Almost every 3D printer can be used as a laser cutter, as powerful as a CO2 engraving machine and as efficient as a fiber laser device. All that is possible today thanks to powerful diode lasers that first appeared on the market a few years back. Today, there are many powerful 405 / 445 / 808 nm laser diodes which enable laser cutting and laser engraving on almost any material, including wood, plywood, leather, plastic, anodized aluminum and even stainless steel. In addition, these laser diodes are tiny and thus make relatively small lasers that weight less than ½ pound.
What is a laser diode attachment?
The laser diode attachment is a laser diode inserted into a heatsink with a diode laser driver to control the laser power via TTL (PWM signal). It is important that the laser heatsink is good enough to distribute heat from the laser diode itself. The laser diode is usually less than one centimeter in size and generates up to 25 watt of heat that has to be removed. If the temperature of the laser diode exceeds 60°-70°C, the crystal starts to degrade, which is why it is important to have a very good heatsink. Usually, heatsinks are at least 2 x 2 x 3 inches in size with additional fans to create air turbulence around the heatsink. The next important thing is a laser driver that stabilizes current and voltage and allows the laser to work continuously without overclocking.
The best aspect of adding the laser to a 3D printer is that it does not require any soldering or complicated upgrades. All 3D printers have FAN 1 and FAN 2 pin outputs where the laser can be connected. Another favorable element is that for most 3D printers (or CNC routers) there is no need to remove the extruder. The laser is small and light enough that it can simply be installed next to it. No additional software is needed. Standard Inkscape software can be used with a J Tech Photonics plugin or an Endurance G-code plugin to prepare an image for laser engraving. See the video below for more information.
Not all laser diodes are created equal
This is a crucial point. A lot of low-cost lasers and components can be purchased on Aliexpress, Ebay, DHGate and other sites. The biggest problem that these marketplaces have is that they hardly offer any customer support. I believe that it is important to have community and supporters who can help and assist further and share lifehacks. At Endurance, we continue to grow our community of mentors and supporters.
Another important aspect to consider is that there is no way to know if the laser was tested before it was shipped and—even more importantly—that it has a real power output. Measurement of a full laser beam power is a complicated process and requires pretty expensive equipment. A 10-watt laser can easily cut dark acrylic up to 1 cm thick with a few passes. On the other hand, cutting white acrylic it might be a problem since a 445 nm wavelength will more likely be reflected and might not cut at all. That is why it is important to understand what exactly you are going to do with the laser. For example, 445 nm lasers are good for cutting and engraving on almost on any materials and variety of colors except white and transparent. However, engraving on transparent acrylic and glass will work just fine.
Installation may be a very easy task, however, laser beam focusing can be a slightly harder exercise. The better the laser beam is focused the more powerful spot it generates. On the other hand, even if it is a little out of focus, it may become impossible to engrave on stainless steel or anodized aluminum.
The easiest way to focus a laser is by drawing lines and changing the height of the z-axis to see where the line is thinnest—that’s where the focus of the laser beam is. Another solution is to set up the focus using a mirror camera, full zoom and a green or red filter.
The Endurance 10 watt+ difference
There are some key advantages that have been introduced to the new Endurance 10 watt+ lasers. These include the addition of an air assist, a laser box replacing the laser control board, an advanced TEC cooling system, a large ring for easy focusing and a polished aluminum housing.
The new laser box serves a number of different purposes: it allows monitoring of the temperature, voltage and current of the laser diode, while the TEC cooling system keeps the laser diode safe from overheating. The new laser box stabilizes current and voltage and enables users to operate the laser (full power / TTL control). It also protects the laser diode from an unexpected voltage jump, measures the laser temperature as well as the incoming and outgoing voltage and current. The programmable Arduino board allows users to set up the power (duty ratio) and laser beam frequency (impulsive mode).
Finally, the focusing ring makes it possible to set up focus with fewer steps and with more accuracy, while the polished aluminum housing of the laser just looks great.