Laser Alternatives

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A discussion of laser layout equipment, software, and a low-tech shop-rigged alternative. July 2, 2005

We are in need of a laser system for our operation, but we just set up our cnc and it won’t be in the budget for a while. Has anyone successfully implemented another type of system possibly using a video projector?

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor C:
I'm afraid that I don't have a good answer for you. When you do get your laser system, make sure that it's a good one that works consistently. We've been having problems with our’s for a while now. Thankfully that's behind us, but for a while I was to the point where a view master disk and a flashlight would have worked better.

From contributor A:
We set up a SL-Laser on our Homag router 8 months ago. Our operator used to work for a national furniture company. He groaned when he heard we purchased a laser for the CNC unit. He said they tried several and none were worth a hoot.

The SL-laser unit has been indispensable to our varied type of product mix. We don't use it everyday, but use it about half the time. It has proven to be a major plus and even our operator likes it. The laser will take a few years to pay for itself, but seems well worth the investment.

By the way, my investigation about different laser units prior to purchase led me to believe that while lasers do vary, it may be the software that drives the laser. The interfaces with the operator may be the most important element.

From contributor C:

The Laser system that we bought was also an SL laser, for our Homag BOF Router. We kept on having issues with it that they couldn't figure out. It would reference on the floor, and say that it was okay.

One night, I was shutting down and I noticed that when I turned off the fluorescent lights, the error light went off. The problem for the whole time was with those lights. So now we just reference the laser in the dark. It's accurate to within 1/16 usually. We couldn't run our door parts without it. It's a hefty expense up front, but it's well worth it if you can get it.

From contributor B:
Our positioning system is pretty low tech when compared to a laser system, but is ballpark just as fast, although not as accurate. However, it won't work for some hold down systems so you would have to take that into consideration.

We have a 6' wide roll of corrugated (cardboard box manufacturing) paper at one end of our 6x10 table. We get the rolls free as roll ends from the local corrugated factory. The paper is pulled out to completely cover the cnc table surface. When we need to change the paper we just cut off the old and pull a new section out over the table.

I have a magic marker loaded in T1 on my tool changer. Every curved molding we cut has a cut file and a corresponding pen file. The pen file draws the part on the paper with the magic marker and we use vac pods screwed down to our mdf spoil board to hold the moldings. The pods are placed within the molding lines drawn by the pen, and the parts laid out so that they cover the lines.

We can draw the molding and set up to cut it out in a matter of a few minutes. I've looked at lasers as they would eliminate the need for the paper and open the door to options other then screwing down the pods. However, the current system is so efficient I feel I would not see enough of an increase in production (if any) to justify the $15k plus for a laser system.