Microorganisms Can’t Hide From DropoScope

The DropoScope is a water-drop projector that works by projecting a laser through a drop of water, ideally dirty water crawling with microorganisms. With the right adjustments, a bright spot of light is projected onto a nearby wall, revealing a magnified image of the tiny animals within. Single celled organisms show up only as dark spots, but larger creatures like mosquito larvae exhibit definite structure and detail.

While simple in concept and requiring nothing more high-tech than a syringe and a laser pointer, getting useful results can require a lot of fiddly adjustment. But all that is a thing of the past for anyone with access to a laser cutter, thanks to [ingggis].  His design for a laser-cut a fixture lets anyone make and effortlessly adjust their own water-drop projector.

If you’d like to see some microorganisms in action, embedded below is video from a different water-drop projector (one identical in operation, but not lucky enough to benefit from [ingggis]’s design.)

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Laser Exposing PCBs With A Blu-Ray Laser

For those of us whose introduction to PCB making came decades ago and who share fond memories of permanent markers and crêpe paper sticky tape, the array of techniques available to PCB artists of today seem nothing short of magical. Toner transfer and peroxide etchant mixtures might seem run-of-the-mill to many readers, but even they are streets ahead of their predecessors from times past.

Photographic exposure of  etch-resist coating has traditionally been performed with a UV lamp through a sheet of acetate film, but there is no reason why that should be the only way it can be performed. There have been plenty of projects using lasers or LEDs to draw a PCB design onto the coating as a raster, and a rather nice example from [Terje Io] using a Blu-Ray laser diode is the subject of the video below the break.

The diode is mounted on a gantry with a THK KR33 linear actuator that he tells us was unsuitable for his CNC mill due to backlash. This gives a claimed 1200 dpi resolution, over a 100 mm x 160 mm exposure area. Software is provided in a GitHub repository, taking a PNG image exported through a PDF printer. And since it’s got a UV laser, it can be used in a second pass to process UV-responsive soldermask film. ([Terje] cheats and uses a separate CNC mill to drill out the holes.) The result looks great.

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Improved Game Tokens with Laser Cutting and Clever Design

[Martin Raynsford] is a prolific project maker, especially when it comes to using a laser cutter. These laser-cut token counters for the board game Tigris & Euphrates demonstrate some clever design, and show that some simple touches can make a big difference.

In the digital version of the game, the tokens conveniently display a number representing their total power value. [Martin] liked this feature, and set out to design a replacement token for the tabletop version that could display a number while still keeping the aesthetic of the originals. The tokens were designed as a dial with a small cutout window to show a number, but the surface of the token showing color and icon is still mostly unchanged.

Magnets hold the top and bottom together, and because of the small size of the assembly, no detents are needed. Friction is enough to keep things from moving unintentionally. The second noteworthy design feature is the material for the top layer of the token. This layer is made from 0.8 mm birch plywood; a nice and thin top layer means a wider viewing angle because the number is nearer to the surface. If the top layer were thicker, the number would be recessed and harder to see.

[Martin] made the design file available should anyone wish to try it out. No stranger to games, he even once game-ified the laser itself, turning it into a physical version of Space Invaders. Be sure to check it out!


Kill the Exhaust, Not Your Lungs with the Fume Coffin

As if slinging around 40 watts of potentially tattoo-removing or retina-singeing laser beams wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough, now comes a new, scary acronym – LCAGs, or “laser-generated airborne contaminants.” With something that scary floating around your shop, it might be a good idea to build a souped-up laser cutter exhaust fan to save your lungs.

We jest, but taking care of yourself is the responsible way to have a long and fruitful hacking career, and while [patternmusic]’s “Fume Coffin” might seem like overkill, can you go too far to protect your lungs? Plywood and acrylic, the most common materials that come across a laser cutter’s bed, both release quite a witch’s brew of toxins when vaporized by a laser beam. The Fume Coffin clears the air in your shop by venting it to the outdoors after giving it a good scrubbing through an activated charcoal pre-filter and a HEPA polishing element. Both filters are commercially available so replacements won’t be an issue, and the entire thing is housed in a wooden box that gives the device its name.

