Laser cutters - anyone DIY on this ?
I've been looking on eBay at Laser cutters and there are quite a few at the £1600 - £2000 mark ....
I've been offered a pro job by supplier in Latvia at £3000 for cutter and then extra for water cooling and other bits ...
Has anyone tried one of these cheaper sub £2000 jobs ? Do they really work on what we use ... Lite Ply, Balsa, Foam etc. ?
There's even ones at sub £500 ...
One thing that jumps out on the £419 cutter is that the workpiece size appears to be limited to 300mm long. That would be very restrictive for cutting airplane parts. The £1600 version is better at 500mm but that would still be restrictive.
I agree that size is limited, but was looking at more of a machine for ribs, formers, etc.
Spars can be stock bought. Long pieces such as fuselage sides can be as Foss does with some of his - jointed by scarfed V.
The thing - is do they work !!
I've no personal experience of hands on use of laser cutters but i have quite a bit of experience of designing kits for laser cutting and liasing with the guy who does the cutting (Belair kits in my case). Having said that i'm sure they will 'work'. I'd suggest a close read on the specifications to see how effective they will be for your application. At a guess I'd say they would be fine for balsa at up to 3 or 4mm thick but you might struggle with thicker balsa and ply.
Personally though unless you were thinking of commercial work I'm not sure it makes sense. Bear in mind that creating the files to 'feed' the cutter will be likely to take longer than hand cutting on a one off basis. Learning to use the CAD tools to create the files takes some time and effort. Also consider that you will likely produce a few abortive cuts before you get a good one which tends to waste balsa. I know when i used to design kits it often took a few iterations of the CAD files, trial and error with the cutter, and wasted balsa, before we got a set up that ran without any issues.
Cutting from small sheets also wastes a lot of wood due to the way you have to nest the parts, and the border you have to leave around the edges.
IMHO it really doesn't make much sense for one-off builds .
Its not actually for one-off builds. I am looking to get out of my present work and checking out all sorts of avenues.
I want to work from home and already have quotes for Pro machines ... but prices are steep.
I have a number of ideas for new business, not only Laser cut parts ... involving my yachts and grounds I have. So it would add to the various projects.
I don't want to commit to a large investment and find it's not suitable, so a cheaper start to trial is the idea.
We see the various guys online who offer Laser Cutter service - so location is not such a problem and shipping of parts is much easier, cheaper than ARF / PnF stuff.
All points taken in and added to the knowledge base ... giving me food for thought.
If i recall Balair could cut up to 6mm balsa without problem and 3mm ply. Thicker started to cause issues because the power that it took to get through thicker wood caused scorching, or actually set the wood on fire. There was a fine line on laser power and cutting speed between getting the wood cut right through and burning it.
The way I produced the CAD files had a big influence on this. Some line types (splines) have hundreds of points to make up the curve. These caused problems for the cutter as the amount of data causes the head to slow and the wood burned. I found it necassary to avoid use of splines and stick to simple 'polylines'. This took more time and effort in drawing but worked better for the cutter. It was also important to join up all the lines on each part into one continuous 'polyline'. This way the cutter would follow the complete polyline defining each part from start to finish and so avoid skipping around all over the sheet cutting random sections of each part. This 'skipping about' dramatically slows the process due to the transit time between cuts.
Happy to help in what limited way i can if you do give it a go.
I do vector charting as another hobby - creating charts for GPS plotters. So I know what you are talking about with the Polylines.
It's a 'In head project' at moment ... I have to speak to a couple of guys when I get home ... plus meet the rep for the Commercial Pro gear ...
my dad bought his for around $700 us. it was sold as a 40watt engraver. it easily cuts balsa. the cutting space is about the size of a sheet of paper. the laser tube is water cooled. most laser cutters as they get larger will burn the wood. it all depends on how well calibrated the laser is. most laser cutters do not move up and down. so you calibrate it for the size and thickness of the material.
we have cut up to 1/4" ply on ours. you can set it up to make several passes or simply restart the program until its cut through.
if you were interested in building kits or wing ribs or anything like that, check out my dads video. ill direct him to this thread, and I'm sure he will make an appearance before too long and give you exact details.
find one that you either can hook a small hose and nosel up to. most of the more expensive kits blow air into the cutting head to keep the surface from catching fire.
another quick video. I think this was the second or third time we fired it up.
