I’ve been interested in a laser cutter for a while now, and I’ve seen a lot of recommendations for some diy and budget FRC size laser cutters, mainly for wood and maybe polycarbonate. However, I’ve talked with our teacher sponsor, and he has expressed concerns with safety, mainly smoke and gaseous hazards. I was wondering if there were any fully contained, filtered, and safe models that can fit through a slightly larger than standard size door. Budget is not a concern from what he has told me as our school is looking to reward us for our season performance this year. Any recommendations would be helpful!
The Epilog Zing is what we have, and to my knowledge we’ve had minimal problems with it. It can’t cut polycarbonate, but it will engrave and cut wood
+1 for the Zing.
We use one at work, typically daily for making tags thatll go on machines. I cant remember what material we actually use but we don’t seem to have too many issues with it. We do have to clean it once a month or itll start to cut rough. Its tedious to clean, but its definetly not the worse. The one we have is pretty low powered, and we only use it for making signs/ labels so it’s hard to tell how well it would work for robotics.
Thanks for the suggestions, but my primary focus is safety and containment. From what I’ve read, it is not hard to be safe with laser cutters, but I need to ensure maximum safety at all costs or my school will not consider it. How is the filtering and containment system for the Zing? Have you had any mechanical issues or breakdowns?
We’ve been running an Epilog Helix for a few years now. It’s an 18x24" 60 watt laser, so a bit bigger than the Zing. It generates a LOT of smoke, and the smoke has a noticable odour… acrylic smells different from MDF, which is slightly different from wood.
I know they have closed containment systems with filters that claim to work, but I can see them likely requiring a fair bit of maintenance to keep the filters clean and flowing. I can’t say for sure, though as we vent to outdoors.
If you’re looking for a safe, reliable way to keep the air clean inside, take the industrial approach and pump it up the stack! Dilution is the solution to pollution. (No, I didn’t say that was an appropriate solution for industry, but the volume of smoke is tiny relative to what came out your typical tailpipe on the way to work in the morning… the problem is that it is all indoors.) Perhaps there is existing ventilation in a shop or fume hood that will work?
The laser itself, at least in the ‘industrial’ machines like Epilog, is quite safe as it is entirely enclosed and will not fire with the lid open. There is a risk of fire and the machine needs to be supervised at ALL times while in operation… even multi-hour raster scans. A CO2 (or Halotron) extinguisher should be kept nearby. It wouldn’t hurt to have a smoke detector in the room, too. On the two occasions (in about three years) when we’ve had a small fire, we just took the burning piece out, put it on the floor, and stomped on it. (Oh, yeah… a concrete, or at least not carpeted, floor would be a good idea.)
One thing to note is that while your sponsor may believe that they are being “safe” by saying “no” to a laser, is that the cutting that you wish to do will have to take place somehow. The laser is much safer than Xacto knives, bandsaws or other physical cutting processes that put your fingers in proximity to moving sharp edges.
Hmm. That is a good point!
I take it you haven’t had any first hand experience with filters, but do you know of any models or brands that do make a filter included with the cutter?
I would not be comfortable running a laser that didn’t vent to the outdoors, especially for plastics.
I would get a reputable laser cutter that is well sealed from full spectrum laser, or boss laser, stick to the “pro” line for better enclosure quality and once again, sealing, with something like a fumex filtration system to filter out all the junk if you can’t dump to the outside, one of the companies that makes parts for us at work has a full spectrum system with a fumex, because they couldn’t vent to the outside due to location and environmental constraints, and they are iso certified, so I would assume it is safe and works well, certainly comes at a price. https://fumexinc.com/fume-extractor-industrial-air-cleaner-products/laser-fume-extraction-for-laser-cutting/
We run our lasers indoors in normal classrooms with multi-stage filtration. Hepa filters and activated carbon filters. Odors are still quite present, but smoke is not. We turn on the AC in the room and open the doors and we’re mostly okay. Univeesal Laser has some filtration units that go with their lasers, and I believe they have sensors that some of the cheaper offerings like from Boss do not. The replacement HEPA filters and carbon filters are not cheap. Probably in the $1,000 range for a small laser.
We have a Trotec Speedy 100 with a filtration system attached underneath. Works really well, no need to setup an external venting system. Like others have said, odors are still present, but no smoke. We do still prop a few windows open and turn on the vents within that specific room (housed in our graphics lab).
We have a Epilog Mini and a Boss LS-2436. The Epilog is much easier to use. The Boss cuts much bigger stuff.
For filtration we were using a Purex Filtration system for a while, but upkeep was cost prohibitive. We now vent outdoors using a fume extraction system that is noisy but much better suited to the classroom environment we are in.
If you at all have the ability to vent fumes outside you 100% should do so over getting a filter. Filters are a pain to deal with and you’ll still get odors even with the best of them. We’re probably $15,000 in the hole by having a filter on ours instead of venting outside, including having to buy a separate prefilter system to stop us from ruining our filters so quickly.
Our school has a 60 watt Epilog Helix. It’s been reliable and easy to use, and we’re still happy with it 4 years after we started using it. I’d feel comfortable recommending any of the Epilog lasers. As a few others have said, higher end machines like those will be enclosed and have safety interlocks to keep them from firing when the lid is open.
I don’t know of any that have filtration built in, but you can get a filtration system to use with it. We had to go that route because our space has no exterior walls. It works well, but I would prefer to vent outside if we could.
You say budget is not a concern, but do you have an estimate of how much the school is willing to spend? Also, how much space do you have?
I’m estimating around 40-50K is the realistic budget limit. Space is not really a problem, as we have a big room, but it has to fit through a door that is slightly wider than standard because I highly doubt the school would renovate anything for a laser cutter (including venting outside, but we do have access to an exterior wall)
Really push to vent outside. The large Boss lasers split in half to fit through a 36" door. It hurts your back a lot and you need at least 4 strong people to do it, but it is possible. Also, really push for venting outside. A 4-6 inch hole in a wall or a ceiling is pretty easy to accomplish without any real renovations. Our school’s maintenance crew did it in about an hour without calling in any outside help.
I have a Universal Laser cutter with a Purex fume extractor in my classroom. This is a three stage filter system including HEPA filter. The system does it’s job well with no outside ventilation. Filter replacement is $1,100. Out last set of filters lasted two years with use multiple times per week, nine months of the year.
The Universal laser focuses based on material thickness and bed height, eliminating a Z height adjustment. This is a nice feature.
At that budget, if you call your vendors beforehand and talk with them about the doors and filters problems, they’ll still be able to find a great laser for you.
Seriously, you should be able to get something with a 4’x8’ bed and power sufficient for 3/4" plywood, run full sheets of plywood through it, and have a full half-field mock-up cut in a day (well, assuming you have the space)
We’ve got a 4x8 130W laser coming in from LightObject to support that use case. Very reasonable pricing, in the range of $14-17k for the laser machine [excluding fume extraction/filters as we’ll be venting outside]. They’re based in California but I’m sure they’d still love to talk to you; tell them Richmond Robotics Team 841 sent you their way.
EDIT: Completely missed that you have access to an outside wall! Venting through that wall shouldn’t cost more than $3k, though to be fair bureaucracy/process limitations could frustrate you on the timeline. But if you have $50k of school support, you should also have $20k and a wall penetration worth of school support…
Our team uses a Trotec Speedy 400. It’s a great laser cutter to use, we’ve used it for a lot of wooden mock-ups and prototypes. As for the fumes, we have all the fumes vented outside of the building.