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Grad Student Invents Cheap Laser Cutter 137

Posted by samzenpus
from the frugal-cutting dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Peter Jansen, a PhD student and member of the RepRap community, has constructed a working prototype of an inexpensive table-top laser cutter built out of old CD/DVD drives as an offshoot of his efforts to design an under $200 open-source Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printer. Where traditional laser cutters use powerful, fixed-focus beams, this new technique dynamically adjusts the focal point of the laser using a reciprocating motion similar to a reciprocating saw, allowing a far less powerful and inexpensive laser diode to be used. The technique is currently limited to cutting black materials to a depth of only a few millimeters, but should still be useful and enabling for Makers and other crafters. The end-goal is to create a hybrid inexpensive 3D printer that can be easily reconfigured for 2D laser cutting, providing powerful making tools to the desktop."
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Grad Student Invents Cheap Laser Cutter

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  • It would be cool to see this down with Bluray lasers instead of DVD, if only for the MORE POWER! effect.
    • by mpoulton (689851)
      This is not a DVD laser. It's a 1W infrared laser. That 3-4 times more power than a Bluray drive laser.
    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      Are blue lasers used in bluray actually more powerful? I was under impression that they just used shorter wavelength light to be able to pack more data into smaller size.

      • Are blue lasers used in bluray actually more powerful?

        I'm going to be up front and honest and tell you "I don't know". That said, I did see a video once where a guy took a blu-ray laser, macguyver'd it into a toy phaser pistol, and used it to pop black ballons.

        • by Jedi Alec (258881) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:37AM (#33378406)

          I'm going to be up front and honest and tell you "I don't know".

          Ok, that's it. Please hand in your Slashdot ID on the way out...not knowing something is one thing, but actually admitting it?

          Shame on you sir, shame on you.

          • But he should get points for a toy laser device that actually destroys a physical object; especially one that doesn't involve a fricken shark!

        • by elewton (1743958)
          I do that.

          405nm diodes from the Xbox 360 can go up to around 120 mw. Diodes from a high speed Blu-Ray burner can reach up to 500 mw with a short life-span.

          405nm and IR tend to be absorbed better than most of the visible spectrum.

      • Re:MOAR POWER! (Score:4, Informative)

        by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @06:21AM (#33379074) Homepage Journal

        Yes, they are, as blue is a higher energy-potential.

        200mW 405nm Laser vs 350mW 630nm laser - blue laser will win every time.

        • by Luckyo (1726890)

          I could be wrong, but wasn't the higher energy "potential" in bluray drives was used because of the slightly different disk construction, which required a bit more power to get a proper reflection in some parts as well as an attempt to fix problems with future RW disks that were visibly observable in CD and DVD drives?

          I'm fairly certain that modern DVD drives have quite powerful red lasers as well, to facilitate reading from rather dim RW disks. Those should be rated to be capable of far greater power outpu

          • by Khyber (864651)

            No, it was used because 405nm is a smaller wavelength, which means you don't need large pits in the plastic, you can use much smaller pits and thus pack more data onto a disc.

            Lasers are not held to a standard for reading R/RW discs, the discs themselves have a certain reflectivity threshold they must adhere by to obtain that certification. Many discs were just crappy because they didn't have a proper reflective layer that didn't properly reflect the laser back. (Memorex, I'm looking at you with your hematit

    • by rnturn (11092)

      What! Millimeters?! Call me when we can build of these with a "Vaporize Bulldozer" setting.

  • Dual Use? (Score:4, Funny)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:06PM (#33377232)

    The end-goal is to create a hybrid inexpensive 3D printer that can be easily reconfigured for 2D laser cutting, providing powerful making tools to the desktop

    3D printer and a laser cutter? I'm no office machine expert but I don't think I want a printer capable of transforming into a laser cutter ... I've seen the Twilight Zone and this doesn't end well.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by derGoldstein (1494129)

      I'm no office machine expert but I don't think I want a printer capable of transforming into a laser cutter

      Not is Michael Bay is involved, anyway...

  • by seeker_1us (1203072) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:07PM (#33377246)
    Why would anyone want to cut a laser?
    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:21PM (#33377300) Journal

      Why would anyone want to cut a laser?

      So it'll fit better on small sharks?

      • The "smaller" the shark, the bigger the laser. Same as American males drive really big cars. It is called "compensating".

    • by Crippere (1825560)
      More so, why would anyone want to cut cheap lasers? "Yo mama's so poor she has to -cut- her cheap lasers to get two"?
      • "Yo mama's so poor she has to -cut- her cheap lasers to get two"?

