Cleaner Laser Cutting With A 3D-Printed Nozzle

[Nervous System] does a lot of laser cutting, and [Jesse] shared a fascinating experimental improvement to their laser cutter that consists of a 3D-printed nozzle for cleaner cuts. You can see the results for yourself above, where the difference between the two cuts is striking.

[Jesse]’s modification doesn’t affect the laser beam itself; it is an improvement on the air assist, which is the name for a constant stream of air that blows away smoke and debris as the laser burns and vaporizes material. An efficient air assist is one of the keys to getting nice clean laser cuts, but [Jesse] points out that a good quality air assist isn’t just about how hard the air blows, it’s also about how smoothly it does so. A turbulent air assist can make scorch marks worse, not better.

3D-printed nozzle to promote laminar air flow on the left, stock nozzle on the right.

As an experiment to improve the quality of the air flowing out the laser nozzle, [Jesse] researched ways to avoid turbulence by creating laminar flow. Laminar flow is the quality of a liquid having layers flowing past one another with little or no mixing. One way to do this is to force liquid through individual, parallel channels as it progresses towards a sharply-defined exit nozzle. While [Jesse] found no reference designs of laminar flow nozzles for air assists, there were definitely resources on making laminar flow nozzles for water. It turns out that interest in such a nozzle exists mainly as a means of modifying Lonnie Johnson’s brilliant invention, the Super Soaker.

Working from such a design, [Jesse] created a custom nozzle to help promote laminar flow. Sadly, a laser cutter head carries design constraints that make some compromises unavoidable; one is limited space, and another is the need to keep the laser’s path unobstructed. Still, after 3D printing it in rigid heat-resistant resin, [Jesse] found a dramatic improvement in the feel of the air exiting the nozzle. Some test cuts confirmed a difference in performance, which results in a noticeably cleaner kerf without scorching around the edges.

One of the things [Nervous System] does is make their own custom puzzles, so any improvement to laser cutting helps reliability and quality. When production is involved, just about everything matters; a lesson [Nervous System] shared when they discussed making the best plywood for creating their puzzles.

Making A Gorgeously-Twisty Sculpture, Using Only Flat Pieces

Closeup of unique pieces that make up the final scuplture.

The sculpture shown here is called Puzzle Cell Complex and was created by [Nervous System] as an art piece intended to be collaboratively constructed by conference attendees. The sculpture consists of sixty-nine unique flat panel pieces, each made from wood, which are then connected together without the need for tools by using plastic rivets. Everything fits into a suitcase and assembly documentation is a single page of simple instructions. The result is the wonderfully-curved gyroid pattern you see here.

The sculpture has numerous layers of design, not the least of which was determining how to make such an organically-curved shape using only flat panels. The five-foot assembled sculpture has a compelling shape, which results from the sixty-nine individual panels and how they fit together. These individual panel shapes have each been designed using a technique called variational surface cutting to minimize distortion, resulting in their meandering, puzzle-piece-like outlines. Each panel also has its own unique pattern of cutouts within itself, which makes the panels lighter and easier to bend without sacrificing strength. The short video embedded below shows the finished sculpture in all its glory.

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This Dibbling Plate Will Grow Your Love For Sowing

One of the best things about 3D printers and laser cutters is their ability to produce specialized tools that steal time back from tedious processes. Seed sowing is a great example of this. Even if you only want to sow one tray with two dozen or so seeds, you still have to fill the tray with soil, level it off, compress it evenly, and poke all the holes. When seed sowing is the kernel of your bread and butter, doing all of that manually will eat up a lot of time.

There are machines out there to do dibbling on a large scale, but [Michael Ratcliffe] has been dabbling in dibbling plates for the smaller-scale farm. He’s created an all-in-one tool that does everything but dump the soil in the tray. Once you’ve done that, you can use edge to level off the excess soil, compress it with the back side, and then flip to the bed-of-nails side to make all the holes at once. It comes apart easily, so anyone can replace broken or dulled dibblers.

[Michael] is selling these fairly cheaply, but you can find all the files and build instructions out there in the Thingiverse. We planted the demo video after the break.

More into micro-greens? 3D printing can feed that fixation, too.

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Plastics: Acrylic

If anything ends up on the beds of hobbyist-grade laser cutters more often than birch plywood, it’s probably sheets of acrylic. There’s something strangely satisfying about watching a laser beam trace over a sheet of the crystal-clear stuff, vaporizing a hairs-breadth line while it goes, and (hopefully) leaving a flame-polished cut in its wake.

