This is to get the ball rolling for the acquisition of a laser etcher/cutter for Bloominglabs.
What could we do with it? (The sales pitch)
First, what are the realistic capabilities of a laser we could afford? Acrylic and many plastics along with several types of light weight wood can be cut and etched with most "hobby grade" laser machines. Any thickness of metal can NOT be cut, but metal can be etched without too much trouble. To see some ideas of what can be done, take a look at Thingiverse for "laser cut" projects.
I think any laser we acquire easily has the ability to pay for itself and also for future maintenance costs (see Laser Tubes below). Most spaces charge non-members 50 cents to $1 per minute of laser time.
- cutting paper, wood, and acrylic for rapid creation of physical parts
- etching text and images on paper, wood, acrylic, and metal (macbooks have prime blank real-estate on them)
- creating solder masks for surface mount pcb's
- add ideas here
We would have to vent any laser system to the outside, they generate LOTS of smoke while in operation. Despite any claims to the contrary, this is a MUST. Also all lasers require water cooling to keep the tube cool. Any laser purchased would require both air ventilation and a water pump system. If we can save money by sourcing those components separately thats cool, but we should assume we need these components the moment a laser arrives at the space.
Most lasers have a rated lifetime on the tube, this will be the main reoccurring expense beyond the cost of electricity to run it. Full Spectrum's 40W tubes are rated at 1500 hours and cost $300 to replace. Their 60W tube is rated for 3000 hours and is $600. Yes that may sound expensive, but the cost is $.0033 per minute of laser time on the 40W. For the 60W it goes down to $.00167 per minute of laser time. It should be trivial to make the machine pay for it's own maintenance costs.
What do we want?
So there are a few common sizes of lasers out there. The hobby models are usually based on a 30-40W CO2 laser tube. Some low-end commercial lasers are in the 60-90W range. LVL1 has a Full Spectrum 40W CO2 deluxe laser and really get a lot out of it. It appears Full Spectrum imports this particular model but makes larger lasers for commercial use in-country. Higher power lasers mean faster cutting time and the ability to cut thicker material faster.
dosman - I am leaning towards the Full Spectrum Deluxe 40W at $3K, please update the list with other options if you know of any
- $1900 - 40W CO2 Basic Hobby Laser from Full Spectrum - Basic 40W laser, only compatible with Mach3 and other CNC software (parallel port)
- $3000 - 40W CO2 Deluxe Hobby Laser from Full Spectrum - priced with USB port, beam combiner, air compressor, shipping, shipping insurance, no extra warranty - water pump extra?
- $4100 - New 40W CO2 Hobby Laser from Full Spectrum - Same as deluxe laser with removable bottom, upgradable to 90W
- $6700 - 60W Professional Series CO2 20x12 from Full Spectrum - priced with basic water cooler, shipping, shipping insurance, and no extra warranty
- $8000 - 35W Epilog Zing - Epilog's lowest end laser
Why consider the Deluxe 40W and not the entry level 40W from Full Spectrum at $1900? The stock machine is parallel port driven and works only with Mach3 and other CNC software. The Deluxe model includes a USB adapter board which they refer to as the "400MHz USB RetinaEngrave USB Processor". This combined with their proprietary print driver allows engraving and cutting using any Windows software which can print. Yes it's Windows based, but it works pretty well and means anyone who wants to use the laser doesn't have to become a CAD master to get anything done. Literally just print to the laser and off it goes. Also it comes with additional parts which are needed to properly operate the laser (exhaust fan and a honey comb table). Lastly the beam combiner puts a visible red laser dot at the same position where actual cutting will begin, after using LVL1's I think this is a requirement too.
- $1000 - dosman
- $1000 - Jay
- $200 - Jenett
- $1000 - Nick
- $300 - Daniel
- $200 - Steve
- $100 - Zach
Owners and Usage?
Anyone who puts in would be part owner. How do we want to divy up laser time? Some spaces allow "investors" to have priority and to do commercial work until they get their money back out of the machine. Thoughts?
Here are some links to other hackerspaces pages on their attempts at acquiring their own lasers.