Workshop: Introduction to 2D laser cutting with the Universal PLS4.75 Laser Cutter
(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.
- 1 Before you begin
- 2 Safety
- 3 Typical Workflow
- 3.1 Turn on the filtration/exhaust
- 3.2 Turn on the laser cutter
- 3.3 Load the stock into the machine
- 3.4 Send your design to the CAM software
- 3.5 Set up the orientation of the design in the CAM software
- 3.6 Set up the CAM software for the correct material
- 3.7 Cut!
- 3.8 Turn off the laser cutter and filtration/exhaust
- 3.9 Clean work area
- 4 Bending Your Acrylic Cuts (Optional)
- 5 Checklist
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.
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:
- Never run the laser cutter without the filtration/exhaust unit running.
- Never stare into the laser.
- Never cut anything that isn't on the list of approved materials.
- 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.
- Turn on the filtration/exhaust
- Turn on the laser cutter
- Load the stock into the machine
- Send your design to the CAM software
- Set up the orientation of the design in the CAM software
- Set up the CAM software for the correct material
- Turn off the laser cutter and filtration/exhaust
- Clean work area
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.
- Launch Corel Draw
- 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.
- Navigate to File --> Print
- Make sure PLS4.75 is selected in the printer dropdown, and hit Print. This will send your design to the Universal Control Panel (UCP).
- 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 lift 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.
- 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.
- Using the red laser pointer as a guide for placing your design:
- Imagine the laser pointer is aligned with the top left corner of your design.
- Find an area on your stock where you can fit your design.
- Move the laser pointer to that location such that, assuming the laser pointer is the top left corner of your design, it will fit
- Now switch to the Move Tool in the far right column of UCP.
- Click "To Pointer".
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.
- Hit the Settings button in the bottom right of the screen.
- 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.
- Set the Material Thickness to the correct height. If you are unsure, use a set of calipers to measure!
- Hit Apply then hit OK.
You can see the estimated job completion time by selecting the Estimate View tool and pressing "Start".
Make sure to close the top of the machine. Start the laser job by pressing the green start button on the control panel or in the UCP, and watch the magic happen! Make sure to wait at least 2 minutes once the cut is done to open the top of the machine.
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.
Bending Your Acrylic Cuts (Optional)
Additionally, sometimes it may be necessary to alter the shape of your laser cut acrylic pieces for something like a display stand; Examples can be found in our display case located outside of DaBL's entrance. Since acrylic has a relatively low melting temperature, it is possible to heat the plastic so that it softens enough to be molded into a particular shape. For this process, you will need a Linebender and Cooling jig. Both of these apparatus can be found at the laser cutter station. The steps needed to use both are described below.
Using the Linebender and Cooling Jig
If you want to change the angle of a piece or acrylic you will need to use the line bender and cooling jig:
- Start with the temperature regulator set to position between 5 and 6 and raise the material clamp to the rear position.
- Decide where you would like to bend the piece of plastic in order to position the material on the grid.
- Place the material on the machine top over the element and lined up on the grid, and then bring down the material clamp. The clamp helps to keep the material flat over the element during the heating process to produce an even heating band all the way along the bend.
- If you are unsure of the heating time for the material, then all you have to do is to lift the clamp, and then try to bend the material carefully in situ to see if it is ready for bending. If it still needs a bit more heat, then bring the clamp down and resume the heating cycle.
- Once the material has been heated to the correct temperature, lift the material clamp and remove the material. The material is then placed into the cooling jig to cool down to a predetermined angle, while the next sheet of material is placed on the line bender.
By the end of this Workshop, you should:
- realize the need for CorelDRAW and vectors.
- know the difference between raster and vector cutting.
- understand the importance of the exhaust system and red tape boundary.
By the end of this Workshop, you should be able to:
- import your design through CorelDRAW into UCP.
- use the relocate and focus tool.
- change the material settings.
- cut a DaBL coaster on your own!