Laser Exhaust Complete, First Test Fire

Completed the exhaust system for my FSL 5th gen laser today and did the first test fire! All seems well. First the exhaust, then some nit picks about the setup. As mentioned in the first post about the exhaust, I got the Harbor Freight 1HP dust collector, the router speed control, and this 4" blast gate. To complete the setup I ordered this 4" stay put flexible duct hose, and made a run to Home Depot for the following:

  • 4" x 5' metal rigid vent pipe
  • 4" dryer vent hood
  • two 4" 90 degree adjustable vent pipe elbows
  • 4" x 2ft alum. vent pipe
  • four 8"x8"x16" cinder blocks
  • 3 roofing shingles
  • four 2.5" 5/16 bolts/nuts/washers
  • 2 hinges

With all this and a bunch of spare lumber I had around, I built the exhaust box. I used 2x2 for the corner supports, 3/4" plywood for the side, 3/4" MDF for the base, and some 1/2" chip board for the top. The base is around 16" square, same for the back, front is 13" x 16", sides 16" with angle cut at top to make sloped roof. Basic layout is like so.

exhaustIMG_6255

The blower is bolted to the MDF with some 2.5" 5/16ths bolts.

exhaustIMG_6257

I then cut the holes for the intake and exhaust and screwed it all together. There is a notch in the back side of the floor to run the power cable through. Running it out the bottom keeps water from running down the cable into the box, this way it'll just drip off the bottom. Some duct was run between the exhaust and the dryer vent, and a 90 deg elbow for the intake both hose clamped on. I put some hinges on the top so I have access to change motor brushes or clean it out etc.

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I threw some shingles on top for rain protection but we'll see how that goes. Also some aluminum tape around the inlet hole to keep water out.

exhaustIMG_6302

The window insert is 1/2" plywood with a 4 1/4" circle cut into it for the blast gate and a notch for the power cable. The cable comes in the window and plugs into the router speed control with is mounted on the inside. I painted it black and am using cheapo foam pipe insulation as weather stripping and it works great.

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The blast gate lets me shut off outside air to keep the tube from freezing in the cold. Pretty simple setup and it's pretty quiet when not running full blast, which I don't foresee doing too often as it's a LOT of air at full speed.

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Pretty happy with the setup. Easy to remove if I need to move the laser, and pretty quiet for me. We'll see what the neighbors think.

Setup and Test Fire

Setting up the water pump and air compressor was pretty simple. They forgot to put in an air tube so I had to run to Petco and get a 1/4" OD air tube for $5. The air compressor comes with a splitter which is semi annoying as you have to block all the split ports since you just need one to go to the 1/4" OD air assist input to the printer. This is my ghetto quick rig just to test it. I'll come up with something better.

air pump

The air hose on the inside of the laser that come out of the coupler wasn't seated very well so I had to take the side panel off the laser and reseat it. Otherwise everything seemed well assembled. I threw some thermal paper on the bed and fired the pumps up and did a test fire and the laser looks well aligned. Ready to rock! Just waiting on the iMac to get here that will be used to run the laser so I can run an actual job! Can't wait.

Friggin Lasers
Posted on March 3, 2013 and filed under Laser.

Got it

Picked up the laser yesterday from FSL headquarters in Las Vegas. They (Lane, and Joe) gave us a nice demo and answered the few questions I had. Super nice and helpful people. Interesting to see their assembly process and warehouse. Kicking myself now for not taking photos. Laser is unboxed and in good shape (other than some packing foam that wasn't covered with plastic properly that is now glued to the bottom of the case). Gotta finish the exhaust system today!

Posted on March 2, 2013 and filed under Laser.

Laser Exhaust

A laser burns/vaporizes to cut material, which means lots of smoke and nastiness coming off the laser bed, which needs to be vented away not only for optical reasons (a laser shooting through smoke gets scattered and loses power) but for health/sanity reasons. Originally I was going to put the laser in the basement workspace but after realizing I'd need to be present during cuts for safety reasons, I decided I'd rather spend that time in my office rather than the freezing ass cold basement. So... how to vent/exhaust a laser out of my office... I found this great "Laser Exhaust Systems Basics" article very helpful.