        C'mon. You can do better than that:
        Yo mama is so fat she needs a laser cutter to clip her nails.
        Yo mama is so ugly the laser light tries to bend around her.
        Yo mama is so poor she needs a laser to cut the last slice of bread.
        Yo mama is so stupid she uses a laser to light the house.

        Always remember the warning that is on the first page of the manual.
        "DO NOT LOOK INTO LASER WITH REMAINING EYE"

    • by GaryOlson (737642)
      Because a laser makes a better straight man than a spirograph!
    • Also, how many lasers could a laser-cutter cut, if a laser-cutter could cut lasers?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Thud457 (234763)
      don't be a dope, if you cut a laser, then you have two lasers.
    • by caseih (160668) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:30AM (#33377642)

      Warning: Science content.

      Several labs in my Uni's Chemistry Department regularly employ LASER choppers, if not "cutters". Simply stick the disk with the slits you want (to set the pulse duration) in front of the laser and set the motor to the desired RPM. That's how they get he pulse durations and frequencies that they need for their experiments. One could also use liquid crystal to turn the beam on and off rapidly. Come to think of it, I have no idea how a CD or DVD burner controls its laser. Maybe the laser can be turned on and off fast enough.

      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @01:09AM (#33377844) Journal

        Come to think of it, I have no idea how a CD or DVD burner controls its laser. Maybe the laser can be turned on and off fast enough.

        The laser is continuously* on and usually at a fixed distance.
        The laser head can move up and down if it needs to change the focal length to try and re-read errors.

        The spinning disc also provides the time + convection for heat to dissipate and not melt the plastic.

        *or not depending on whatever caching mechanism the drive has...
        which isn't the same thing as saying it can't be turned on/off rapidly, just that there's no need.

        • by willy_me (212994)

          which isn't the same thing as saying it can't be turned on/off rapidly, just that there's no need.

          For performing reads there would be no need to turn the laser on/off. But we are talking about CD/DVD burners so there is a need. The question remains, how do they do it?

          • They switch the laser diode on and off in the same order as the 0's and 1's coming down the chute. : ) Transistors. Is there anything they can't do?

          • by rwiggers (1206310)

            Laser diodes, used in CD/DVD/whatever have a terrible beam quality for cutting and a mostly inappropriate wavelength, but they can be switched on/off quite fast. Think of fiber optics...
            Other techs may be pretty slow to turn on/off, but have quite good beam quality for cutting. The most widely used is CO2 laser for that, which can take from 100's of us to a couple ms to turn on/off. With these lasers it's faster to move it optically away with mirrors of defocussing with lenses.

    • by sjames (1099)

      What else can you do if it isn't making the grade and refuses to put in enough practice to improve?

    • by houghi (78078)

      Perhaps they are talking about cutting the light of the laser to a specific length. Presto light saber.

  • by oldspewey (1303305) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:12PM (#33377264)

    His roommate's PhD project is the inexpensive cloning of sharks.

    I'm not sure I like where this is headed.

    • Pfft, think bigger: If they can use the lasers to help incubate the shark eggs, and teach the sharks how to build more lasers, then they'll have a self hosting solution!
    • I'm really sure I like where it's headed.

      I want it now, dammit! Screw those frickin' laws on endangered species.

  • I'm not sure I've ever heard the term Makers as used in this context. I was pretty much expecting to see Mark come after it, capitalized and everything.

    • I couldn't figure out how a sandworm was going to use this thing. It's not ergonomically designed for 100' long, limbless users at all.

      K.

    • by AdamHaun (43173) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:23PM (#33377320) Journal

      It's a reference to the subculture embodied by this Make [makezine.com].

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pspahn (1175617)

        And thus I have been informed. This is entirely news to me, and is certainly stuff that matters. My mind is whizzing with awesome ideas as a result.

        Applause

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ShieldW0lf (601553)
          It's a reference to the MakerBot [makerbot.com]. It's a RepStrap, a way to build yourself a RepRap if you don't yet own a one. I've got one on my desk upstairs, waiting for a replacement thermistor for my extruder so I can start churning out parts for this one. [reprap.org]

          The fact that you can get one in a kit form has spawned a whole host of different printable upgrades for the MakerBot. For example, there's a set of models up on thingiverse you can download and print that will let you mount a Dremel tool in place of the print
      • Who will eventually start suing anyone using the words "Make", "Maker", "Making" and "Made". I think you already have to write "Make(tm)". People who did this use to be "hackers" or "DIY-ers", but now this is catching on. The site/magazine already refers to anyone who creates/hacks anything as a "Maker", basically labeling them with their own trademark.

