3D printing and rapid prototyping are ever-growing markets with ever increasing demands of its versatile client base. More and more entrepreneurs and industrialists are demanding an alternative to the conventional production line manufacturing methods- and rapid prototyping could be an answer to that. Rapid prototyping allows mass customization and gives clients the liberty to involve themselves into the production process. Currently, the capability of making complex physical products using cost effective tools for digital fabrication has become a completely new sector. It was not possible to generate devices like this even a few years ago.
Of course, rapid prototyping plays the lead role in terms of getting coverage in mainstream media. Subsequently, there is a lot of global investment while considering these tools. However, other technologies are slowly gaining footing in the additive manufacturing realm. Unfortunately though, most of the precision tools such as laser cutters and CNC mills can be rather expensive, hence out of reach for most independent hobbyists of rapid prototyping.
A new instructables tutorial has come to the rescue of those who want to try out multi-function devices. This DIY tutorial shows how one can easily convert an open source, standard consumer level 3D printer into a fully functional laser cutter- all that for the meager sum of just $40! As unbelievable as it sounds, this tutorial exists on the interwebs, and is making quite a splash. This DIY instructables tutorial is capable of turning your regular 3D printer into a laser cutter of 500mW.
For the clever hack to work, of course, one needs to already own a 3D printer that they are willing to take apart. The hot end is to be removed, which would take away the ability of your device to print in 3D temporarily. However, no time is to be spent on sourcing the required parts, that too from a rather confusing blend of online international retailers that specialize on said parts. Saving you all the hassle of dealing with shady Amazon, Ebay or Aliexpress dealers, you simply require a single 505NM, 500mW laser which is widely available. This happens to be the only hardware piece required to make the upgrade of your rapid prototyping device.
As seen on the video that accompanies the tutorial, the procedure is just a matter of exchanging the 3D ink extruder with the laser. The extruder is to be taken out and the laser is to be fastened onto the machine. Jakes Workshop, the instructables user who came up with this hack, simply took the extruder fan out, cut up some zip ties that fastened it in position and ultimately fitted the laser in position with the help of some small screws.
From that point on, lion’s share of the work was related to wiring the laser’s electronic parts onto the motherboard of the 3D printer. Then one has to download a laser driver software of their choice. In the video, Inkscape’s laser tool plug in was used for the purpose. Following the download, the x/y limits had to be set, then focusing the laser on the three dimensional z-axis in the best possible way. The user can then run and generate any g-code that one desires that would be used for the laser cutting action.
The more the matter is given a thought, the more it is felt that the conversion process can get painstakingly evident in many different ways. A rapid prototyping device or 3D printer already has the required axis control provisions in place that can be used with the laser as well. The necessity of custom programming is completely eliminated once the laser tool plug in of Inkspace’s laser cutter is installed. Hence, it all comes down to a matter of obtaining a laser, exchanging it with the innards of the 3D printer and hoping to get the desired results.
There is a small catch to all of this. It is to be noted that the mere 500mW laser that was used in the tutorial is not capable of cutting heavy duty plastic materials, let alone cutting through tough metal. However, this can be good enough for simple tasks of engraving and cutting lighter materials such as paper. A quick word of caution would be that the video of demonstration displays a logo being engraved on top of a notepad. As professionals who deal with laser cutters frequently, we stress on getting to know the properties of the materials you want to engrave before you try to pull the stunt. There can otherwise be accidents such as creation of toxic fumes from materials. After all, it will be a laughable matter if you faint from the toxic smoke while trying to engrave a logo onto your personal belongings.
If you are not the type to go into these experiments, you can always go for low cost laser cutters and 3D printers. The inquisitive type might want to try this little DIY instructable out in order to explore how laser cutting and 3D printing can work out for them on a small basis.
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