Laser Origami!

One of our tipsters just sent us a link to some fascinating videos on a new style of rapid prototyping — Laser Origami!

The concept is fairly simple, but beautifully executed in the included videos. A regular laser cutter is used to cut outlines of objects in clear lexan, then, by unfocusing the laser it slowly melts the bend lines, causing the lexan to fold and then solidify into a solid joint. It becomes even more interesting when they add in a servo motor to rotate the workpiece, allowing for bends of angles other than 90 degrees!

Depending on the part you are designing, this method of rapid prototyping far exceeds the speeds of a traditional 3D printer. The part shown in the included image could be printed in about 4 hours, or using the laser, cut and folded in 4 minutes flat!

Stick around after the break to see this awesome demonstration of the technology!

[Thanks Alfredo!]

39 thoughts on “Laser Origami!

    1. The only problem with acrylic for this use is that it snaps, rather than bends, most of the time. I’ve never had good results with lexan personally (and understand it to be more toxic than acrylic), but other polycarbonates I’ve used scored well for bends (if they were thin)

      1. I think you misinterpret what you are seeing in the video. The laser is not ‘scoring’ a partial cut in the material. It is out of focus and spreading heat along a bend line. The acrylic (the material was not LEXAN, which you noticed) becomes soft and somewhat fluid, bends due to the pull of gravity, then cools and becomes rigid again holding the new shape.

        I saw this video back in February and have been using this method personally since the end of March 2013. It works very well, providing the thickness of the material is 1/8″ or less. Using thicker acrylic requires heating from both sides (alignment is difficult) or less power and less speed with MANY MORE passes (no exhuast or air assist if using lower power/speed on one side), to spread the heat evenly and deeply without localized flaring or drooping.

        LEXAN may work for heat bending with a LASER (I have not tried it) but the cutting of LEXAN creates a messy brownish yellow residue and smells absolutely foul for hours after the job. Exhaust only alleviates the smell during the process, but the smell exists after the exhaust is turned off.

          1. We’ve actually done this on 1/8″ lexan. You can pretty much hang it over the edge of a table, heat gun it (paint-stripper temperatures) and it just folds over the edge. Makes really nice looking covers for electrical connections and stuff.

        1. You got it to work on 1/8″? Tell me more… I have been fighting my machine for months to get 1/16″ to bend. I have had 2 or 3 successful attempts but it was always too brittle for my needs. I suspect that my laser isn’t fast enough. I can’t match the speed they are because it taps out at 400mm/s and they are running around 1000mm/s. The problem seems to be that I can put enough heat into the area in a short enough time frame. I might try the heat gun idea. I attempted it a big but I had not considered using it to just raise the ambient temp to someplace before it starts to bend. Heat gun it too wide a focus to bend only the small tabs and I was warping the sheet.

  1. I recently bought a cheap nasty EBay laser cutter and absolutely love it. I wish I could implement this on my cutter, but you get what you pay for, unless I was folding tiny parts there isn’t enough depth. Having said that, it’s still a fantastic tool.

      1. There are cheap(ish) 40W CO2 lasers all over eBay – the DC-K40. I’ve got one and it’s great value. You just have to consider it to be a kit of parts suitable as a starting point for a typical HaD reader, rather than as a polished end product. It’ll probably come misaligned, with some bolts missing and a control board / software that’s junk. All the expensive bits (laser tube and PSU) are good though.

        1. FYI, the older 4th gen laser cutter sold by Full Spectrum is basically a cheap chinese ebay laser that’s had the controller PCB and software replaced, and a few other fixes done to them.

      2. ive got a lasercutter from ebay, it works great, there is a driver plugin for coreldraw and some chinese stamp software. Software side still not great, but it beats trying to carve things with a knife. 40 watt tube, no height adjustment. max cut size about a4/letter. Cuts 4 mm mdf/ply in one pass.

