jumper wires stuck into the existing connector and then routed to the appropriate connectors on the Cohesion3D board.

cohesion3d-008

I matched up the GND and SIG wires for the limit switches. Note that I just grabbed some random colors of whatever M/F jumpers I had on hand. With just 4 wires simply connected I’m not too concerned with color coding or labels.

cohesion3d-009

The next step was to take the 6 pin connector that plugged into the FLS board and remove the 4 wires in it. I did this by pressing against the tab of the metal connector with a small screwdriver until I could slide them out by pulling gently on them.

cohesion3d-010

Once I got the wires out I had to modify the connector, first cutting it down to be just 4 pins wide instead of 6 so it would fit in the Cohesion3D board.

cohesion3d-012

I used a utility knife to press down on the connector and cut off an end with two connectors. This worked, but I think a saw would have been a better option. (Sorry for the poor photo!) One thing to notice in the photo is a triangular wedge part on the connector. We need to remove that because we’ll rotate the connector 180 degrees for the Cohesion3D board.

cohesion3d-013

Another poor photo, but hopefully you can see the bottom part of the connector has the triangle wedge thing removed. I put it on the belt sander until it was gone.

cohesion3d-014

I had to determine which wire was which so I could line them up properly, so I removed the other end of the connector, which was on the power supply. I couldn’t quite see through the plastic to figure out the order, so I used a multimeter to check each end to figure out the wiring.

cohesion3d-015

On this machine:

  • 24V was red
  • GND was yellow
  • 5V was blue
  • Line/Laser was green

cohesion3d-016

Here’s the order, but the blue wire (5V) is not needed, so I didn’t even connect it, I just taped it up. The other 3 wires I put into the connector.

cohesion3d-021

With the wires inserted (except the 5V blue) and the triangle wedge part removed, we can now plug it into the Cohesion3D board. You should definitely consult the Cohesion3D Mini Pinout Diagram while doing all this.

cohesion3d-017

Let’s not forget the stepper motors! These were the easiest, as the connectors matched up fine. The one thing I found out later is that the Y motor connector had to be flipped. So while in this photo the red wire is on the left, I later rotated the connector 180 degrees so it was on the right. This is the nice thing about stepper motors, if they go the wrong direction you can usually just flip the connector around.

At this point I put everything back together, closed it up, and was able to jog the motors to move the gantry around. As mentioned, the Y was originally reversed (like a standard Cartesian 3D printer) but I fixed that. The other issue was that the laser did not fire. I rechecked everything, messed with the config file, and still nothing…

cohesion3d-018

Yeah, see that red button that says “Laser Switch”? It was off. Once I turned it on, I fired the laser! The limit switches worked, the motors worked, the laser worked. It all (mostly) worked! I say “mostly” because while I am able to run jobs and laser, there’s still a little bit of configuration to do, so we’re only about 95% done, but… we’ll save that for next time.

I’ll also talk about the software and firmware in the next post, but for now I just wanted to get the board installation covered.

2018.04.29

lc014

I’ve been using LaserCut 5.3 to control a G.Weike LC1390N Laser Cutter, and since I use Inkscape to create my files, I thought I’d go over a few of the settings I use so that in the future when I forget I can read this post.

I won’t go too deep into using Inkscape for laser cutting, as it’s a topic I’ve covered before, and besides having to use DXF files instead of PDF files, nothing else has really changed.

lc000-inkscape

In the image above you’ll see a file being exported from Inkscape as a DXF file for a “Desktop Cutting Plotter” which, I guess, is one way to describe a laser cutter. :) I’ve avoided selecting the ROBOMASTER option, as that does strange things to DXF files. I’ve also avoided the LWPOLYLINE option. While the LWPOLYLINE option sometimes works, it sometimes causes issues. Don’t select either option when outputting from Inkscape to import into LaserCut 5.3.

I create my files using millimeters for units, and then export the DXF with pixels (px) specified. I believe there is still a bug in Inkscape that will screw things up if you choose millimeters for the export. (We’ll double check the imported size later to make sure it worked properly.) One more nice thing about Inkscape is that it’s easy to switch between millimeters and inches on the fly while drawing.

lc001

When importing the DXF file into LaserCut 5.3 it may show some weird dialog. Ignore it. Files seem to import fine even when this shows up.

lc003

Our file has imported and looks okay. You’ll notice that the lines in the file are all black, well, actually they are all red here, as they are highlighted because they are selected. (Anyway, I forgot to set colors for some objects, but we’ll touch on that later.)

lc006-scaled

After importing your file you can check the size of it using the “Size” button in the toolbar to bring up the size dialog when your object is selected. It will show the length and height (well, it calls them both “length”) and some boxes where you can type in new values.

lc007.png

Pro-tip: If you fill in one value to scale your object, you can scale it proportionately by clicking the ‘…’ button on the other value. Here I’ve typed “100″ in the x value box and then clicked the ‘…’ button on the y value box.