Looking at the video - is it the same machine ?
How restrictive have you found the work area of 260mm ?
I note that on eBay they offer with different tube designations ... M1, G3 etc. ?
Did you get the one that connects to Computer or one that works only via flash drive in its USB ?
the laser cutter is in my dads bedroom. he works in a power house and is required to work odd shifts and just got off of a graveyard shift and is sleeping right now. when he wakes up, ill be more then happy to find out what I can and see if I can get my dad to chime in here.
This might develop into something ...
As I say - wing ribs and such are the idea. watching that wing rib in your video was just the ticket.
What's the maximum length, width and depth of ply you can cut ? As to other materials - I assume ply will be my most difficult.
depth depends on how well focused the beam is. there is a bunch of mirrors that you have to align that reflect down on the cutting head and then gets focused there. my dad said his cuts about 8x11", roughly the size of a sheet of paper.
the thickness 100% the calibration of the focusing beam. think of a fixed magnifying glass. as it moves up and down, it gets in and out of focus. the better its focused, the finer the cutting line is, and the.thicker the materials, the more out of focus it becomes.
I believe they have some that move up and down now. to cut ply you want an air nozzle and of you want to cut anything id guess thicker then 1/8" accurately, you'll need it to move up and down to stay in focus. it will cut ply, but you will have to do multiple passes to do so.
I think it would cut any wing rib you could want, and probably most firewall/fuse joiners. much past that though, you'll either want a more commercial machine or modify yours.
one problem with both himoshi and corell draw, they do not size things to any particular scale. its all guess work how big the shape will actually be. ill have to ask my dad how he.got the wing rib drawn up and imported into the program.
my dad had been working on a cnc router for quite some time and drew that wing.rib.up for that project. I'm not sure what software it used.
40 watt Laser cutter from Ebay
My son told me you have questions about the lazer. Okay yes it will work but this is some of what Ihave learned.
#1. The laser must be focused to cut. This laser is marketed as an engraver/cutter but is really just an engraver. Doing some research Ihave learned the real difference is an ajustable Z hieght. This laser has a fixed Z hight. It will cut but is really designed as an engraver only in my opinion. With that being said if what you are cutting is a uniform thickness and flat I don't see why it wouldn't work. You may have to "shim" the part up or down a little to keep the laser focused.
#2 Most laser cutters have a down draft vacuum table. This helps keep the part from moving and the smoke away from the lenses. If the lenses get dirty they heat up. This can distroy the lenses and they can be very expensive.
#3 Cutting lasers have an air assist. The lense has air blowing down from it. This helps keep the lenses clean and also puts little fires out. It cools the part as it goes and helps remove the material as you are cutting.
I have cut balsa and plywood with my laser. The balsa worked good. The ply worked but would burn around the edges. If you buy this lazer I would reccomend at least the air assist. The down draft vacuum table and adjustable z hieght would be nice too.
I have purchased a new driver board that is plug and play for this laser. It is compatible with Mach 3 and should resolve any issues with software.
When I bought my laser I studied it out for almost a year. I felt it might be to small I heard all about how terrible Moshi draw was. I still have not put in the new board as I have not needed it yet
Moshi Draw works okay with corel draw but is pretty much usless unless you are doing seals as moshi is intended for.
Seems the £1600 job with the rotary system answers most of the Z height and focus areas.
My biggest problem is supply of Lite Ply ... local is only down to 4mm ... which is ~ 1/6th and is not Lite ... its WBP. Excellent firewall stuff .. but !!
If I was to go for foam models then the work size is not enough.
Back to sq. 1 !!
My ex-boss has a 24 x 18 Universal Laser in his basement. Also has a CNC wire machine for large foam pieces such as airfoils. There's an exhaust hole in his basement wall. Pretty cool but expensive. Told me he paid about USD $12K. He could take almost any type of format into Corelworks .dxf's from A-cad and could even pluck the vectors off of a .pdf http://www.ulsinc.com/products/pls475/
Okay it has taken me a while to find this link. The cheap K40 type of laser that can be bought on ebay has a lot of support out there in the do it yourself commuinity. Here is controller board that repaces the one in the laser.
