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A3 2.5w Laser Engraver Kit (from Banggood)

MozamPete

Active User
H-M Supporter-Premium
#1
My first small steps into CNC - I brought myself a laser engraver that I saw on special from Banggood.com.
http://www.banggood.com/2500mW-A3-3...re-CNC-Printer-Assembling-Kits-p-1003863.html

This one has a 2.5W blue laser and around an A3 operating envelope. They are available in various foot prints and laser wattage's up to 5.5W, but the 5.5W lasers are still quite pricey and would of about doubled the cost of the kit. On special this one was around $260 including shipping. The larger laser module can be purchased separately later if I feel the need to up the power.
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I had been slowly collecting components to build something similar in design with the intention of building a generic XY gantry and being able to swap between a laser, a router and possibly a plasma cutter torch for the actual tool. But then I saw this kit on special so decided to go that way as this playing around with CNC is all new to me so is probably easier to start with something that should work first (and we can Frankenstein it later and expand).

A 2.5W laser should allow me to 'engraver' - well burn would be a more accurate term - wood and plastic and cut paper, foam and leather. One of the potential uses I have planned for it is to cut some tool control foam inserts for my cabinet drawers. I have also been told of a coating system which the laser will cure or fuse onto metal which sounds interesting to try (thanks intjonmiller)

The Kit comes with everything you need (except for the computer to communicate with the on-board controller) but very little the way of assembly instructions.

Want to get your 9 year old son excited - tell him to come give you a hand building a Laser!

The kit went together quite easily considering the lack of proper (or any actually) instructions other than the the exploded component diagrams I copied from the advertisement. Mucked up the sequence a couple of times and had to back track to reinsert a captive nut here and there but nothing too problematic. 2 to 3 hours and we had it mechanically complete.
IMG_2058.JPG

IMG_2061.JPG

The software was a bit more problematic. The drivers install OK on the first laptop I tried, and using the supplied java controller I could send G-codes to it and get it moving, But the main supplied software wouldn't install. I think this may of had something to do with the antivirus and work security which locks this laptop down a bit.

I did manage to install it easily on my old WinXP workshop laptop and got it running for some trials.

The supplied software (well downloadable, not actually 'supplied'), Benbox, turned out to be a bit flaky and I was having trouble getting the laser travel speed to change when just trialing cutting out a circle - but this seems to be a bug in the circle function. When I had a line and a circle in the design it would change speeds correctly - this is important as with the supplied software you have no control over the laser power - it is always on full - so the only variable you can modify is the travel rate.

This is just one of the limitations of the supplied software so I think I will have to go and trial some of the alternative software that is out there - the machine can accept G-code instructions so should be able to interface with any CAM software.

Other apparent limitations I have found with Bembox (in my initial play)
- only allows one laser speed for the design, whereas I may want different speeds per element to say cut something out at slow speed and write a label next to it at higher speed
- can't seem to use the full footprint of the engraver
- no laser power control. Although the hardware doesn't provide a function to control the laser power I see some other software will used PWM (pulse width modulation) to rapidly turn the laser on and off and effectively get a lower power burn.
- no automatic way to repeat the burn multiple times

Initial trials of the laser though were promising. It can cut through 10mm thick dense foam (camping mattress) in one pass on the slowest travel speed, and thicker light density foam at a very fast speed. Will also easily cut photocopier paper at a very fast rate (making stencils, etc) and can burn very fine detail into wood.

Some initial playing
IMG_2083.JPG

Overall very happy with the hardware but less impressed with the software. Will look into alternative software and post some more detailed samples of the lasers capabilities with the associated travel speeds once I have had a bit more of a play.
 