        Be aware You get what you pay for: ventilation, cooling and original table sucked, but nothing that can not be modded. And it was in a price range i could afford.

        sadly i can not provide a link since the ebay seller i got it from does not appear to be selling anything right now.

      3. Sure. This is the one I bought:

        I can cut up to 6mm MDF in one pass (or 10mm plexi) with it, as long as i pump air across the part with my air compressor. Like K!P said, its pretty basic, you really want to look into fixing the ventilation, cooling and look at replacing the table, but its still great value for money.

        It comes with software called MoshiDraw, which if im honest, is completely terrible. It works, but expect to waste some material figuring it all out.

        Even though I’ve been fairly negative above, I absolutely love it. All of the problems I listed are fairly easily fixable. Even the electronics and software can be replaced with a bit of time and money.

        Here are a few things I’ve cut that I took photos of:

          1. Yeah, I can think of a few choice words for it :) 2013 is actually usable, the older versions are a complete writeoff. I do all my designs etc in coreldraw then cringe when i hit the export plt button :)

  2. I saw this a while ago. An awesome and very original idea.

    It’s a great demo of what can be done in principle (if your laser has a large motorised Z axis) but I think it would still require a fair bit more work to be genuinely useful – e.g. accurate repeatable bend angles.

    1. Because nobody has bothered to do so.

      It could be done, but it would be complicated, possibly more effort than equates to the cost of separate machines and/or the ability to run simultaneous but separate jobs (?).

        1. I am not a machinist, but I am an advanced hobbyist. I had considered adding a mount for my cordless Dremel to my LASER gantry. I also considered a clip for mounting fine point Sharpies to the gantry. I decided to build a separate Dremel/Sharpie unit, simply because I would be able to run two machines (the LASER doing one thing and the other unit could be marking or routing the next piece for transfer to the LASER bed) and therefore reduce my work time, instead of marking then changing tool then routing then changing tool then cutting…

          1. In reply to cutting and lasers… I wouldn’t mount a dremel on the gantry of a laser cutter because the head isn’t set up to move something that heavy, and I would not want all the extra dust getting on the mirrors for the laser, which would significantly reduce their lifespan and are obnoxious to clean.

      1. I’m just thinking; The 3 axis system is the same on all the machines. The heads are different. The lowest denominator would be the laser cutter. It needs an enclosure. Make a machine with a proper laser shielded enclosure and an inset for the laser cutter. Then make a carriage with a lock mechanism. Then it’s a matter of loading the proper calibrated software to the machine and appending the proper tool to the carriage.

        It’s true that companies would probably never do this for the reasons you’ve described. But for hackers with limited space… and to be frank, the gantry and the steppers + control electronics aren’t exactly cheap. This could cut some costs :)

    2. it has been done. Quite a few of us on have a 3D extruder head on our gantry and some even have high power blue lasers, Heck even ShopBot is about to come out with a 3D extruder as an add-on to any of their CNC machines.

      1. I have not seen a LASER/PRINTER/ROUTER combination unit. I have searched on a few occasions. If you know of one that includes all three, please provide a link. I would be interested to see how all three functions were combined in a single functional unit.

    3. The reason nobody has done a 3d printer/router/laser machine (or at least none I’ve seen) is that the axes aren’t really the same. I want to be able to print at 200mm/s on my printer, which is much much more expensive with leadscrews than belts, but you can’t mill stuff with belts (they stretch too much). In my opinion, the best compromise would be just to share electronics to bring the cost down, then have dedicated milling hardware, and 3d printing/laser hardware. Even then, you probably want a much bigger area for laser cutting than you do 3d printing.

  3. The video is from January 2013, and back then they didn’t have video of a higher resolution than 360p. I can remember it as if it was less than a year ago, we had steampowered cameras back then and you had to get up early in the morning to shovel coal into your camera to get enough steam to power those 360p resolutions. If you had the wealth to even afford it of course.

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