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The other trick I’ve learned from the folks at Brown Dog Gadgets is to use the “Unite Lines” feature.

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I just use the default settings it presents…

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I think this combines the individual line segments that the DXF file is made up of. If you know for sure, let me know!

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Here’s what I forgot to do in the above example. I’ve set specific items to specific colors in Inkscape, so that when I bring the DXF file into LaserCut 5.3 I can use the colors to change the order of cutting operations.

lc016

Here’s our DXF file imported into LaserCut 5.3 with the colors of the lines showing. Up in the right corner you can see where LaserCut 5.3 recognizes all of the colors in the file and allows you to choose individual settings as well as the order. Typically you want to cut inside pieces first and then outside pieces.

Finally, I’ve relied heavily on the work of others, and here are some links that might prove helpful when using LaserCut 5.3 and a G.Weike laser cutter. (And yes, some of it may conflict with what I’ve posted here. Again, if I got anything wrong, please let me know.)

2016.11.21

ART

“LaserCut LetterPress” (for lack of a better name) is a project I worked on in 2014/2015 which was an idea to create a full letterpress set using a laser cutter capable of cutting 3mm Baltic Birch plywood. The idea was that the files would be released that allowed anyone with access to a laser cutter (even lower-powered cutters with small beds) to create the set.

I know there are many ways to create things, but at the time I wanted to limit production to one method, and one particularly fast method, vector cutting with a laser cutter. (Note: If you’re fascinated by the production of wood type, check out Moore Wood Type.)

I mentioned some of the process in a post titled Measure Twice, Laser Once… but never wrote up the whole thing, so here we go.

LaserCut LetterPress Example Print

The typeface I chose was OpenDyslexic, which was inspired by a friend who is Dyslexic. I also thought it would be interesting to use a typeface that was new, and didn’t exist in the time that wooden type was widely used.

Art Letters

I did the design in Inkscape, creating the letter and the pieces that fit under the letter so it could slide into a tray.

Letter and Tray

Wood is such a wonderful material, except when it isn’t. Tolerances caused a number of issues, but I kept going forward, and didn’t worry too much about having things fit together perfectly. (I won’t say this was my downfall, but I spent a lot of time fighting it.)

Art Letters Tray

Here’s the design for the small tray. Ultimately I wanted a larger tray that had multiple lines so you could do an entire poster. That of course would have required an entire alphabet, and multiples of most letters, and punctuation, and… letterpress is hard.

Oh, somewhere along the way I also started to write code that would generate all the characters needed by outputting the needed SVG files. In theory it was totally doable, but in practice it served as a distraction that I eventually ignored.

Art Letters

With the plan to turn this into a kit that one would assemble, I thought about how one would determine what pieces would go together, and thought that etching the letter onto each piece would be a good idea. (I didn’t get to this step due to being stuck in the prototyping phase.)

Tray

Here’s the letter “A” sliding into the small tray I made. Tolerances were good with the first batch of letters, but with subsequent pieces not so much.

ARTS+TECH

You can see a bit of the height difference with this batch of letters…

Height Comparison

…and you can really see it with these. Yes, this is all 3mm wood. Again, as mentioned with the previous post, there can be quite a difference when the layers add up.

ARTS+TECH

I did manage to create enough letters for one of the Arts + Tech Nights at UWM.

TEACH ART

And oddly enough, I was able to arrange the letters into “TEACH ART”, which I ended up doing six months after I abandoned this project.

LaserCut LetterPress Example Print

Here’s a few test prints I did. They worked fine, which made me think I may have overthought how “perfect” it had to be. In the process of talking to printmakers (who were very interested in the project) they got me thinking about type height, which is useful for a press (and I considered using these letters on a press) but in the end I think I should have stuck with my “hacker ethic” and just made it work with the minimal amount of success.

I don’t consider this a “failed” project because I learned a lot in the process (and got to meet & work with some awesome people) but I’d love to see someone else run with this idea… or maybe it’s something I’ll pick up again in one form or another.

Remember kids, Keep on Making!

2015.03.30

It’s been a few years since I’ve posted about laser cut files, and by that I mean, the files I prepare to be used for laser cutting, so I thought I’d do an update.

Right now I typically use a few different laser cutters in the Milwaukee area. At Milwaukee Makerspace there’s a 60 watt ULS and 50 watt ULS, but using a Windows PC with CorelDraw for control, and at Brown Dog Gadgets there’s a 90 watt Chinese laser cutter using CorelDraw (and LaserCut 5.3) though it seems to be a much newer version than used at the Makerspace. I also use a 40 watt Epilog Zing at UWM’s DCRL. The Zing uses Rhino instead of CorelDraw, which may sound weird, but it works.