Since it’s ejecting 200 cubic feet per minute, you’ll have to provide at least that much make-up air, but other than that the Fume Coffin should be a welcome addition to the shop. We’ve seen a few other attempts to handle LCAGs effectively before, including a DIY charcoal and automotive air filter design.

Laser PCBs with LDGraphy

There are many, many ways to get a PCB design onto a board for etching. Even with practice however, the quality of the result varies with the process and equipment used. With QFN parts becoming the norm, the days of etch-resist transfers and a permanent marker are all but gone. Luckily, new and improved methods of Gerber transfer have be devised in recent years thanks to hackers across the world.

One such hacker, [Henner] is working on a project called LDGraphy in an attempt to bring high-resolution etching to the masses. LDGraphy is a laser lithography device that makes use of a laser and a Beaglebone green to etch the layout onto the board. The best part is that the entire BOM is claimed to cost under a $100 which makes it affordable to people on a budget.

The system is designed around a 500 mW laser and a polygon mirror scanner meant for a laser printer. The board with photoresist is linearly actuated in the X-axis using a stepper motor and the laser beam which is bounced off the rotating hexagonal mirror is responsible for the Y-axis. The time critical code for the Programmable Realtime Unit (PRU) of the AM335X processor is written in assembly for the fast laser switching. The enclosure is, naturally, a laser cut acrylic case and is made at [Henner]’s local hackerspace.

[Henner] has been hard at work calibrating his design and compensating for the inaccuracies of the components used. In the demo video below he presents a working version with a resolution of 6 mils which is wonderful considering the cost of the machine. He also shares his code on GitHub if you want to help out and you can track his updates on Google+. Continue reading “Laser PCBs with LDGraphy”

A Mechanical Laser Show with 3D-Printed Cams and Gears

Everyone knows how to make a POV laser display — low-mass, first-surface mirrors for the X- and Y-axes mounted on galvanometers driven rapidly to trace out the pattern. [Evan Stanford] found a simpler way, though: a completely mechanical laser show from 3D-printed parts.

The first 10 seconds of the video below completely explains how [Evan] accomplished this build. A pair of custom cams wiggles the laser pointer through the correct sequences of coordinates to trace the desired pattern out when cranked by hand through a 1:5 ratio gear train. But what’s simple in concept is a bit more complicated to reduce to practice, as [Evan] amply demonstrates by walking us through the math he used to transfer display shapes to cam profiles. If you can’t follow the math, no worries — [Evan] has included all the profiles in his Thingiverse collection, and being a hand model software guy by nature, he’s thoughtfully developed a program to automate the creation of cam profiles for new shapes. It’s all pretty slick.

Looking for more laser POV goodness? Perhaps a nice game of laser Asteroids would suit you.

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Drop-in Controller for eBay K40 Laser Engraver Gets Results

[Paul de Groot] wrote in to let us know about a drop-in controller replacement he designed for those economical K40 laser engravers that are everywhere on eBay. With the replacement controller, greatly improved engraving results are possible along with a simplified toolchain. Trade in the proprietary software and that clunky security dongle for Inkscape and a couple of plugins! [Paul] felt that the work he accomplished was too good to keep to himself, and is considering a small production run.

Laser engravers are in many ways not particularly complex devices; a motion controller moves the head in x and y, and the laser is turned on or off when needed. But of course, the devil is in the details and there can be a surprising amount of stuff between having a design on your screen and getting it cut or engraved in the machine. Designing in Inkscape, exporting to DXF, importing the DXF to proprietary software (which requires a USB security dongle to run), cleaning up any DXF import glitches, then finally cutting the job isn’t unusual. And engraving an image with varying shades and complex dithering? The hardware may be capable, but the stock software and controller? Not so much. It’s easy to see why projects to replace the proprietary controllers and software with open-source solutions have grown.

Cheap laser engravers may come with proprietary controllers and software, but they don’t need to stay that way. Other efforts we have seen in this area include LaserWeb, which provides a browser-based interface to a variety of open-source motion controllers like Grbl or Smoothieware. And if you’re considering a laser engraver, take a few minutes to learn from the mistakes of other people.