        I wonder is this is even a defensible trademark. Will we need to start using "Creators" as an alternative? Also, isn't "The Maker" already kind of prior a
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I don't know where they are sourcing that term, but "Maker" was used extensively by Orson Scott Card in the book 'seventh son'. I imagine it's a term they have adopted for use in the reprap community. Which makes sense, because it's highly applicable.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cmiller173 (641510)
        see also: Cory Doctorow's novel Makers http://craphound.com/makers/download/ [craphound.com] Decent read for when you want to escape reality for a while. Download-able in 12+ formats no DRM.
      • by IorDMUX (870522)

        don't know where they are sourcing that term, but "Maker" was used extensively by Orson Scott Card in the book 'seventh son'.

        Ah, tanj it. I read that series, and successfully blocked it from my consciousness until you mentioned it.

        My first thought on reading about the "Maker" in the summary was Lois Lowry's The Giver... which apparently is only the first book of a trilogy. Who knew?

    • I'm not sure I've ever heard the term Makers as used in this context. I was pretty much expecting to see Mark come after it, capitalized and everything.

      It's quite common lately. Kind of like a more physical version of Hackers. Think of it as a collective term for people who make stuff for fun and perhaps a little profit rather than invent and patent and scream bloody murder if someone brings out something similar. Anything from knitted laptop covers to 3D printing and home CNC.

      • It's quite common lately. Kind of like a more physical version of Hackers. Think of it as a collective term for people who make stuff for fun and perhaps a little profit rather than invent and patent and scream bloody murder if someone brings out something similar. Anything from knitted laptop covers to 3D printing and home CNC.

        How is that different from a "hobbyist"?

        • by M8e (1008767)

          "hobbyist" is a broader term that also includes people that don't create stuff as an hobby. Like collecting things("collectors"), playing games("gamers?"), sports etc.

  • Something cheap to cut off my relation!
  • by cortesoft (1150075) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:22PM (#33377308)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RepRap_Project [wikipedia.org]

    Cool. I want a self replicating replicator!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SheeEttin (899897)

      Cool. I want a self replicating replicator!

      Clearly, you have not watched your Stargate [wikia.com].

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@h a c k i sh.org> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:37AM (#33377674)

      I'm afraid your only choices are zero or infinite self-replicating replicators.

    • How many self-replicators would a self-replicator replicate if a self-replicator could replicate self-replicators?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've met the RepRap team and I can tell you the one thing they are best at (and it appears slashdot are helping them replicate) is hype and self publicity.

      The RepRap machine is basically a cheap plastic printer / rapid prototyping machine which is an idea that's been around ... at least 10+ years before they started. The only component they can manufacture are the plastic bits. Have a look at the photo and see if you can spot the plastic bits. I'll give you a hint, they're not the metal frame, or the woo

      • by Omestes (471991)

        I thought the goal was to give it the ability, eventually, to print its own circuits too. Its been a long time since I browsed their page though, so I might be wrong. Off all the bits it can't do now, the wood bits is the only thing a sufficiently advanced 3D printer would not be able to do. Not that the RepRap (gah, the name is dumb) is even near to being that advanced.

        Eventually, though, I can see a device that can build its own structural components, and print its own boards. Making its own motors is

      • by Carnildo (712617)

        The nice thing about being able to produce the plastic bits is that they are the most expensive part. Threaded steel rod is cheap, wood is cheap, standard electrical parts are cheap, but custom-shaped plastic is only cheap if you can do a run of at least a million parts. A one-off run of the plastic bits at the typical prototyping shop will run you about $250, while a RepRap can make them for around $10.

    • by Y2KDragon (525979)
      Didn't you watch Stargate SG-1? This too will end badly.
    • Cool. I want a self replicating replicator!

      It's called a woman but I don't like your odds of inserting your raw material to start the replication process.

  • by FrameRotBlues (1082971) <framerotblues.gmail@com> on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:35PM (#33377376) Homepage Journal
    IMHO, this is the kind of inventive tinkering that should be pushed forward in today's schools. It takes a lot of different skills from across several disciplines to be able to crank something like this out, but once you see it, you realize how simple it really is. It takes imagination and perseverance as well, and that's hard to teach.

    I don't mean to start a "Public schools are apathizing our youth!" thread, but I wonder how many kids would really enjoy classes geared towards making useful projects out of surplus crap - a combining of wood shop, metal shop, and electronics classes.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by spopepro (1302967)

      I completely agree with everything you are saying. It would work great if our schools were populated with slashdot type students. Unfortunately, reality is otherwise. I think if you spent some time in schools you would be shocked at how apathetic they are when we get 'em.