Acrylic, more properly known as poly(methyl methacrylate) or PMMA, is a wonder material that helped win a war before being developed for peacetime use. It has some interesting chemistry and properties that position it well for use in the home shop as everything from simple enclosures to laser-cut parts like gears and sprockets.

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Behold The WT-220: A ‘Clever’ VT-220 Terminal

[John Whittington] failed to win a bid for an old VT-220 serial terminal on eBay, so he decided to make his own version and improve it along the way. The result is the Whitterm-220 (or WT-220) which has at its core a Raspberry Pi and is therefore capable of more than just acting as a ‘dumb’ serial terminal.

Rear of the WT-220 with paint-filled laser engraving and all necessary connectors.

The enclosure is made from stacked panels of laser-cut plywood with an acrylic plate on the back for labels and connectors, where [John] worked paint into the label engravings before peeling off the acrylic’s protective film. By applying paint after laser-engraving but before peeling off the film, it acts as a fill and really makes the text pop.

Near the front, one layer of clear acrylic among the plywood layers acts as a light guide and serves as a power indicator, also doing double duty as TX/RX activity lights. When power is on, that layer glows, serving as an attractive indicator that doesn’t interfere with looking at the screen. When data is sent or received, a simple buffer circuit tied to the serial lines lights up LEDs to show TX or RX activity, with the ability to enable or disable this functionality by toggling a GPIO pin. A video overview is embedded below, where you can see the unit in action.

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Young Entrepreneurs Learn What Really Goes Into Making A Product

Just to be clear, the primary goal of the Papas Inventeurs (Inventor Dads) was to have the kids make something, have fun, and learn. In that light, they enjoyed a huge success. Four children designed, made, and sold laser-cut napkin rings from a booth at the Ottawa Maker Faire as a fun learning process (English translation, original link in French.) [pepelepoisson] documented the entire thing from beginning to end with plenty of photos. Things started at proof of concept, then design brainstorming, prototyping, manufacture, booth design, and finally sales. While adults were involved, every step was done by the kids themselves.

It all began when the kids were taken to a local fab lab at the École Polytechnique and made some laser-cut napkin holders from plywood for personal use. Later, they decided to design, manufacture, and sell them at the Ottawa Maker Faire. Money for the plywood came from piggy banks, 23 different designs made the cut, and a total of 103 rings were made. A display board and signs made from reclaimed materials rounded out the whole set.

In the end, about 20% of people who visited and showed interest made a purchase, and 60 of the 103 pieces were sold for a profit of $126. Of course, the whole process also involved about 100 hours of combined work between the kids and parents and use of a laser cutter, so it’s not exactly a recipe for easy wealth. But it was an incredibly enriching experience, at least figuratively, for everyone involved.

Possibly the biggest takeaway was the way manufacturing involved much more than just pressing “GO” on a laser cutter. Some pieces needed sanding after laser cutting, and each piece got two coats of varnish. If you missed it, [Bob Baddeley] showed how labor, and not materials, ends up being the most expensive part of a product.

Video Shows Power Isn’t Everything In Laser Engraving

When it comes to power tools, generally speaking more watts is better. But as laser maestro [Martin Raynsford] shows, watts aren’t everything. He shares a brief video showing his older 100 W laser being handily outperformed by a newer 30 W machine. Shouldn’t the higher power laser be able to do the same job in less time? One might think so, but wattage isn’t everything. The 30 W laser engraves and cuts a wooden tile in just under half the time it takes the 100 W machine to do the same job, and with a nicer end result, to boot.

Why such a difference? Part of the answer to that question lies in that the newer machine has better motion control and can handle higher speeds, but the rest is due to the tubes themselves. The older 100 W machine uses a DC-excited (big glass water-cooled tube) CO2 laser, and the newer 30 W machine uses an RF-excited laser that looks a bit like a big metal heat sink instead of oversized lab glassware. Both tubes output what is essentially the same beam, but the RF tube is overall capable of a more refined, more stable, and more finely focused point than that of the glass tube. Since engraving uses only a small fraction of even the 30 W laser’s power, the finer control that the RF laser has over the low end of the power scale results in a much higher quality engraving.

Embedded below is a short video showing both machines engraving and cutting the same tile, side by side. You may wish to consider watching this one full screen, to better see the fine details.

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