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MozamPete

Active User
H-M Supporter-Premium
#3
I had a play this evening with some different materials and cutting speeds so here are some performance figures and results for the 2.5W laser. Most of the trials were performed with outlined text so a "clean cut" meaning the letter fell right out when the piece was picked up and a "intermittent cut" means it was intermittently cut all the way through so the letter could be easily poked out but didn't fall out on its own.

upload_2016-8-29_22-2-58.png

Results:

35mm thk foam
IMG_2098.JPG

Leather
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Chipboard
IMG_2093.JPG

The surprise however was powder coated steel.
IMG_2089.JPG

I initially tried it on a rippled black painted/powder coated steel and was impressed with the results so went looking around for something in a lighter colour to try. Eventually tried it on the inside of a powder coated metal socket set box.
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This was on about 100 mm/min so quite slow but the result was quite clear and I can see this being useful to engrave my name, etc onto anything powder coated.
That is a 3cm scale so the line are 1mm apart and about 1mm text height. As this was a bitmap sample image the image was processed with an outline tracing function so each line is actually two passed (down one side and back up the other). I think it would be even sharper if it has been a vector image and each line/number was only burnt in a single pass.
 

rwm

Active User
H-M Supporter-Premium
#4
That looks useful. I wonder if you coated some metal if it would etch the underlying metal?
How does it do on your hand?
R
 

MozamPete

Active User
H-M Supporter-Premium
#5
That looks useful. I wonder if you coated some metal if it would etch the underlying metal?
How does it do on your hand?
R
I did also try some aluminum can but it only managed a very fine line which I think was more the paint and internal plastic lining - I don't think 2.5W is powerful enough to mark/engrave the actual metal. Will try some bare aluminium tomorrow (which I assume would be most likely to work due to it low melting temperature), and brass and steel.

I am also trying to source a can of the TherMark locally to give that a try. It is a additive process though, to paint it on, fuse it with the laser and then the excess is wiped off. Reading the product sheet they suggest at least a 10W laser but I would be keen to give it a try anyway - may be slow but I'm not doing production runs so that can be tolerated for one off items.
 

MontanaAardvark

H-M Supporter - Premium Content
H-M Supporter-Premium
#8
Tried aluminum, copper and brass shim stock this morning at the slowest speed - not a mark made
I would guess the metal, especially aluminum is too reflective. It is light, after all. Do you have any anodized aluminum to try? Something that's darker and not shiny? You've already shown you can mark dark powder coats.

Bob
 

Tony Wells

Former Vice President
Staff member
Administrator
#9
Most materials with high thermal conductivity (copper, aluminum) don't lend themselves to laser cutting, so I kind of doubt they would mark easily. Also if the surface is shiny, the laser will reflect too much. In any case, I hope you and those nearby are wearing the appropriate PPE.

Looks like a cool toy.
 

echesak

Active User
Active Member
#10
Nice find. This would be great for stencils and gaskets. For metal, you really need the higher peak power of a Q-switched laser. These high peak powers are what allow you to be able to ablate metal. Even the CO2 laser engravers that have maybe 40-50Watts will only engrave metal if a coating is applied to the metal. So it's not really engraving the metal, but rather the coating and some interaction with the metal. Most metal laser engravers that want a direct laser interaction will use a Q-switched fiber laser, YAG laser or similar. The peak powers of these will be in the kW range. Typically also, the beam wavefront or transverse electromagnetic mode are better than nearly all of the multimode diode lasers. This better mode structure allows these lasers to be focused to a very tight beam, increasing the power density.

I used to do a lot of Holography with a 5mW Helium Neon laser. I know 5mW is not much power, but back in the 80's, this laser was $700 and all I could afford. But the beam structure is so clean, it can be focused to a spot that's maybe 10 or 20 microns wide. Even with only 5mW, this laser will burn electrical tape. Just something to keep in mind...

Thanks for sharing your results.

Eric
 

MozamPete

Active User
H-M Supporter-Premium
#11
Cutting gaskets was one of the other uses I had thought of for it. Also want to try it with cutting some thick felt I have for way wipers on the lathe. But that is all on hold at present while I get the computer up and running again.
I had some alternative control software I wanted to try but it wouldn't seem to run and I put it down to being an old XP operating system on my laptop. So I installed a copy of Windows 7 I had hoping that would solve the problem but I'm now are having trouble getting all the hardware drivers to install as the Laptop is so old Dell only supply XP and Win200 drivers for it. Will hopefully get it all up and running again over the weekend and have some more trial materials to share results on soon.
 

MozamPete

Active User
H-M Supporter-Premium
#12
Another application. My daughter saw this T shirt online and decided to make one
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I thought the laser cutter might be able to do that. Knocker up the pattern in CAD, slide the T shirt on a off cut of sheet metal and let it rip
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Happy daughter