Laser Cutters 2019

My team is interested in purchasing a laser cutter and I wanted to reach out to the community to see what brands people have been using and if they would recommend them.

So far we have started to hone in on boss lasers LS 3650

https://www.bosslaser.com/boss-ls-4055.html

Or full spectrum lasers Pro4836

https://fslaser.com/Product/Pro4836

Any recommendations on accessories and upgrades would be helpful too. Also what size laser would you recommend for FRC purposes (ie polycard, lexan, balsa wood, etc)

Thanks

I would recommend a CNC gantry router over a laser cutter. My team has a glowforge, which is on the low end of industrial machines, high end of hobby machines, and it has been helpful, but we default to our CNC router for most flat parts. I don’t allow students to cut polycarb on the laser. I know other teams do, but I won’t risk our equipment when it can be cut on the router in less time.

We have used it to cut wood badges to handout at competitions… those are a little bit underwhelming IMO. I don’t see the same value being added back to the team that I do from the router.

It all depends on wattage and your fume extraction setup, our 100w laser from Thunder Laser has basically replaced our router for anything except aluminum. We use it nearly everyday and router is used far less often.

3 Likes

Like others have stated, depends on your setup. We use a 50w Trotec Speedy 100, and they work very well.

95 uses a Epilog 40 watt Helix. We like it a lot, but it is on the lower end of useful power and bed size. We can just get through 1/4 delrin, and that’s with some significant kerf angle and a poor edge. But the super simple path from idea to finished part is awesome, skipping right over work holding and CAM. It’s a tool that students very quickly master using and designing for. We leaned on it heavily this year for prototyping, starting with plywood and moving up through delrin for prototypes and low load parts.

I couldn’t speak much to the differences between one company and another. Epilog has been a pretty good fit for the classroom that uses it daily, and we’ve just sort of adapted to its capabilities and tool chain.

It’s not the first tool I’d suggest a team buy, but it’s pretty high on my list these days.

Thanks for the reply . Team 294 already has a Velox 4x4 router right now that is pretty running nearly the entire build season. I believe Bryan is really looking for the laser to help with the prototyping part of our build. Instead of running prototypes on the already busy router, we could have the laser do the work on a more disposable material (i.e. Baltic Birch) so we can determine geometry, or proof of concept before sending it to the router to be cut out of aluminum.

For any competition plastic parts would be limited as from what I have been told polycarb is basically a no-go but Delrin may be feasible. So we may limit it to simple non load bearing parts as the geometry gets finalized

1 Like

Yeah, we definitely utilized our laser cutter in a similar way. To test form and fitment, or small scale development, we prototyped with acrylic sheet. It cuts very easily, no nasty fumes, and it is relatively cheap (we had a ton laying around from an old sponsor). To bring up the talons for our arm, we cut panels and 3d printed pieces to make a functional model- not resembling the actual arm in any way. It’s great for that. The models you are quoting likely have more power than ours, but our experience with thick plywood has not been great, unless you really love a campfire smell in the shop. Our router still cut it faster, but we weren’t utilizing it nearly as much as it sounds like you guys are, thus we never hit that bandwidth cap.

So given that you already have a router, a laser cutter is definitely a good buy, but there are still machines I would buy first if you don’t already have access. Printers capable of printing Nylon or Polycarbonate reliably would top my list, followed by a CNC Mill (having access to a Haas has been incredible). Not to mention the manual mills and lathes that made the majority of our components.

Noted. In terms of power, ours is not. I would not recommend a glowforge to other FRC teams. The other large gripe I have with it is trying to cut dimensionally accurate parts. The web interface is designed for art, thus makes it easy to scale (drag corners of the outline). There is no robust way through the software to retain dimensions, other than import an exactly sized .SVG (thus, an extra step importing .dxf’s into inkscape and exporting to a file, then opening in their web app) and being very careful to not move the handles at all when nesting other parts. Very Frustrating.

1 Like

Thanks for all the suggestions. Our team is pretty well equipped machinery wise which is why we have set our sights on a laser cutter. We unfortunately cannot fit a Haas into our shop because of the doors that lead to the shop :frowning:. We have access to a full production machine shop but prefer to keep as much in house as we can. We have knee mills, lathes, band saws, 3d printers and a 4x4 CNC router. In addition there are plans to also add another CNC router to increase production which can get backed up later in the build season.

