Repairing A 300W CO2 Laser, One Toasted Part At A Time

A couple months back, [macona] got his hands on a 300 watt Rofin CO2 laser in an unknown condition. Unfortunately, its condition became all too known once he took a peek inside the case of the power supply and was confronted with some very toasty components. It was clear that the Magic Smoke had been released with a considerable bit of fury, the trick now was figuring out how to put it back in.

The most obvious casualty was an incinerated output inductor. His theory is that cracks in the ferrite toroid changed its magnetic properties, ultimately causing it to heat up during high frequency switching. With no active cooling, the insulation cooked off the wires and things started to really go south. Maybe. In any event, replacing it was a logical first step.

If you look closely, you may see the failed component.

Unfortunately, Rofin is out of business and replacement parts weren’t available, so [macona] had to wind it himself with a self-sourced ferrite and magnet wire. Luckily, the power supply still had one good inductor that he could compare against. After replacing the coil and a few damaged ancillary wires and connectors, it seemed like the power supply was working again. But with the laser and necessary cooling lines connected, nothing happened.

A close look at the PCB in the laser head revealed that a LM2576HVT switching regulator had exploded rather violently. Replacing it wasn’t a problem, but why did it fail to begin with? A close examination showed the output trace was shorted to ground, and further investigation uncovered a blown SMBJ13A‎ TVS diode. Installing the new components got the startup process to proceed a bit farther, but the laser still refused to fire. Resigned to hunting for bad parts with the aid of a microscope, he was able to determine a LM2574HVN voltage regulator in the RF supply had given up the ghost. [macona] replaced it, only for it to quickly heat up and fail.

This one is slightly less obvious.

Now this was getting ridiculous. He replaced the regulator again, and this time pointed his thermal camera at the board to try and see what else was getting hot. The culprit ended up being an obsolete DS8922AM dual differential line transceiver that he had to source from an overseas seller on eBay.

After the replacement IC arrived from the other side of the planet, [macona] installed it and was finally able to punch some flaming holes with his monster laser. Surely the only thing more satisfying than burning something with a laser is burning something with a laser you spent months laboriously repairing.

We love repairs at Hackaday, and judging by the analytics, so do you. One of this month’s most viewed posts is about a homeowner repairing their nearly new Husqvarna riding mower instead of sending it into get serviced under the warranty. Clearly there’s something about experiencing the troubleshooting and repair process vicariously, with our one’s own hardware safely tucked away at home, that resonates with the technical crowd.

With A Big Enough Laser, The World Is Your Sensor

It’s difficult to tell with our dull human senses, but everything around us is vibrating. Sure it takes more energy to get big objects like bridges and houses humming compared to a telephone pole or mailbox, but make no mistake, they’ve all got a little buzz going on. With their new automated laser, the team behind VibroSight++ believes they can exploit this fact to make city-scale sensing far cheaper and easier than ever before.

The key to the system is a turret mounted Class 3B infrared laser and photodetector that can systematically scan for and identity reflective surfaces within visual range. Now you might think that such a setup wouldn’t get much of a signal from the urban landscape, but as it so happens, the average city block is packed with retroreflectors. From street signs to road studs and license plates, the team estimates dense urban areas have approximately 7,000 reflectors per square kilometer. On top of those existing data points, additional reflectors could easily be added to particularly interesting devices that city planners might want to monitor.

Once VibroSight++ has identified its targets, the next step is to bounce the laser off of them and detect the minute perturbations in the returned signal caused by vibrations in the reflector. In the video below you can see how this basic concept could be put to practical use in the field, from counting how many cars pass over a certain stretch of road to seeing how popular a specific mailbox is. There’s a whole world of information out there just waiting to be collected, all without having to install anything more exotic than the occasional piece of reflective tape.

If this technology seems oddly familiar, it’s probably because we covered the team’s earlier work that focused (no pun intended) on using reflected laser beams for home automation in 2018. Back then they were aiming a much smaller laser at blenders and refrigerators instead of license plates and street signs, but the concept is otherwise the same. While we’ll admit the technology does give off a distinctive Orwellian vibe, it’s hard not to be intrigued by the “Big Data” possibilities afforded by the team’s upgraded hardware and software.

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Projecting Moving Images In Air With Lasers

You’ve seen it a million times in science fiction movies and TV shows: a moving holographic display. From Princess Leia asking for help to virtual tennis on Total Recall, it is a common enough idea. [Dan Smalley]’s team at BYU has made progress in projecting moving 3D images in thin air. While they might not be movie quality, they are a start, and, after all, you have to start somewhere.

The display traps a small particle in the air with a laser beam and then moves that particle around, leaving behind an illuminated path in the air. You can see the effect in the video below. The full paper explains how a type of ray tracing allows the relatively small optical trap display to appear larger and more fluid. While it does make images seem to appear behind the display’s actual volume, it also requires eye tracking to work since the illusion only works from a certain perspective.

