If you’re reading Hackaday, you’ve probably heard of OpenBuilds. Even if the name doesn’t sound familiar, you’ve absolutely seen something on these pages that was built with their components. Not only is OpenBuilds a fantastic place to get steppers, linear rails, lead screws, pulleys, wheels, and whatever else you need to make your project go, they’re also home to an active forum of people who are passionate about developing open source machines.
As if that wasn’t enough reason to head over to the OpenBuilds website, [Peter Van Der Walt] recently wrote in to tell us about some new free and open source software he and the team have been working on that’s designed to make it easier than ever to get your creations cutting, lasing, milling, and whatever else you could possibly imagine. If you’ve got a machine that moves, they’ve got some tools you’ll probably want to check out.
“OpenBuilds CAM” is a web-based tool which imports SVG and DXF files and creates toolpaths for all sorts of cutting, whether your machine does the business using a beam of angry photons or a simple drag knife. The resulting GCode can then be plugged into “OpenBuilds CONTROL”, which as you may have guessed, does the actual controlling of the piece of hardware connected to your computer. There’s no worries about vendor lock in here either, CONTROL will talk to any Grbl-compatible board.
But what if you don’t have a board? Well, it just so happens that OpenBuilds offers a very slick new piece of gear they’re calling the BlackBox. This beefy CNC controller includes a laundry list of features that [Peter] says the team is very excited about, including stepper drivers powerful enough to run NEMA 23 motors. As an interesting note, they’ve actually made the enclosure for the BlackBox out of cleverly solder masked PCBs; a fantastic trick we don’t see often enough.
Some people have all the luck. [MakerMan] writes in to gloat tell us about a recent trip to the junkyard where he scored a rather serious looking laser cutter. This is no desktop-sized K40 we’re talking about here; it weighs in at just under 800 pounds (350 Kg), and took a crane to deliver the beast to his house. But his luck only took him so far, as closer inspection of the machine revealed it was missing nearly all of its internal components. Still, he had the frame, working motors, and laser optics, which is a lot more than we’ve ever found in the garbage.
After a whirlwind session with his wire cutters, [MakerMan] stripped away most of the existing wiring and the original control board inside the electronics bay. Replacing the original controller is an Arduino Nano running Grbl, likely giving this revived laser cutter better compatibility with popular open source tools than it had originally. Even though the laser cutter was missing a significant amount of hardware, he did luck out that both the motor drivers were still there (and working) as well as the dual power supplies to run everything.
After a successful motion test, [MakerMan] then goes on to install a new 90W laser tube. Supporting the tube is a rigged up water cooling system using a plastic jug and a cheap bilge pump. He also added an air assist system, complete with side mounted compressor. This pushes air over the laser aperture, helping to keep smoke and debris away from the beam. Finally, a blower was installed in the bottom of the machine with flexible ducting leading outside to vent out the smoke and fumes that are produced when the laser is in operation.
A while ago, [Marco] mounted a powerful laser diode to a CNC machine in an attempt to etch copper clad board and create a few PCBs. The results weren’t that great, but the technique was promising. In a new experiment, [Marco] purchased a very cheap laser engraver kit from China, and now this technique looks like it might be a winner.
[Marco] sourced his laser engraver from Banggood, and it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect for a CNC machine that costs under $200. The frame is aluminum extrusion, the motors are off-the-shelf steppers, the electronics are just Pololu-like drivers, and the software is somewhere between abysmal and terrible. Nevertheless, this machine can cut wood, leather, fabric, and can remove spray paint with a big blue laser diode.
To create his PCBs, [Marco] is first cleaning a piece of copper clad board, coating it with spray paint, then blasting it with a laser. The preferred software for this is LaserWeb, and the results are pretty good for a cheap machine.
There are a few extra steps to creating the PCB once the board has been coated with paint and blasted with a laser. This process still requires etching in either ferric chloride or some other mess of acid, but the results are good. So good, in fact, that [Marco] is experimenting with copper foil and Kapton to create flexible circuit boards. You can check out the video of these experiments below.
LaserWeb is open-source laser cutter and engraver software, and [JordsWoodShop] made a video tutorial (embedded below) on how to convert a cheap laser engraver to use it. The laser engraver used in the video is one of those economical acrylic-and-extruded-rail setups with a solid state laser emitter available from a variety of Chinese sellers (protective eyewear and any sort of ventilation or shielding conspicuously not included) but LaserWeb can work with just about any hardware, larger CO2 lasers included.
LaserWeb is important because most laser engravers and cutters have proprietary software. The smaller engravers like the one pictured above use a variety of things, and people experienced with larger CO2 laser cutters may be familiar with a piece of software called LaserCut — a combination CAD program and laser control that is serviceable, but closed (my copy even requires a USB security dongle, eww.)
LaserWeb allows laser engravers and cutters to be more like what most of us expect from our tools: a fully open-source toolchain. For example, to start using LaserWeb on one of those affordable 40 W blue-box Chinese laser cutters the only real hardware change needed is to replace the motion controller with an open source controller like a SmoothieBoard. The rest is just setting up the software and enjoying the added features.
The LaserWeb project recently released version 3, with many new features and improvements ready to give your laser cutter or engraver a serious boost in capabilities! On top of that, new 3-axis CNC support means that the door is open to having LaserWeb do for other CNC tools what it has already done for laser cutting and engraving.
LaserWeb3 supports different controllers and the machines they might be connected to – whether they are home-made systems, CNC frames equipped with laser diode emitters (such as retrofitted 3D printers), or one of those affordable blue-box 40W Chinese lasers with the proprietary controller replaced by something like a SmoothieBoard.
We’ve covered the LaserWeb project in the past but since then a whole lot of new development has been contributed, resulting in better performance with new features (like CNC mode) and a new UI. The newest version includes not only an improved ability to import multiple files and formats into single multi-layered jobs, but also Smoothieware Ethernet support and a job cost estimator. Performance in LaserWeb3 is currently best with Smoothieware, but you can still save and export GCODE to use it with Grbl, Marlin, EMC2, or Mach3.
We recently shared a lot of great information on safe homebrew laser cutter design. Are you making your own laser cutting machine, or retrofitting an existing one? Let us know about it in the comments!
Laser cutters are fantastic pieces of equipment, and thanks to open-source improvements in recent years, are getting even cheaper to make. It can be as simple as throwing a high-powered laser diode onto the head of your 3D printer! With so many home-brew designs out there, wouldn’t it be nice if there was some all-encompassing open-source, laser-cutter controller software? Well, as it turns out — there is, and it’s called LaserWeb.
What started as a simple personal project by [Peter van der Walt] has recently grown into a very formidable piece of software with over 10 contributors in just three months. It even supports four different firmwares, from grbl, to smoothieware, marlin and even lasaurgrbl!
It’s designed to support home-made laser cutters, diode based laser engravers, and even converted Chinese laser cutters. With built-in CAM for PolyLine DXF, and SVG, it can even create rasters from images. Stick around after the break to see a quick video demo — we’re going to have to try this out!