Rationale and background¶
This wiki is about the development of an Open Source driver for laser cutters and a matching Mainboard, Firmware and PrinterDriver using existing technology where possible, to:
- Provide an open source solution to control laser cutters and laser markers
- Provide "low entry level" access to laser cutting and marking equipment
- Provide a complete work flow to allow novice users to use the tools and make stuff without having to know the intricate details of format conversions or laser process and machine particularities
- Standardize the hardware and file formats used, in order to simplify the exchange of designs
- Tap in to the infinite pool of bright minds and allow them to participate in the creation of new ideas and products based on this technology.
The development of the reprap and other open-source 3D printers has made 3D printing affordable for the masses. It triggered a development spur that produced various new technologies and products. While theoretically almost any 3D shape can be manufactured by an additive process like FFD 3D printing (or optical 3D lithography) there are many shapes that may be better created using subtractive techniques like turning, milling or profile cutting. For one: The original material properties are not compromised in the final product, and there is a larger selection of materials (polymers, cardboard, wood, metals, etc.). Laser cutting is a relatively simple technology that allows one to create accurate structural elements from sheets, with a typical thickness of 0.1 to 10 mm (thinner and thicker possible with some materials and lasers). Sheets can be stacked, or assembled in three dimensions to make anything from a coat hanger to full size cars. These benefits makes this a tool makers must have!.
Typically, (CO2) laser cutters cost US$10k to US$100k and are not accessible to the average user. Cheap CO2 laser cutters are available (from China) in the UD$1k to US$5k range but they often hampered by software limitations and limited flexibility.
This project is even more ambitious and aims to reduce the price even lower and make laser cutters and markers available in the US$100 to US$1000 range (YMMV) depending on the laser used, and the parts you may be able to rescue from the local scrap-heap.
This project was started with the coincidence of Peter Brier meeting Jaap Vermaas on the DDW 2010 festival in Eindhoven, and having a old industrial marking laser available (rescued from the scrapheap). Jaap runs a mobile fablab and has various tools (including a 3D printer and professional laser cutter) in his lab. Fueled by the experience of various other fablabs with their laser tools he came up with the idea to upgrade these with new controllers and software, and create something to allow the marking laser do something useful. I (Peter) have over 10 years of professional experience in the design of Laser and Inkjet printing equipment, so we discussed the idea over a cup of coffee when Jaap picked up the industrial laser in Eindhoven. There was interest from the ProtoSpace fablab, that owns a number of laser cutters. They where kind enough to host us. Siert and Jelle from protospace joined our efforts. They own a laser system that is up for a Brain Transplant. This became our ProtoSystem.