WARNING: Working on a laser cutter should only be carried out by a competent person because of extra high voltages generated to power the laser tube, over 20,000 volts with a possible 30mA current*, mains voltage present, the laser beam is invisible and will easily damage your eyes or start a fire.
Eye protection is recommended when working on the laser cutter with the power on, the safety covers open or modification of the safety circuits. The safety switches/sensors should disable the laser when a panel/lid is open, their operation needs confirmed after working on them.
*30mA is enough current to affect the operation of a human heart this could therefore kill.
I have been lucky to been gifted a LS3020 laser cutter that was surpluses to requirements at Makespace. The LS3020 is a Chinese cutter specified and imported into the UK by hpclaser.co.uk
The LS3020 is a tabletop A4 CO2 35W laser and needs a USB security dongle to run the supplied Newly Draw software, unfortunately the dongle had been missed placed. 🙁 I checked on hpclaser.co.uk and a replacement dongle would cost £150.
The cutter had not been used for at least 3 years and needs a deep clean. I did not want to go to the trouble of cleaning it if it was not working so I decided to test it first.
First, the air compressor, fume extraction and the water-cooling pump had to be connected.
All three of them plug into sockets on the rear of the laser, first issue is that the water pump socket does not hold its’ plug well and is unreliable. This is temporary solved by wedging a piece of card under the plug. I switched on the laser cutter, the head homed, and the water pump started to circulate water through the laser tube. I left the pump running for 10 minutes or so, then checked the tube for air bubbles. Bubbles in the tube can kill an tube in seconds and have to be avoided. This was a great start, it proved that the stepper motors and home switches were OK. Next up was to test the air compressor, the compressor is controlled via a switch on the laser control panel. I switched it on and happy to report that it Worked.
The next test was to fire the laser, the laser power is set manually with a pot on the control panel. For this test I tapped some cardboard over the head mirror portal, close all the doors and lid, when I fired the laser. It burnt a neat hole in the cardboard and looked to be even, this is a good sign that laser is in alignment, further checks and tests to be done when I can control the laser head.
So, what is next?
Currently I have no way to cut any designs and control the laser cutter, some options are.
- Buy a dongle and use Newly Draw software to control and import designs to cut/engrave.
- Replace the controller for an open-source design and use an open-source G-code sender to control the cutter
- Replace the controller for an open-source design and use proprietary software.
- Replace the controller for a proprietary design and use proprietary software.
- Replace the controller for a proprietary design and use open-source software
My main objection to this option that it will cost £150 to buy the dongle to run 8-year-old software that needs Windows XP to run.
I like this option; I need to see what the options for both.
Same controller for option B, with proprietary G-code sender. The disadvantaged of this option is that good software can cost a lot of money.
Option 4 & 5.
Proprietary controller has several issues, cost being the first one, they start at a few hundred pound and climb quickly into silly money, the cheaper ones normally use proprietary software.
I need to research the open-source software options and finding out what open-source controllers they can control will lead on to what open-source hardware to look at as my next step. The other thing that I must sort out are the rear power sockets on the laser cutter.