I’ve got a file workflow that can work with all of these machines… which I’ll explain below.

Panel Mount

Here’s what my vector art looks like in Inkscape. You’ll notice that the inside lines are blue, and the outside lines are black. This is so we can set a manual cut order for machines that don’t automatically cut inside lines first. (Some software is smart, and always makes inside cuts first, other software… is not.)

lcfiles02

I should note that while doing the design work I may end up with multiple layers. Often I’ll use layers to hold pieces or revisions of a design. For our final file though, we want a single layer.

Let’s pretend my design file is named “Panel Mount.svg”, and it has more than one layer. When I’m happy with my work, and have all the things that will be cut on one layer, I’ll save that file, duplicate it, renaming the dupe to “Panel Mount LC.svg” and then open that file. My original design file (Panel Mount.svg) is now safe and sound, but my new file (Panel Mount LC.svg) is about to get altered.

Files

I usually set all the objects to have no fill. This may not be required for all workflows, but I like to be consistent.

Files

For the stroke I’ll set the outside lines to black… (This may be different depending on your laser cutter software.)

Files

And I’ll set the inside lines to blue. Again, this may depend on the laser cutter software & driver you use. Some allow you to set the order of colors, and some may not. If I need more colors I can use red, green, etc. (Also, if you’re working with a laser cutter operator who is colorblind, ask them what colors they prefer.)

If you want to selectively cut things and only have one color, you can use this trick: Load the file into the laser cutter software (CorelDraw, or whatever) and delete the parts you don’t want to cut, then cut. Then “undo” until all parts are back on the screen, then delete other parts, cut again, and repeat. Not the cleanest method, but it totally works. Don’t move any parts, though you may have to ungroup them, and obviously do not move the thing you are cutting.)

Stroke 0.03mm

Once I’ve applied all the colors, you can select everything and set the stroke. I set it to 0.03mm. This should set it to “hairline” when you import it into CorelDraw. Rhino also seems to do the right thing. If your stroke is too thick it can cause issues. (Always check for the lines to be set to “hairline” after you import your PDF.)

View

After you change the stroke the lines may appear very faint. If you can barely see them switch the Display Mode to “outline” which makes every stroke appear a black and sort of beefs up the lines.

At this point I run down the checklist…

  1. The file has one layer (If it had more, I duped the file and then adjusted the dupe to have just one layer.)
  2. The file has all objects set to no fill.
  3. The file has all objects set to 0.03mm stroke.
  4. The file has different colors for inside and outside cut lines.

Obviously you can do all the file prep stuff (line colors, stroke, etc.) in your master file, and then dupe that one and delete any extra layers. The order isn’t the most important thing here.

PDF Export

Once we’ve made all the changes, we can save our “LC” version of the file. After that, it’s time to use the File menu’s Save a Copy… command to save it as a PDF file. Note that “Convert texts to paths” is selected. This should create a PDF that does not rely on any fonts being installed. If you used text in your file, this is helpful. It does however mean that you cannot edit any text when you import the PDF into other software, as it will have been converted to lines.

PDF

Oh, one more thing! Some older versions of CorelDraw seem to have issues importing PDF files created in Inkscape. On Mac OS X, I just open the PDF that Inkscape created, and export it. It somehow fixes the PDF so CorelDraw likes it. Whatever… it works, so I do it!

Simple Dual Axis Solar Tracker

(BTW, the piece I used an as example was for the Simple Dual Axis Solar Tracker from Brown Dog Gadgets.)

2014.12.19

iterate

The Golden Rule from Phillip Burgess at Adafruit Industries: Iterate, iterate, iterate.

Don’t be discouraged when your case doesn’t work on the first try. Or the second. Once I thought I’d nailed a design on the third try, but was wrong. The most extreme has been our Pi Box enclosure for the Raspberry Pi…this took 23 attempts to get just right! The first few didn’t even hold together. Other projects were initially so discouraging, one was known behind the scenes as the “Piece-o-Crap-o-Tron 9000” …but many attempts later it’s become one of my favorite kits.

Fail quick, fail hard, fail often. Failure is part of the process — perhaps even key to the process. It’s how we learn and improve, and ultimately make a better product. Make mistakes now so your customers don’t have to.

I’ve known for a long time that design is an iterative process, and sometimes I think that’s what I love about it. I tend to be a fan of the process.

I remember once I asked Michael Curry how many attempts it took him to design something and 3D print it before it worked. I thought he said “two or three times”, but maybe he really said “twenty three times”. ;)

But seriously, there’s a lot of great tips not just for laser cutting things, but for designing things in general.

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