Micromachining With A Laser

[Breaking Taps] has a nice pulsed fiber laser and decided to try it to micromachine with silicon. You can see the results in the video below. Silicon absorbs the IR of the laser well, although the physical properties of silicon leave something to be desired. He also is still refining the process for steel, copper, and brass which might be a bit more practical.

The laser has very short duration pulses, but the pulses have a great deal of energy. This was experimental so some of the tests didn’t work very well, but some — like the gears — look great.

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Open Source Replacement For EzCAD

[Bryce] obtained a fiber laser engraver to use for rapid PCB prototyping last Fall. But he was soon frustrated by the limitations of the standard EzCAD software that typically comes with these and similar devices — it is proprietary, doesn’t have features aimed at PCB manufacturing, only runs on Windows, and is buggy. As one does, [Bryce] decided to ditch EzCAD and write his own tool, Balor, named after the King of the Fomorians.

The controller board in [Bryce]’s machine is a Beijing JCZ LMCV4-FIBER-M board, containing an Altera FPGA and a Cypress 8051 USB controller. So far, he hasn’t needed to dump or modify the FPGA or 8051 code. Instead, he sorted out the commands by just observing the USB operations as generated by a copy of EzCAD running know operations. A lot of these engraving systems use this control board, but [Bryce] want’s to collect data dumps from users with different boards in order to expand the library.

Balor is written in Python and provides a set of command line tools aimed at engineering applications of your engraver, although still supporting regular laser marking as well. You can download the program from the project’s GitLab repository. He’s running it on Linux, but it should work on Mac and Windows (let him know if you have any portability issues). Check out our write-up from last year about using these lasers to make PCBs. Are you using a laser engraver to make rapid prototype boards in your shop? Tell us about your setup in the comments.

Laser doping silicon wafer

Laser Doping His Way To Homemade Silicon Chips

It’s a pity that more electronics enthusiasts haven’t taken the hobby to its ultimate level: making your own semiconductors. There are plenty of good reasons for that: chief among them is the huge expense involved in obtaining the necessary equipment. But for the sufficiently clever, there are ways around that.

[Zachary Tong] is dipping his toes into the DIY semiconductor world, and further to the goal of keeping costs to a hobbyist scale, is experimenting with laser doping of silicon. Doping is the process of adding impurities to silicon wafers in a controlled manner to alter the electrical properties of the semiconductor. [Zach]’s doping method is a more localized version of the simple thermal diffusion method, which drives a dopant like phosphorus into silicon using high temperatures, but instead of using a tube furnace, he’s using a fiber laser.

The video below shows his two-step process, which first blasts the silicon oxide layer off the wafer before doping with the laser shining through a bath of phosphoric acid. The process is admittedly fussy, and the results were mixed at best. [Zach]’s testing seems to suggest that some doping occurred, and it even looks like he managed to make something reasonably diode-like using the method.

Although the jury is still out on [Zach]’s method, we thought the effort was the important bit here. Granted, not everyone has a fiber laser kicking around to replicate his results, but it’s always good to see progress in the DIY semiconductor field. Here’s hoping [Zach]’s work, along with the stuff that [Sam Zeloof] is doing, kicks off a spate of garage semiconductor fabs.

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Laser Blasts Out High-Quality PCBs

With how cheap and how fast custom PCBs have gotten, it almost doesn’t make sense to roll your own anymore, especially when you factor in the messy etching steps and the less than stellar results. That’s not the only way to create a PCB, of course, and if you happen to have access to a 20-Watt fiber laser, you can get some fantastic homemade PCBs that are hard to tell from commercial boards.

Lucikly, [Saulius Lukse] of Kurokesu fame has just such a laser on hand, and with a well-tuned toolchain and a few compromises, he’s able to turn out 0.1-mm pitch PCBs in 30 minutes. The compromises include single-sided boards and no through-holes, but that should still allow for a lot of different useful designs. The process starts with Gerbers going through FlatCAM and then getting imported into EZCAD for the laser. There’s a fair bit of manual tweaking before the laser starts burning away the copper between the traces, which took about 20 passes for 0.035-mm foil on FR4. We have to admit that watching the cutting proceed in the video below is pretty cool.

Once the traces are cut, UV-curable solder resist is applied to the whole board. After curing, the board goes back to the laser for another pass to expose the pads. A final few passes with the laser turned up to 11 cuts the finished board free. We wonder why the laser isn’t used to drill holes; we understand that vias would be hard to connect to the other side, but it seems like through-hole components could be supported. Maybe that’s where [Saulius] is headed with this eventually, since there are traces that terminate in what appears to be via pads.

Whatever the goal, these boards are really slick. We usually see lasers used to remove resist prior to traditional etching, so this is a nice change.

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Fun With A 200-kW Fiber Laser

We’ve all heard the “Do not stare into laser with remaining eye” joke. It’s funny because it’s true, as pretty much any laser a hobbyist can easily come by can cause permanent damage to eyes unless the proper precautions are taken. But a fiber laser with 200kW peak power is in another hazard class entirely.

Granted, outsized power ratings like this are a bit misleading, based as they are on femtosecond-long pulses. And to be sure, the fiber laser that [Marco Reps] tears down in the video below was as harmless as a kitten when he got it, thanks to its output optics having been unceremoniously shorn from the amplifier by its former owner. Reattaching the output and splicing the fiber would be necessary to get the laser lasing again, but [Marco] had other priorities in mind. He wanted to understand the operation of a fiber laser, but the tangle of fibers on two separate levels inside the chassis was somewhat inscrutable. The coils of fiber wrapped around the aluminum drums inside the chassis turned out to be the amplifier; fed by a semiconductor seed laser, the light pulse travels through the ytterbium-doped fiber of the two-stage amplifier, which is the active gain medium where stimulated emission, and therefore amplification, occurs.

With a little reverse engineering and the help of an online manual, he was able to understand the laser’s operation. A laser company helped him splice the optics back together – seeing the splicing rig in action is worth the price of admission alone – and the unit seems to be in more or less working order at this point. Normally the most powerful laser we see around here are the CO2 lasers in those cheap Chinese laser cutters, so we’re looking forward to learning more about fiber lasers.

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