Squares of sample materials placed on the laser bed awaiting the sensing head

Smart Laser Cutter Ad-on Detects Material Optically

Come on now, admit it. You’ve done it. We’ve done it. You know — you were really sure that sheet of plastic stock you found lying around the hackerspace was acrylic right? You dialled in the settings, loaded the design, set the focus and pushed the little green ‘start’ button. Lots of black smoke, fire, and general badness ensued as you lunged for the red ‘stop’ button, before lifting the lid to work out how you’re going to clean this one up.

That was not acrylic. That was polycarbonate.

What you need is the latest gadget from MIT: SensiCut: A smart laser cutter system that detects different materials automatically.

The technique makes use of so-called ‘speckle imaging’ where a material illuminated by a laser will produce a unique pattern of reflected spots, or speckles into a camera. By training a deep neural model with a large set of samples, it was found possible to detect up to 30 types of material with 98% accuracy.

The pre-baked model runs on a Raspberry PI zero with an off-the-shelf camera all powered from a power bank. This allows the whole assembly to simply drop onto an existing laser cutter head, with no wiring needed.

Even if you’re a seasoned laser cutter user, with a well-controlled stock pile, the peace-of-mind this could give would definitely be worth the effort. A more detailed description and more videos may be found by reading the full paper. Here’s hoping they release the system as open source, one day in the not-to-distant future. If not, then, you know what to do :)

Continue reading “Smart Laser Cutter Ad-on Detects Material Optically”

Discarded Plastic Laser-Cut And Reassembled

The longevity of plastic is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s extremely durable, inexpensive, and easy to work with, but it also doesn’t biodegrade and lasts indefinitely in the environment when not disposed of properly. While this can mean devastating impacts to various ecosystems, it can also be a benefit if you happen to pick this plastic up and also happen to have a laser cutter around.

After cleaning and sorting plastic that they had found from various places, including scraps from a 3D printing facility, the folks at [dinalab] set about turning waste plastic into something that would be usable once more. After sorting it they shredded it and then melted it into sheets. They found that a sandwich press yielded the best results, as it kept the plastic at a low enough temperature to keep it from burning. Once its off of the press and properly cooled, the flat sheets of plastic can be sent to the laser cutter to be made into whatever useful thing they happen to need.

Not only does this process reuse plastic that would otherwise end up in the landfill (or worse, the ocean), it can also reuse plastic from itself since the scraps can be re-melted back into sheets. Plastic does lose some of its favorable material properties with repeated heat cycles, but we’d have to imagine this is negligible for the types of things that [dinalab] is creating. Of course, you can always skip the heat cycles entirely and turn waste plastic directly into 3D printer filament instead.

Continue reading “Discarded Plastic Laser-Cut And Reassembled”

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.

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.

Continue reading “Hacking An Air Assist For The Ortur Laser”

Laser-Cut Solder Masks From Business Cards

There are plenty of ways to make printed circuit boards at home but for some features it’s still best to go to a board shop. Those features continue to decrease in number, but not a lot of people can build things such as a four-layer board at home. Adding a solder mask might be one of those features for some, but if you happen to have a laser cutter and a few business cards sitting around then this process is within reach of the home builder too.

[Jeremy Cook] is lucky enough to have a laser cutter around, and he had an idea to use it to help improve his surface mount soldering process. By cutting the solder mask layer into a business card with the laser cutter, it can be held on top of a PCB and then used as a stencil to add the solder paste more easily than could otherwise be done. It dramatically decreases the amount of time spent on this part of the process, especially when multiple boards are involved since the stencil can be used multiple times.

While a laser cutter certainly isn’t a strict requirement, it certainly does help over something like an X-acto knife. [Jeremy] also notes that this process is sometimes done with transparency film or even Kapton, which we have seen a few times before as well.

Continue reading “Laser-Cut Solder Masks From Business Cards”

Hacking The Ortur Laser With Spoil Board, Z-Height, And Air Assist

Last month in my hands-on review of the Ortur Laser I hinted that I had done a few things to make it work a little better. I made three significant changes in particular: I anchored the machine to a spoil board with markings, I added a moving Z axis to adjust focus by moving the entire laser head, and I added an air assist.

Turns out, you can find designs for all of these things all over the Internet and I did, in fact, use other people’s designs. The problem is the designs often conflict with one another or don’t exactly work for your setup. So what I’ll tell you about is the combination that worked for me and what I had to do to get it all working together. The air assist is going to take a post all by itself, but some of the attempts at air assist led to some of the other changes I made, so we’ll talk about it some in this post, as well.

One of the modifications — the spoil board mount — I simply downloaded and the link for that is below. However, I modified the moving Z axis and air assist parts and you can find my very simple modifications on Thingiverse. You’ll also find links to the original designs and you’ll need them for extra parts and instructions, too.

Continue reading “Hacking The Ortur Laser With Spoil Board, Z-Height, And Air Assist”

Laser Focus Made Easier With IR Filter

If you’ve used a diode laser engraver or cutter, you know that focus is critical. You’d think it would be relatively simple to get a sharp focus, but it isn’t that simple. [Makers Mashup] shows in a video how to use an adjustable IR filter to cut out all the light bleed to get a sharp image to make focusing simpler.

The filter he shows adjusts from 530nm to 750nm and is made to screw into a 72mm lens, but it works fine with your eyeballs, too. [Makers Mashup] says he’ll eventually make a stand for it so he can look through it with both hands free.

Continue reading “Laser Focus Made Easier With IR Filter”