These are not, of course, technically holograms. That’s actually an advantage in some cases because holograms require a tremendous amount of data that increases rapidly as the size of a display scales up. The optical trap display uses a much more manageable data rate.

We’ve seen optical trap displays before. In fact, volumetric displays seem to be all the rage lately.

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The Laser Power Record Has Been Broken

Lasers do all sorts of interesting things and — as with so many things — more is better. Korean scientists announced recently they’ve created the most powerful laser beam. 1023 watts per square centimeter, to be exact. It turns out that 1022 Watts/cm2 may not be commonplace, but has been done many times already at several facilities, including the CoReLS petawatt (PW) laser used by the researchers.

Just as improving a radio transmitter often involves antenna work instead of actual power increases, this laser setup uses an improved focus mechanism to get more energy in a 1.1 micron spot. As you might expect, doing this requires some pretty sophisticated optics.

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Air-Assist Analysis Reveals Most Effective — And Quietest — Methods

If there’s one thing that continues to impress us about the Hackaday community as the years roll by, it’s the willingness to share what we’ve learned with each other. Not every discovery will be news to everyone, and everything won’t be helpful or even interesting to everyone, but the mere act of sharing on the off chance that it’ll help someone else is really what sets the hardware hacking world apart.

Case in point: this in-depth analysis of laser cutter air-assist methods. Undertaken by [David Tucker], this project reads more like a lab writeup than a build log, because well, that’s pretty much what it is. For those not into laser cutters, an air assist is just a steady flow of air to blow smoke and cutting residue away from the beam path and optics of a laser cutter. It’s simple, but critical; without it, smoke can obscure and reflect the laser beam, foul lenses and mirrors, and severely degrade cut quality.

To see what air-assist methods work best, [David] looked at four different air pumps and compressors, along with a simple fan. Each of these methods was compared to a control of cuts made without air assist. The test was simple: a series of parallel lines cut into particle board with the beam focused on the surface at 80% power, with the cut speed slowly decreasing. It turned out that any air-assist was better than nothing, with the conspicuous exception of using just a fan, which made things worse. Helpfully, [David] included measurements of the noise levels of the compressors he tested, and found there’s no advantage to using an ear-splitting shop compressor over a quieter aquarium air pump. Plus, the aquarium pumps are cheap — always a bonus.

Not sure how to get up to speed with lasers? Laser Cutting 101 might be a great place to start.

Clever Gas Mixer Gets Just The Right Blend For Homebrew Laser Tubes

[Lucas] over at Cranktown City on YouTube has been very busy lately, but despite current appearances, his latest project is not a welder. Rather, he built a very clever gas mixer for filling his homemade CO2 laser tubes, which only looks like a welding machine. (Video, embedded below.)

We’ve been following [Lucas] on his journey to build a laser cutter from scratch — really from scratch, as he built his own laser tube rather than rely on something off-the-shelf. Getting the right mix of gas to fill the tube has been a bit of a pain, though, since he was using a party balloon to collect carbon dioxide, helium, and nitrogen at measuring the diameter of the ballon after each addition to determine the volumetric ratio of each. His attempt at automating the process centers around a so-called AirShim, which is basically a flat inflatable bag made of sturdy material that’s used by contractors to pry, wedge, lift, and shim using air pressure.

[Lucas]’ first idea was to measure the volume of gas in the bag using displacement of water and some photosensors, but that proved both impractical and unnecessary. It turned out to be far easier to sense when the bag is filled with a simple microswitch; each filling yields a fixed volume of gas, making it easy to figure out how much of each gas has been dispensed. An Arduino controls the pump, which is a reclaimed fridge compressor, monitors the limit switch and controls the solenoid valves, and calculates the volume of gas dispensed.

Judging by the video below, the mixer works pretty well, and we’re impressed by its simplicity. We’d never seriously thought about building our own laser tube before, but seeing [Lucas] have at it makes it seem quite approachable. We’re looking forward to watching his laser project come together.

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Hacking An Air Assist For The Ortur Laser

Getting great results from a laser cutter takes a bit of effort to make sure all of the settings are just right. But even then, if the air between the material and the laser source is full of smoke and debris it will interfere with the laser beam and throw off the results. The solution is to add air assist which continuously clears that area.

Earlier this year I bought an Ortur laser engraver/cutter and have been hacking on it to improve the stock capabilities. last month I talked about putting a board under the machine and making the laser move up and down easily. But I still didn’t have an air assist. Since then I found a great way to add it that will work for many laser cutter setups.

I didn’t design any of these modifications, but I did alter them to fit my particular circumstances. You can find my very simple modifications to other designs on Thingiverse. You’ll also find links to the original designs and you’ll need them for extra parts and instructions, too. It is great to be able to start with work from talented people and build on each other’s ideas.

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