      However, I do think there is a serious problem with the direction schools are going with the use and teaching of technology. The emphasis has been on acquiring more and more computer workstations. Tech education now consists of word, p

    • IMHO, this is the kind of inventive tinkering that should be pushed forward in today's schools.

      What?! And raise another generation of techies to be pushed around by mediocre managers' sneers? I say leave these things to people that can't help themselves. Like us on /.

      Luckily my kids have no true feeling with tech and/or IT. One trap I fell in which they won't. I hope that whatever they'll do, they'll do well.

    • The words 'public school', where I'm from, are synonymous with very intelligent or highly capable, upper middle-class to stinking rich, right up to people with title and land.
      • That would presumably be the UK. Just substitute 'state school' when you hear Americans talk about 'public schools'.

        In the UK, there used to be private schools. These were run as businesses, where people went, paid, and were given an education. Then there were charity schools. These were run by local communities, or often by the church or by a company wanting to develop a region (for example, there were public schools in Wales funded by the mine owners). They were open to anyone, and usually didn't

    • by Gnaythan1 (214245)

      Along with high school shop classes, I want one of THESE in every town.

      http://techshop.ws/ [techshop.ws]

      If there was one close enough (North of Seattle) I'd be there daily.

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:38PM (#33377388)

    Where can we get cheap sharks to go with this?

  • Teak Etching! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Suki I (1546431) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @11:51PM (#33377460) Homepage Journal
    If Teak (Tectona) is dark enough, it could be used to make awesome etchings for paperweights and other cool knickknacks.
    • There are lots of laser etching/marking systems that work perfectly well with wood. The one that comes to mind first is Epilog [epiloglaser.com] who make things that are basically desktop printers with an industrial laser, so you put in your piece of whatever and it cuts it. They're fairly cheap, fairly rugged, and do a fantastic job of burning complex patterns into wood. (I know the people who make them, and have used them quite a bit.) They do a fine job with even fairly light woods like Southern Yellow Pine, and if yo
  • ahem (Score:1, Insightful)

    by bakamorgan (1854434)
    I shall repeat what a wise man said at one time. "I want sharks with freakin lazer beams on their heads!!!!!" Now make it happen. or maybe some triceratops with nightvison goggles with laser guns on the side.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    when the thing can cut through the fruitcake I got last Christmas

    • by hyades1 (1149581)

      If Star Wars was real, the Death Star couldn't cut through the fruit cake you got last Christmas. You might as well try to hit a major league slider with a stick of French bread.

      • Clearly then, we need to line our ICBMs with fruit cake. I knew that stuff was tough.
        • You've got it backwards. We need to line our bunkers and other insufficiently-hardened targets with fruitcakes. Then, not even armageddon while find its way inside.
  • Cloth? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @12:18AM (#33377588) Journal
    Seriously, something like this could cut patterns CHEAPLY on cloth. Think of it as a stamping machine.
  • What's "making" in this context?

  • Come on, nobody else picked up on the phrase, "allowing a far less ... inexpensive laser diode to be used."? Think about it.
  • Alright!!! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hesaigo999ca (786966)

    Ok, so when this becomes cheap enough to replace all lasers used to correct vision, instead of thousands of dollars, we would be talking about hundreds...cool

    • by Fnord666 (889225)

      Ok, so when this becomes cheap enough to replace all lasers used to correct vision, instead of thousands of dollars, we would be talking about hundreds...cool

      But are you really going to let someone shine a science fair project into your eyes?

    • The lasers used in eye surgery are fairly different. There are two general types of laser action, burning and ablation. The lasers used in this article are infra-red or red -- which is to say, inexpensive, readily available -- and they remove material by burning it off. You don't really want to be burning stuff off your eyes if you can help it. So the lasers used in eye surgery (and a variety of other heat-sensitive materials) ablate rather than burning: they work in the ultraviolet range, so the photon
  • So essentially he is making the cut by drilling a series of adjacent holes. Depending on the spacing between the holes the cut may have a very rough finished edge.
    If the laser is capable of removing material, the next logical step would be a laser based CNC machine. Basically the reverse of what they are doing with the sintering rig, but using a subtractive process rather than an additive process.
  • How is this news? Can't you cut a laser beam by just, hum, putting something on its path?

              -dZ?

  • The end-goal is to create a hybrid inexpensive 3D printer that can be easily reconfigured for 2D laser cutting, providing powerful making tools to the desktop."

    The end-goal ought to be to create a working lightsaber! Get on that!

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