Author Topic: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!  (Read 6161 times)

culturejam

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I'm still in the early phases of testing, but the results are good so far.

When I say "cheap", I mean $100-ish. And by engraving, I mean cutting through powdercoat or paint down to the metal.

I ordered a 1.5W diode-based unit that was $129 from Amazon. It's this one. It's fully assembled, has bluetooth hookup for Android / iOS apps, and has a rechargeable internal battery (making it outlandishly portable). Overall, I find it to be a pretty darn good machine. I found it elsewhere for $100, but then there was shipping and who knows the policy for returns.

Yes, it will engrave through powdercoating, at least on the stuff from BLMS. I will test with a few other vendors and see, but I don't expect it will be significantly different.

But gents, I would not get this unit if I were you guys. The carving area is just way too small: 42mm x 42mm. This means you can only do a 1590a, and at that only a portion of the full surface area. So yeah, it works as advertised, but it's just too small for our purposes. But, it did serve as a good test bed to find out how much power you need to cut powdercoat. I suspect it could be done with less, but almost all of the small/cheap units have the same limitations on carving area. Also, the software BLOWS. The power of the laser can't be reduced; it always runs wide open. The only control is speed, which works out okay, but the ideal situation is to be able to control both. Also, the only "fixturing" on this one is a pair of rubber bands. Another alternative is to use double-sided tape. Lame.

So of course, I've already ordered a larger laser engraver.  ;D  This one has a carving area of 200mm x 130mm, which should be good enough for up to 1590BB. And it's got a 2.5W laser, which is upgradeable to 5.5W (or possibly even higher). And it's gotten a lot of good reviews all around.

I'll keep you all updated as to the workings of the new unit. Dave is going to help me sort out how to get the alignment issue solved. But I think this might be the start of a very cool way to do enclosure finishing on the cheap. I plan to test out if it's possible to do two different layers of paint color and the just etch through the top layer. That would rock.

And of course, all of these cheap ones will mark wood, paper, and other organic materials, as well as plastic. My 1.5W unit will cut paper and very thin cardboard, but not even the thinest wood I could find. I've read that at 2.5W, you can cut 3mm hobby plywood.

A couple pics to keep you interested. I'll be posting some final results later tonight.

First one is a 1590a strapped onto the gurney. :)
Second one is just starting the second pass (first pass doesn't go deep enough, but two seems to work out. I'm trying three right now to see if it's better than two, but I suspect it won't be much different).



BrianS

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2017, 06:54:34 PM »
That is really cool. 

rmfroyd

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2017, 06:58:11 PM »
Awesome stuff!  For better fixturing, have the outline in your program, tape thin cardboard onto your bed, cut the outline out on cardboard, remove inner and set pedal in pocket. If you have any other questions let me know, I have been lazering for almost 20 years.

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wgc

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2017, 07:50:14 PM »
Oh cool!  I was thinking about getting something like this, but using a reprap as a controller, and Inkscape plugins to create g code. Maybe the controller will take Inkscape G code?  Anyway I figured the included software isn't good. Didn't think it could do powdercoat either.

As for alignment, the cardboard pocket idea is sound. You need to know where zero on the bed is, and check that it's consistent between setups. Then you can make a template in your image software with desired offsets from zero, make your pocket, and get some repeatability.
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culturejam

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2017, 07:55:09 PM »
The problem with this unit is that it's not big enough to cut a cardboard template for a 1590a. Also, there are no limit switches, so getting a true zero is pretty hard. There is a "preview" where it traces a rectangle of the max dimensions of the outline of the artwork. This allows for sizing and changes to placement of the thing being engraved.

wgc

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2017, 08:02:07 PM »
Gotcha. That's one part of what I meant by offsets i.e. Can't fit the whole thing in there. But also a little better not set up right at the edge of the bed.

There's probably a mechanical limit but other variables for sure. I guess you could cut a new pocket each time and be fairly close.

And not so much a pocket as much as some guides. I actually prefer the preview I think.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2017, 08:13:03 PM by wgc »
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selfdestroyer

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2017, 08:27:04 PM »
Thanks for all the work/info on this CJ. I love how this stuff is really getting affordable for small DIY use. I look forward to your review of the EleksMaker since it seems to be more up my alley since I don't mess with 1590A's much. This would be a great addition to my monoprice mini 3D printer.

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alanp

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2017, 08:33:58 PM »
Oooooh! That is nice. Can those deal with acrylic panels?
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jimilee

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2017, 09:32:56 PM »
That's a  lot of words, so I stopped reading and looked at the pictures, that's freakin cool! I need to have one.


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culturejam

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2017, 09:37:19 PM »
Oooooh! That is nice. Can those deal with acrylic panels?

I think at the 2.5W level, it can at least engrave acrylic. Not sure if that's enough to cut, but I guess if it's pretty thin, it might do the trick.

culturejam

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2017, 09:49:45 PM »
Okay, so the results are in. Even after three passes at the slowest speed (ie - max power), it won't clear the powdercoat all the way to the metal. There didn't seem to be any difference between two and three passes, but I did the third one for science.

But, it gets maybe 95% of the way there. So I used a small dental pick to scrape that last bit out of the cutout. The powdercoat on this box is so thick that this was an easy process. Took about 10 minutes to do the letters.

So, two passes at 30 minutes each plus 10 minutes of cleanup work. Not exactly high-speed, but for hobbyist stuff, I think it's not bad at all. Also, I did not test anything other than the slowest speed, so it's possible that the time could be cut down by running the laser a bit faster.

Pics attached. First is three passes of etching as is. Then showing one letter cleared. And then the final.

Overall, I'm pleased. The bigger laser working area with higher power and better software should really make things better. I will of course give a full report when I've got the new gear set up and tested.

nzCdog

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2017, 11:31:57 PM »
Thats fuzz'n awesome bruh.  ;D  8)
I was pipe dreaming about these a while back, never saw these models tho.  Any chance it could etch a copper-clad you think?

culturejam

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #12 on: May 27, 2017, 11:39:03 PM »
Any chance it could etch a copper-clad you think?

Nope. Etching reflective metal isn't really what most lasers are good at. You need serious power to deep-etch metal. And that's not cheap at all. A small CnC would be a lot cheaper and more effective.

pickdropper

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2017, 05:42:40 AM »
Any chance it could etch a copper-clad you think?

Nope. Etching reflective metal isn't really what most lasers are good at. You need serious power to deep-etch metal. And that's not cheap at all. A small CnC would be a lot cheaper and more effective.

You also need the right wavelength.  For example, FFX uses a really nice CO2 laser that won't touch metal.  If you want to etch metal, you need a YAG or Fiber laser, which has the right wavelength for metal but isn't as good with acrylic and glass.  Overall, CO2 lasers are more flexible.
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pickdropper

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Re: Laser engraving enclosures with a cheap Chinese machine? Yes!
« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2017, 05:45:57 AM »
Oooooh! That is nice. Can those deal with acrylic panels?

I think at the 2.5W level, it can at least engrave acrylic. Not sure if that's enough to cut, but I guess if it's pretty thin, it might do the trick.

It would have to be pretty thin.  A 30W laser can't cut 1/2" acrylic, but thinner stuff *might* be possible.

Still, I wouldn't cut acrylic without some ventilation and air movement across the cut.  Without that, you'll have really noxious fumes and the acrylic will catch on fire.  I've seen entire sheets of acrylic go up in flames when somebody forgot to turn the fan/air assist on.
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