Workshop: Introduction to 2D laser cutting with the Universal PLS4.75 Laser Cutter

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(Generally, this workshop is offered at least once every week on a rotating basis. Check the DaBL calendar for up-to-date availability!)

The Universal Laser Systems PLS4.75 Laser Cutter is a subtractive manufacturing machine which cuts many different organic materials. It's also dead simple to use once you know the procedure. Upon attending and successfully completing this Workshop, you will be approved to use the PLS4.75 Laser Cutter without supervision.

Before you begin

You must turn on the filtration/exhaust system before you sit down. Failure to run the filtration/exhaust during operation of the laser cutter will result in revocation of your laser cutter privileges.

Safety

Every good workshop starts with a safety briefing!

All laser cutters are dangerous machines. There are a host of safety checks in place to make sure that the machine operates as safely as possible, but as the operator, you must also be mindful. There are four important precautions to take when using this machine:

  1. Never run the laser cutter without the filtration/exhaust unit running.
  2. Never stare into the laser.
  3. Never cut anything that isn't on the list of approved materials.
  4. NEVER LEAVE THE LASER CUTTER UNATTENDED WHILE RUNNING. This machine is susceptible to fire, and walking away from a running job will result in you losing you laser cutter access.

Typical Workflow

  1. Turn on the filtration/exhaust
  2. Turn on the laser cutter
  3. Load the stock into the machine
  4. Send your design to the CAM software
  5. Set up the orientation of the design in the CAM software
  6. Set up the CAM software for the correct material
  7. Cut!
  8. Turn off the laser cutter and filtration/exhaust
How your stock should be aligned

Turn on the filtration/exhaust

You must run the filtration/exhaust system any time you are cutting anything on the laser cutter. Turn the system on before you sit down at the computer, before you open the top of the machine - before everything else! The control is located above the top left of the laser cutter; it is a black and silver box mounted to the wall. Turn the knob to "LOW". You will here the unit spin up; if you do not, find a CaTS.

Turn on the laser cutter

The power switch for the laser cutter is on the righthand side of the machine, toward the back. Flip it to "1".

Load the stock into the machine

Open the top of the machine and ensure the ULS Flow-Through Cutting Table is aligned to the straight edge on the base of the bed. This is done by checking the cutting table with the honeycomb support structure is positioned as far left and back as possible when facing the laser cutter. Next, place your material snugly against the top left corner rulers of the cutting table. Your stock should typically be aligned here; it doesn't have to be, but it removes any question of misalignment.

Send your design to the CAM software

You will have likely created your design in something like Inkscape, unfortunately, Inkscapes's printer drivers don't work correctly with the Laser cutter's CAM software. Corel Draw (another vector-drawing program) does work, so that's what we'll use.

  1. Launch Corel Draw
  2. Open your SVG file and make sure that all objects look correct, and that the size of the object is accurate. (You aren't going to want a keychain design cut the size of a laptop!) If your design looks totally wacky, take a look at the design parameters for UCP.
  3. Navigate to File --> Print
  4. Make sure PLS4.75 is selected in the printer dropdown, and hit Print. This will send your design to the Universal Control Panel (UCP).
  5. Open up UCP. It may be hidden in the bottom right of the Windows Taskbar. With any luck, your design is in UCP.

Set up the orientation of the design in the CAM software

Now that you've got your design in UCP, double check again that your design looks accurate both structurally and in size. If you left the top of the machine open, you'll notice a red laser underneath the conical head of the cutter. Don't worry - that's just a standard laser pointer! It's there as a guide for you, which you'll now utilize.

  1. Switch to the Pointer Tool in the far right column of UCP. Now anywhere you click on the virtual bed will cause the machine to send the laser cutter head to exactly that spot.
  2. Using the red laser pointer as a guide for placing your design:
    1. Imagine the laser pointer is aligned with the top left corner of your design.
    2. Find an area on your stock where you can fit your design.
    3. Move the laser pointer to that location such that, assuming the laser pointer is the top left corner of your design, it will fit.
  3. Now switch to the Move Tool in the far right column of UCP.
  4. Click "To Pointer".
  5. Rejoice!

Set up the CAM software for the correct material

The last step before cutting is making sure that the machine has the correct material settings.

  1. Hit the Settings button in the bottom right of the screen.
  2. In the Materials Database tab, find and select the correct material for what is currently in the bed. If you are not sure, ask a CaTS.
  3. Set the Material Thickness to the correct height. If you are unsure, use a set of calipers to measure!
  4. Hit Apply then hit OK.
The start button

Cut!

Make sure to close the top of the machine. Start the laser job by pressing the start button on the control panel or in the UCP, and watch the magic happen!

Turn off the laser cutter and filtration/exhaust

In reverse order to how you started, first turn off the laser cutter, then the filtration/exhaust. Congratulations on your lasering!

Clean work area

If a significant amount of material fell through the honey comb structure of the cutting table then it should be cleaned out. The front of the laser cutting can be opened and the table will slide out. There is an opening in the rear of the table that can be used to clean the inside.