The FSL 40W 5th gen hobby laser I've ordered has a 4 inch exhaust port on the back, which can be seen in this YouTube video. They offer an exhaust fan for $250 as an accessory. I know I could get one for half that, and even FSL suggests as much mentioning the one from Harbor Freight I'll talk about below. The exhaust will come out of the laser via metal 4" flexible ducting (dryer hose style) and pass through a 4-Inch Blast Gate in a window seal probably made of painted wood. From there I'll probably run metal vent pipe down to the exhaust fan outside of the house in a weatherproof box (doghouse? plastic tub? something like this but much nicer?). This will keep most of the noise outside of the house and the blast gate will allow me to keep the cold air off the laser tube when the system is off and control the airflow when needed to a finer degree than the speed controller. Nice negative pressure system sucking air through the laser bed and venting outside. But what fan to use...?

After reading way to much about exhaust fans on the forums...  I settled on a couple of options.

240 Bilge

This thread on the FSL forums recommends an in-line bilge fan, specifically a Rule 240 Marine Bilge Blower, which is $33 (plus a $17 power adaptor... it's 12V after all). That's cheap! Noise level reports are all over the map. You could easily put a dimmer switch on it to control speed. It's rated at 240 Cubic Feet/Minute (CFM).

1HP dust collector from HF

The other more popular option on all the forums is the 1HP Mini Dust Collector at Harbor Freight, referred to as "the red one". It's $99 (easily $80 with HF coupons) and can be speed controlled with a router speed controller for $20. So supposedly much more powerful but much more expensive. I like the easy speed control that will also allow me to turn the fan on and off remotely. Con is that it uses a brushed motor so the reports are that the brushes have to be replaced fairly often with regular use and that they are hard to find. The other popular option is this "green one" from Harbor Freight, which is brushless so it'll last a lot longer with less maintenance, but it's soft start so it can't be speed controlled. It's supposedly much quieter, though "the red one" is supposedly pretty quiet when not at full power.

So I'm going for the red one with speed controller as of now. (Ordered on 2/20/2013 with blast gate and 9" level from HF)

Concerns

The whole negative pressure thing could be interesting. As the Exhaust Systems Basics article mentions, a system like this needs "make up air"... or air to replace all that air you are sucking out of your space. A 500 CFM setup will suck all the air out of a 8' x 8' x 8' room in one minute, creating a vacuum. You are also pumping out all of the heat/cool of your room/house depending on the season. So in winter I'm basically blowing all my heat out the window. I'm going to set it up and see how it goes. I might have to set up an outside air feeder system or just end up putting it in the basement workshop where that's not a concern. We shall see...

Posted on February 20, 2013 and filed under Laser.

The Laser

FSL 40W Hobby Laser... ZAP

The laser I settled on is a 40W CO2 Hobby Laser (5th gen) by Full Spectrum Laser.

I ordered on February 1, 2013, order #100001667. It should ship... Ummm... 4-6 weeks... so no idea. An email asking for queue status received nothing (and so the shitty support begins!... more on this later).

Cost: $3,649.00 Shipping: $0, I'm going to drive to Vegas to pick it up. I'm going to source the exhaust fan and air compressor myself instead of their $250 and $150 add-on options. They provide a small water pump for laser tube cooling for free which you are supposed to put in a 5 gallon bucket of distilled water.

Specs:

  • Work Area 20"x12"
  • Machine Dimensions 31.5"x20"x8.25"
  • Net Weight 70 lbs
  • Laser Type Sealed CO2 laser tube
  • focusing mechanism allows for fully removable Z floor (unlimited material size)
  • Laser Power 40W Peak (30-35W Average)
  • Power Supply AC 110V Native (220V Option Available)
  • microSD slot for storage of up to 32GB of job storage (run without a computer connected)
  • integrated beam combiner+red dot pointer comes standard ($300 value)
  • Free HoneyComb Table
  • up to 1000 dpi resolution and 0.001" repeatability
  • includes 2" lens for cutting and engraving
  • Gross Power Less than 1000W
  • Driving System Stepper
  • Cooling Mode Water-cooling and protection system
  • Operating Temperature 0 - 45°C
  • Z table Pat Pend Sliding Z + Removable Floor
  • Controlling Software: RetinaEngrave USB Direct Print Drivers (100% USA Software)
  • dual processor ARM+DSP RetinaEngrave 3D Ethernet+USB

Software and Manual can be downloaded here. The HEAVILY censored support forums are here (more on this later). The FSL Youtube channel is here with setup videos and demos. General laser cutter/engraver forums can be found at Sawmill Creek and CNC Zone.

Why FSL...

