Laser Cutter : First Impressions #3

Several weeks of tinkering pass…

It’s quite an unusual tool this, in that among the first things you use it for, are to create parts to fix/improve it. It’s self-reprapping.

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1) The air extractor was shite. It wasn’t put together properly (a bearing was grinding) and the design simply doesn’t work very well. There’s a manifold that pulls air into a vacuum-cleaner tube.

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The vacuum cleaner tube was the only thing the laser-people failed to supply… and it wound up costing $120… because the first tube I got was corrugated so made a noise like a high-pitched trumpet. The 2nd (pictured) was quieter, but that manifold design deletes about 90% of the suction.

So I made this:

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Basically recreating one of the removable walls of the machine, and creating a bigger manifold. The silver tube cost $12. It’s now simpler, and extracts air like a backwards hurricane.

The laser-cutter built replacements for these for itself.

manifolds

(when you’re rebuilding something from reality, photo it, then use Inkscape to trace the bitmap… or just trace it by hand)

2) The focusing element consists of 2 concentric tubes, with a locking nut. Unfortunately the inner tube was so short that if you try to focus on anything shallower than 4mm (which is most of what you want to cut), the nut doesn’t connect and the lens falls onto the workspace.

What dumb fuck designed that? Jesus.

Anyway, had to cut shapes to raise the bed. Now works fine.

Word to the wise: When you’re photographing your honeycomb… be sure to mark which way up/way round it was in the machine… because these things are built by cowboys, and none of the holes will line up if you forget which way up it was.

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Which brings me to the software that is used to run it. “LaserCut 5.3″. Without a doubt, the worst software I have ever seen. It’s shockingly inadequate, proprietary crap… anyone who makes software that only runs with a dongle, deserves a good, solid punch in the face. Seriously.

And being proprietary (ie: Of The Monopolist Cuntscape), I’m “not allowed” to fix what needs fixing.

It only runs on Windows (which sucks) and only on versions of windows so old, they’re not actually sold any more (which is triple-word-score suckage)… so not only do you need a dongle, you need a whole new (old) machine to go with the dongle. Not such a huge deal for me, because I prefer to have a dedicated computer permanently attached (with a dropbox drive, so I can work on a proper linux laptop), and I have old computers lying around anyway.

But it’s shockingly bad… looks like it was written in the early 1990s. Any open-source alternative that turns up that can do the same thing is going to completely delete their business, and they fucking deserve it.

Various people are doing this… The London Hackerspace look like they’re making inroads (and their “how to” guide for inkscape is pretty good too).

Not quite there yet by the looks though.

I think this should ideally start as an Inkscape plugin… simply to do the laser-configuration, and generate the (proprietary (barf)) output… or maybe we should just go with fresh hardware that supports Gcode (if I’ve got that right).

So… the next machine I get will be open-source hardware. Probably lasersaur… the thing about the open-source approach, is that all the myriad design improvements that get made, get fed back into the main body of work… so each release contains improvements made by people actually using the thing… which is not happening with these Chinese machines… who’s design is akin to Geocities websites from the 1990s.

Open-source is a fairly radical/radicalising process. With software it’s kindof taken for granted, but with hardware, you can really see how shite things really are without it.

Not that this is a bad machine… it’s just that all the improvements I (or anyone else) makes, don’t make it into the next iteration, and it uses Slumlord-Software… ie: a tatty shithole that is nevertheless very expensive, because its owner has a monopoly.

“Intellectual Property” is a state-inflicted monopoly that suffocates innovation. We need to abolish it all.