The board is plug and play. No soldering or rewiring is required. Just undue the plugs on the laser and plug them into the new controller board. Get the three axis board so you can add the z later if you would like.
Ebay has the larger x and y axises availabe as well as the honeycomb down draft platforms.
This site also has information on an air assist, and the settings to use in mach3.
I note the cheap Chinese Laser on Chriscircuits - is the non Computer connectable machine - just USB flash drive.
It was only when really looking at specs that I noted the difference.
Cheaper non PC connect :
Higher priced Pc connectable :
How much real difference does it make being able to connect PC ? Does it need a high-powered PC ? I have loads of older notebooks and desktop PC's sitting doing nothing and would not be hard to dedicate one to this.
I have a couple of 3 axis CNC machines and the similarities between what you want to do and what I have experienced are relevant. I use Autocad for my design work, and take the coordinates from those files to write the programs. What was said earlier about your taking more time to write your programs and cut than it would take to hand cut is true, though there are better ways to do this than my method.
For 9 years I ran a tool dept. in a die cutting company, and purchased laser cut maple plywood steel rule dies from various vendors, and was made aware of some of the problems with lasers. Burning, inconsistent kerf width, and kerfs which have either curved or tapered sides are a few which come to mind.
MoisheCad? Never heard of it.
Doing either CNC laser cutting, or routing, as I'm doing, has advantages though;
1. the finished parts are far more accurate and consistent than hand cutting could ever hope to be. You can make parts which would be almost impossible to make by hand, especially really tiny ones in large quantities (for example, I make rudders and elevators with hinges that consist of many small plywood "eyes" and the accurate cuts in the foam parts to locate them. I could not do this otherwise).
1a. You can (in my case) cut in 3 dimensions, and do grooves, steps, etc. Very handy.
2. While your machine is making parts, you're free to be doing something else, since the CNC machines can generally run unattended. I'm not sure I'd trust a laser to run without at least keeping an eye on it, though; fire hazard.
3. A huge inventory of knives, saws, files, straight edges and templates is replaced by (in my case) a small number of carbide end mills.
The learning curve for me was steep and required a bit of dedication to get to a point where I was making the kind of parts I had visualized. At the time I bought my first CNC mill, I was making custom knives and fabricating mostly steel and aluminum.
Hope this helps some, maybe I and the others on this thread can get you past the tough parts if you decide to go this direction.
I'm 57 yrs old and do a job that really in a just a few years will be impossible to carry on.
So I need a home based cottage biz. I have other projects as well, but none are sufficient on their own. If I can put together a number of biz projects - then I may just have my ticket home.
I know there are guys in USA that do 'contract' laser cutting ... you send a plan - they send back plan + kit parts. That appeals to me .. and being in a cheaper environment than my native UK - I reckon I might be able to set-up a workshop with a guy or two.
But first I need to get to grips with the concept, the ways and how to ..
So I really do appreciate the advice and info given.
If the project does get of the ground - Then I would try and find a way to repay you guys from the project - I never forget others help.
I'm 62, and like you, have been looking for other sources of income for when I "retire".
I've found that the concept-to-finished-product aspect of starting a business, while essential, isn't enough to get the world to beat a path to your door. Marketing and logistics are, to me, necessary evils. I'd rather just be inventing things and making the products.
Also, the few times a path was beaten to my door, it always seemed to ruin my garden.
p.s. A couple other advantages to CAD/CAM;
4. It's easy to create variants in an existing part by just juggling the numbers.
5. Once you've written a program and created the set-up, endlessly producing cookie-cut duplicates is simple and fast.
The cheap Chinese Lasers I realise are not going to be commercially viable, but they would at least give me a chance to trial ... get used to the concept. If some small work can be had, maybe knocking out a few laser cut kits of cars, dinosaurs etc. to get started. Then if it looks viable - go for a better set-up. I have been offered a professional set-up to buy or lease which would be capable of larger work such as spars and fuselage sides etc.