SO... this was a painful decision which I waffled on for nearly a month after doing tons of research. From what I gathered, when it comes to lasers, you basically have a few options for a low end power 40-60 Watt laser cutter/etcher:

  1. Buy from a super cheap Chinese laser off of eBay or directly from a Chinese manufacturer like G-Weike. This will save you tons of money up front, but cost you lots of time after. You can get twice the power for half (or more) the cost of an American made laser, but you get Chinglish manuals, a cheaply made machine that WILL need lots of fixing up after shipping, no direct support options, and poor software. So cheap up front, expensive in time and possibly $ upgrades later
  2. Buy an American or European made laser from someone like Epilog, Trotec, or Universal. There are other players but those are the big boys. These are high end, well made and well supported machines with solid software, and mystery pricing... which means they are expensive. They all offer low end machines but even those are 3, 4 or 5 times what you can spend on an equivalently powered Chinese laser. They use dealer networks and negotiable prices so finding out the cost of these can be a pain unless you want to deal with a bunch of salesman and make a lot of calls. Even used 40 Watt Epilogs go for over $12,000.  So you pay heavily for solid support and industrial grade machines. I considered this and looked locally and found a $9000 used Epilog, but since I don't have a serious business plan, I thought better of it. 
  3. Buy a Chinese laser that has been imported into the US, setup, and rebadged. These are mid range price-wise between the above two options. Rabbit Laser and Hurricane Lasers are a couple of examples, though there are others. They use Chinese tubes and usually fully Chinese built machines that they import, check, add features to, and sell with a small premium. Here you get better service but still usually twice what you'd pay if you imported yourself.
  4. Build Your Own. There are a few options here, but from my research the best option around for a DIY laser cutter in this range is the Buildlog.net 2.x laser designed by Bart Dring. More details here. The whole setup is open source and Bill of Materials (BOM) are provided and allows you to use the software and controller of your choice. Some custom parts are available as kits if you don't have access to machines shops or whathaveyou to make them, but the problem is that Bart only makes these in limited quantities, rarely, and on a first come first served basis after posting a note on the forum and his twitter feed. So some parts can be hard to come by. Supposedly you can build this laser for under $2000. This is super appealing to me but after considering the time sink it would take to first get my head around it (the site is only semi-organized... it would take a lot of forum digging to find all the hitches etc), to get ahold of all the parts, build, and debug... the monetary savings seem insignificant.
  5. Buy Full Spectrum Laser. These guys had a successful Kickstarter campaign for their 5th Gen 40W hobby laser and have been backordered ever since trying to fill the demand. They apparently were in category 3 above for a while with their original 40W hobby laser (between $1850 and $2400) but with this new model they say they took all they knew from the Chinese lasers and build their own (apparently borrowing heavily from the BuildLog.net laser mentioned above)... and that adds a premium as this one costs $3500. They still use cheapo $300 Chinese tubes but the rest of the machine is an in-house design with their own software and driver board. They claim all over the place about being made in the USA, and that has an appeal in that their office is 6 hours from where I sit, and if something breaks to the point where I need to see someone face to face, I could drive to Vegas and handle it. They claim great support and great reviews on Google Checkout, however a brief search of the general forums listed above will reveal quite a bit of vitriol aimed at FSL and their business practices. Here is a good example of one person's experience with them, and their method of buying good reviews and quieting bad ones. They censor their support forum under the guise of making it more useful and a resource for it's users, but there's obviously more to it than that once you start reading people's experiences with posts being deleted and accounts suspended. This would usually make me run the opposite direction, but being well aware of the power of the vocal minority on forums (for both good and bad)... I decided to take the risk. This is the price point and time sink level I'm willing to take on, and if it works, awesome. If not, I'll have the same frustrations I would have had going with a cheaper laser anyway... so it's a gamble. Hopefully by picking it up and checking the place out in person, I'll have a better idea of how to interact with them. It's clear emails aren't the way. But... I'm looking at this as a learning experience so if I have to work on the laser a bit so be it. I went through this type of random great/horrible service with my helicopter from DJI so I sort of know the ropes a bit anyway. This is hopefully just a stepping stone to a big boy... more on that later.

Accessories

I haven't purchased anything yet, but as mentioned I'll need an exhaust fan and an air assist pump. I have a couple I'm looking at but am reconsidering lately as I think I'm going to put both this and my 3D Printer in my office, so I'll have to come up with an exhaust system that can sit outside of my window and pull from there to help alleviate noise a bit. I'll update this when I do.

