David and I have been working on the enclosure story for the Robotic Minion Starter Kit for a while now. We have a solid plan for doing enclosures, but it’s not very sexy. We have been trying to figure out if a custom cut enclosure is viable. It turns out getting time on a laser cutter or outsourcing the cutting wasn’t working out very well.
I’ve been thinking about getting a laser cutter for a while now. I finally broke down and ordered one.
David and I got it set up last night. The setup took a couple of hours. There some notable issues that FS Laser could make better.
- The fitting for the water pump is questionable at best. I had to sand it down to get the tubing to fit. Plus, the photos of the clear fitting didn’t come out well in the instructions and it was hard to be sure I was doing it right.
- The downloadable instructions has one set of links to software and the paper instructions had another. I had to uninstall the software I got from the PDF links and re-install the links from the included paperwork.
- There were some long URLs in the paper only documentation. They should consider using bit.ly or another URL shortening service.
- Despite having an exhaust fan that I connected to a dryer vent (I already had it for my soldering fume extractor) a lot of smoke escaped out the lid and into the room. My eyes and nose are still a little irritated from the cardboard smoke. You need really good ventilation to run this thing. I am going to have to move it to a room with window I can put a big exhaust fan into.
After getting the pump fitting and software sorted out I had to calibrate the mirror with some thermal paper (a grocery store receipt worked like a charm). The instructions in the PDF for calibration were a little hard to follow. Luckily they have a youtube video linked in the instructions. It took a little doing to get to the video. Once I watched it it made sense, but the process seems overly fiddly. I opted to get the laser aimed at the center of the holes from the furthest points, then check alignment their way. They have you start close and work out one inch at a time. It may keep you from swinging the laser around wildly, but it would have taken an extra hour to go all the way the way they did it.
Once I got everything set up we set to laserin’. The software setup was a little rough around the edges making me wonder about the software itself. The software wasn’t without some niggling issues, but you can etch and cut images really easily from any program that can print. You can import any XPS (built in software printer in Windows) file right into the software and use it. As long as you close the software between loading files it seems to work nicely. It was fairly easy to take a B/W photo of a pet and check the “dither” option on the raster screen. You can also print directly to the laser, but I didn’t make that work yet.
There are two main controls for the laser. Speed and Power. In this example cardboard etched really nicely at 25% power and 100% speed. In order to cut cardboard reliably 100% power and 60% speed worked. (I think the paint on the fed-ex boxes I was using made 99% of the nastiness in the smoke, use plain cardboard for experimenting.)
Another small issue is that you have to enter the speed and power per print. If you restart the program it forgets the last settings (and you will have to because it will complain about out of memory otherwise). It would be really nice if the program would allow you to save a list of materials and “cut/etch” settings you could just pull down. It would also be nice if there was a test cycle to run that would etch and cut at various settings across a sample so you could calibrate in one shot.
The software has some other nice features that I didn’t explore. The documents all assume Corel Draw 3. I wish they would have used Inkscape since I don’t want to buy/learn more software.
After I etched the photo I did some experiments with Vector Mode and cutting. It worked really nicely. I am looking forward to building some boxes.
Next I am hoping to cut some box samples from cardboard and maybe some 1/8th plywood. Inkscape has a box making extension that seems to work pretty well. I tried to use this online boxmaker, but I couldn’t figure out how to get Inkscape to import the lines and delete the text.
The ultimate goal is to have a box design we can manufacture for the Kickstarter or send out to someplace like Ponoko to do a whole sheet. Plywood with clear acrylic lids is what I am shooting for now. I also forsee doing things like Christmas ornaments with family photos etched into them.