I have a couple of companies at present, but the Anti Russian nationalism that prevails at home has over the years brought them to a standstill.
But I can swap them over to other avenues as the Company Statutes and Reg'n are wide enough.
I have web-sites already and they would just be pulled down and re-written to cover the new path.
Let's not forget eBay .. and power of Google ...
I was developing and promoting various companies in the past and most are still operating as I set them up with same business.
So I may not be at a loss to do something with it.
When I worked in Saudi, friend and I had an agreement : each day we would think of a business idea. The idea being that given the number of ideas - sooner or later we would have to arrive at one that would work !
If I may chime in. I have three lasers that I cut with for others (Jtechlaser.com). Bed size is everything. Get the largest table that you can afford. You will just get frustrated trying to make parts fit in a small area.
People looking for laser cutting of parts often need a larger machine for the projects that they are working on. People do not want to tab and lock parts together for a larger part. It's more a concern of what fits in a shipping box as far as size of parts. It's about giving the customer what they need. When you can't support the cutting required for the customers, that's money out the door.
When getting a cutter, make sure you have a model with shop air (air assist) blowing on the cutting surface. This gives a better quality cut as well as keeps the lens clean. I have had the air go out and on a single pass the lens gets contaminated. In less than a minute a $200 lens was ruined.
Go with a model that has a down draft table. This is important for keeping smoke away from the laser beam as well as keeping the material flat and locked down. This will help maintain focus giving a quality cut.
For cutting a Z axis is not needed.
Make sure the laser is water cooled. The laser tube will last a lot longer than air cooled.
One thing, a bigger cutting bed does not necessarily mean you need a larger watt laser tube. Our first laser was 50 watts and pretty much cut anything model related that we needed except thicker aircraft ply. which is tough even with a higher watt laser due to the glue used in the aircraft ply. We currently use two 80 watts and a 60. Remember, it's all about clean optics and in focus for quality cutting.
40 watt cheap chinies upgrades.
Like you I would like to start a business, so far I have built a CNC router, a phlat printer, a RepRap, and purchased a laser all with that in mind. They all have their advantages.
If you need a one of a kind part you are better off just cutting it by hand. If you are going into production then you will want at least a laser.
The original question was about these cheap chinies lasers. I was curious enough to actually buy one.
#1. It cuts balsa just fine.
#2. It will cut thin plywood but not as well. It takes more then one pass and can burn the
#3. You can make or buy an air assist that should eliminate the burning.
#4. There are a lot of do it yourselfers out there hacking these lasers.
#5 . You can buy a much larger bed when you are ready for it.
#6. If you want a down draft table?
Back in the late 70's one of my first jobs was a machinist apprentice that lead to becoming an application eng. for CNC machining center work. Learned a lot, from 3 axis to 5-axis programming. Mind you , the computing capacity on the machines consisted of a DEC PDP 11. Even wrote a program in Basic called " Kwikrate" which I used for estimating production. Fun times.
With all the cool technology you guys have at your fingertips including a 3D printer for plastic parts and accessories, I think there would be a good basis for starting a business. I agree , one-offs would be tough. But laser cut kits with included accessories such as plastic canopies, would be a cool idea. Look for what you could make a lot of without trying to compete with the overdone warbirds and other common domain aircraft out there. Find a niche.
Or if you think you can come up with some new innovation, then look to disrupt the incumbent. EG. Toyota vs. GM Apple vs IBM , etc.
Would have to differentiate yourself from the mainstream somehow with unique, hard to find, yet interesting models at a price point that is attractive.
The key to success IMO would be marketing and shipping logistics. Inventory management, re-order points and quantities, order fulfillment, packing, shipping and managing returns can make or break a start-up venture like this.
I see how some do this quite well, while others lag behind. Talking to some retailers who also have an online element, it appears that the margins are in the small parts versus arfs and kits. The HH dealers I know seem to make more profit selling clevices, horns, wires, connectors, wheels, supplies, etc. than the mass produced airplane arf and kits.
Promotion and possibly 3rd party dealer alignment will fuel the production. Your smartness in deriving an efficient production technique will go straight to the bottom line.
Standing by , waiting to place an order with you guys !
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