What's Next

LasersaurModel

LASERSAUR.  Ultimately I want to build one of these, if the laser thing pans out at all. It's a huge 2' x 4' 100+ Watt open source hardware and software laser. It's beautiful and made with extruded aluminum framing. I think I want to build them more than use them. If this project was about 6 months more mature, I'd probably have dove in and started to build one. But, they don't have engraving sorted yet, and there's a lot of bugs still being worked out. But just check out their BOM and Manual. The level of organization and support make this one VERY appealing. It's very well documented. I'm keeping an eye on the Lasersaur Google Group and once they get the raster stuff sorted and work out the major bugs, I'll probably start building one and sell my FSL. One could actually make money off a workhorse laser like this instead of doing hobby grade trinkets.

WHY?

I have a list of small projects I want to do with this. I'm not sure if any of them are sellable or could pay for the machine over time but we shall see. I'm hoping to use it to enable me to do a few artistic projects I've wanted to do for a while but haven't made the time for... I find sinking a ton of money into something makes for good motivation to use it and learn it quickly. Either way it's something new to learn and should be a good mix of tech and hands on art ... which is the balance I've been trying to find for years.

Posted on February 14, 2013 and filed under Laser.

The 3D Printer

Aluminatus

The printer I settled on is an Aluminatus TrinityOne by Trinity Labs.

I ordered on 01/27/2013, order #1320. It's supposed to ship Feb. 20th. Cost: $1,899.00 USD Shipping: $91.66 USD Total: $1,990.66 USD

Quick Specs:

  • Build Area: X 300mm, Y 300mm, Z 350mm (which is over a cubic foot)
  • FootPrint: X 527mm, Y 590mm, Z 587mm
  • RAMPS Driver board running Marlin (with upgrade path to Smoothie... soon hopefully)
  • External LCD w/click wheel controller, SD card slot, for PC independence
  • 400W Kapton heater bed
  • Borosilicate print surface
  • Two 24V power supplies (one 17A for the heater and one 8-10A for everything else)
  • 0.4mm nozzle Jhead MKV-b hot end and uses a hobbled pulley made by blddk
  • Custom extruder with true planetary gear head nema17 motor
  • PLA or ABS (plus nylon and other new materials)
  • Z axis is capable or 0.025mm or 25micrometer layer heights
  • +-0.02mm repeatability and resolution per meter of travel

The hardware is all open source. The files are on Thingiverse. There is a very active support group on Google Groups. Videos of the prototypes on YouTube.

Notes:

After a quick bit of research and forum scouting, it was obvious that Ezra Zygmuntowicz, who founded Trinity Labs, has extensive knowledge in this type of printer, and more importantly, was serious about supporting them and making the best printer one could for the $2k price range. I loved the lead screw setup over belts, and the build size and speed of this printer is hard to beat for the price, build quality, and completeness of the Aluminatus. When it comes down to it, his enthusiasm and willingness to "make things right" on the groups and forums sold me immediately and I got in on the second batch order after only a few hours research. There seem to be LOTS of issues with the MakerBots and the forums are too full of newbs like me. And of the few others I considered, the Aluminatus has them beat in most factors.

I'd swore I wouldn't plunge into 3D printing until the DLP or Stereolithography style printers were more mainstream and affordable, ala the FormOne, but until that company and all it's issues are worked out, I'll stick to the tried and true FDM style for a year or so just to get going and see if it's something I want to pursue. I'd seen the bad quality and amount of time it took just to get the printer working much less to print anything worth saving, and decided the time investment wasn't worth it yet, but it seems the software and hardware are finally to a point that I can tolerate the time-sink. At least at this price point. Any other DIY or $500-$1000 printer you're looking at a lot of setup and figuring. We shall see!

Supplies:

Along with the printer I ordered some filament from Trinity Labs to ship with the printer:

I also ordered some 618 Nylon fillament from Taulman 3D:

I ordered a set of ball head metric allen keys to aid with construction of the Aluminatus (ball heads were recommended by a couple of guys who've already built theirs) from Amazon:

And to help with bed leveling, I ordered a cheapo dial indicator from eBay:

And to check print bed and hot-end temps... I ordered an IR Thermometer from Amazon:

Posted on February 12, 2013 and filed under 3D Printing.

What it is

This will serve as a place for me to log my adventures in home fabrication. I've ordered a laser cutter and a 3D printer (FINALLY) and am going to need a place to organize and share settings, files, lessons learned, mods, etc. Earl Grey, HOT! Get it? Get it? Nerd.

Posted on February 12, 2013 and filed under Uncategorized.