We are pretty set on getting a laser cutter for its ability to skip the CAM process and let younger students go from CAD to built in a smaller time frame.

If you have any info about laser cutters and your experiences that would be great.

@AllenGregoryIV do you know the pricing and options your team decided to go with on your laser? Also would you buy from the company again or would you look for something else?

Let me know if you have other questions.

We have a Boss LS1630 with the 100W tube. Birch plywood is possible, but slow. Definitely spring for the highest wattage tubevand biggest chiller possible. Overall, it’s a solid machine that we’re happy with. I’ve upgraded from the junky air pump to a Harbor Freight Hercules quiet compressor which has been a good upgrade. We’ve replaced lenses and mirrors a few times. The 4" lense doesn’t seem to do great but the 2" one does fine. We don’t use it a lot for FRC prototyping but I’d like to.

As for a Haas, how big is your door? Our double door is 89 wide by 82 tall when open and we were able to get a SMM2 in with a little work.

This is a timely post . We’re in the middle of building a new building and we’re having vigorous debate on laser cutter vs. CNC router.

Currently, we have a Velox 4x4 router with router head in our shop but I can’t stand how loud it is, the high RPM, etc… So the plan moving forward is to get a Laguna SmartShop 2 with all the bells and whistles.

I figure with ATC, built in coolant system, vacuum table, etc… that it’s no better or worse than a laser cutter. My fellow mentors keep second guessing the router and pushing a laser cutter without any articulate reason why. I’m just wondering if I’m missing some clear pros and cons between router and laser cutter?

A router will do aluminum. A laser anywhere near the price of a router will not.

Also, do your homework on Laguna. I’ve heard very mixed reviews on support.

Velox sells a VFD (variable frequency drive) spindle option for their machines much quieter then the router and infinitely adjustable speed options.

If you have a CNC that you regularly use for aluminum, and you’re only gonna cut smallish bits of >1/4" wood/equivalent on it, I suggest Epilog Zing 60w 12"x24". Takes a bit of setup and experience, but otherwise great and easy to use. Our filter broke down after a while though so one of the two my school has (not the robotics one) just dumps the smoke out the window… I’m trying to get a new filter but $$$ issues.

Anyways, it depends on what you need. Get a hobby laser if you’re not cutting large thick things, otherwise industrial might be more worthwhile.

We purchased the italian 3 phase spindle and VFD from velox… trust me when i say it is not quiet at all. Sure it is quiet when you run the spindle without cutting anything but when you start cutting metal its just like any other machine.

The argument and consensus around our team for a laser cutter are the following.

-simple 1 step export from CAD to print to part, no CAM involved and they are easy to operate we could teach a new student in an hour to make some parts
-ability to accurately cut wood and plastics for prototyping which is cheaper and we shouldn’t break any router bits
-get students interested in CAD and machining. I love the idea of having students work on all kinds of projects that allow students who have no knowledge of anything be able to CAD a part and walk out with something cut in a couple minutes. You can’t do that with a router as you have to think about tool paths, speeds and feeds, work holding, etc
-I also think the students will get a lot of use out of the engraving feature

@kl26436 Just a thought to be careful about the vacuum table. Every vendor I talked to said that the vacuum table would not hold if I was trying to cut aluminum

1 Like

We used our laser more than anything in the shop this season. Our CNC barely saw action. We cut wood, acrylic, and most importantly, polycarbonate with it. It’s a Chinese 100W laser (around $2000) and it’s really allowed us to go from CAD to parts in hours. The workflow is simple - export a DXF, import into the laser software & position, cut parts. We were able to re-make our entire cargo mechanism in one day between events thanks to our laser.

How do you cut Polycarb? We’ve never tried ourselves, but have heard horror stories about it. We mostly use delrin, acrlyic and thinner plywood sheets for parts.

Multiple passes quickly. It still flames up and looks terrible afterwards but a little paint can fix that. Or you can say your robot was rescued from a shop fire -

We used 6mm polycarbonate paneling this year and also cut some .090 with it and layered them together for our cargo intake.

2 Likes