The Endurance team has been dealing with powerful diode lasers L-Cheapo for six months already. The Endurance Laser Lab is aheap with engraving samples of engraving on various materials. People are constantly approaching us with requests and suggestions regarding engraving on all sorts of subjects ranging from a wallet down to a smart phone, providing food for good guys’ thought…
The solution was to assemble a user-friendly laser engraving machine for home and office, easy enough to be operated by a basic user with the help of a simple manual. But we wanted a multi functional laser 3D station, at that.
We have L-Cheapo lasers (2.1 W — 5 W) and an impressive experience in installation of L-Cheapo lasers on various types of 3D printers and plotters. (On our web site there’s an Instruction on Endurance L-Cheapo laser installation). As you might agree, to manage the task we needed a robust, functional and compact 3D printer for home and office, easily modifiable and upgradable. Wanhao Duplicator i3 is the best model corresponding to our demands. The 3D Today resource has a pile of reviews and articles dedicated to Wanhao. By the way, its modified version has been recently presented. However, this printer has a critical safety drawback. Lack of an enclosed casing. A powerful laser beam of Endurance L-Cheapo even diffused is dangerous for human eyes. Be all means, we’ll work with the laser wearing safety goggles but we need to take care of others as well. Of those, present in the room or those who might enter the room by chance. So we need to strictly observe safety regulations. It’s better to be on the safety side.
With this in mind, we decided to make a safety box for Wanhao to cover the printer while in the laser operation. We made it pretty quickly out of nontransparent acrylic 4 mm thick, gluing the sides together, reinforcing the construction with corner ribs, and adding a handle to the front side for better handling.
As the Wanhao Duplicator i3 printer is made out of steel, its parts are protected against damage by a reflected laser beam.
A few words about the “electronic” component of the system L-Cheapo Laser + Wanhao Duplicator i3. The laser is mounted to the base of the extruder fan and is powered instead of it. You need to open the panel box (removing 6 screws), find the FAN connector of the controller board, and connect to it the wires powering our laser. We place the ON/OFF button of the laser on the spool carrier fixing it to the Wanhao Duplicator i3 upper frame, where it should be. Little refitting and soldering will not take much time.
Now a few words about the “mechanical” part of the laser mounting. It is important for our laser beam to be absolutely vertical. It is easy to check making a few cuttings on a wood (at the angles of 0 and 90), changing the height of the laser. If the cutting line is straight, without shifts, the laser is installed vertically.
Another important issue is laser focusing. At the distance of 20 cm the laser beam is too diffused to engrave a wooden sample. Use the Laser Engraver Instruction to set the correct laser parameters on Z axis. Do it beforehand. There is also a similar article on the web site of Endurance.
For the engraver to recognize the image, you have to convert it into G code. To do the task you need the following software: RepetierHost, Cura, InkScape, Notepad++, CNC Viewer and perhaps more. But not everybody is ready to download so many programs to one’s PC or tablet just for implementing into life one artistic idea. It is much better to have a separate device for engraving.
A simple budget solution is a Windows tablet Prestigio Multipad Visconte Quad 3G. We installed to it all the programs named above. It has one little minus – a bit late response due to its rather low efficiency. But its big plus is compactibility of the device in general.
The most interesting things await you when you try to engrave various materials: wood, plywood, acrylic, Plexiglas, polystyrene, leather, etc. adding certain chemicals to the engraving samples.
The scenario of the user-friendly engraving implementation looks like this. Let’s imagine an amateur engraver or, better, engraveress. By means of the cloud she easily loads her image to her working tablet and opens the image in InkScape, converts it into a black and white vector art. If there is no need in additional picture processing she places the picture with the correct coordinates on the working table of InkScape.
To understand the coordinates correctly you need to know exactly the place of the engraving sample on the surface of the working table. From our experience we know that the best place is the front right corner of the printer table. You need to specify the laser beam shift against 0 of the coordinates of the 3D printer table. Through trial and error we succeeded to direct the beam to the corner of the table.
But let’s go back to our engraver. Using Gcodetools plagin she gets the code of he image for the printer. Depending on the 3D printer model and the way of laser installation you might need to edit the code (Notepad++ will help).
Then she opens the ready code in RepetierHost, the program of printer control; closes the printer and laser with the safety box, starts the program, puts on the goggles, and only after that presses the red button “laser ON”. In the safety goggles she can control the process of laser engraving.
It is not possible to cover all the details in a short article. Your questions and commentaries are welcome.