How to Laser Cut at Duke

Laser cutting, like 3D printing, will be one of your most powerful prototyping tools in your first year at Duke. Laser cutting allows you to quickly construct high quality wood, acrylic, foamcore, and cardboard prototypes of products. In this Instructable, you will learn how to create designs to cut/engrave, prepare them for the laser cutter, and cut/engrave them.

Step 1: Designing to Laser Cut

In order to be laser cut, all designs must be processed through Adobe Illustrator. This leaves two options for designing parts to cut:

1. Design Directly in Illustrator

It's possible (but not preferable) to draw your designs directly in Adobe Illustrator. This can be a useful method for artistic designs, but for engineering designs, it isn't the best. Illustrator lacks important functions for engineering design, which makes designing functional parts in Illustrator very difficult. In general, try to avoid designing directly in Illustrator.

2. Sketch in Fusion 360 and Export to Illustrator

A preferable method when designing for engineering is to sketch your part in Fusion 360, then to export the sketch as a DXF file to Illustrator. From there, you can format the sketch for laser cutting and cut the part normally.

To use this method, draw your part as a sketch in Fusion 360. Once you finish the sketch, find it in the sketches folder and right click on it. Select "Save as DXF" and save the file. Open the file in Illustrator. When you open it, a dialog box will pop up with scaling options. These scaling options are important; without setting the correct scale, your part will be wildly out of dimension. In the scaling options, you'll see a line that reads:

Scale: 1 unit(s) = 1 Inches

You want to change this scale so that one unit in Illustrator equals one unit in Fusion. For example, if you were working in millimeters in Fusion, you would change this ratio to:

Scale: 1 unit(s) = 1 Millimeters

Or, if you were working in feet, the scale would read:

Scale: 1 unit(s) = 12 Inches

When you open your sketch in Illustrator, you might notice some extra lines. Delete them before you format and cut your part. These are your construction lines. In Fusion, they aren't part of your sketch geometry, but they transfer to Illustrator as normal lines.

Step 2: Formatting a Drawing for Laser Cutting

Once you have your drawing or sketch open in Adobe Illustrator, you have to format it for laser cutting. When the laser cutter's software reads files, it looks for very specifically formatted drawings. If the drawing isn't correctly formatted, the laser cutter won't interpret it correctly.

When cutting in the POD, a lab manager or TA will typically handle this and all following steps for you. However, if you choose to cut in the CoLab or the Ruby, you'll have to do these yourself (although the staff are always happy to help you!), so it's good to know how to do it.

First, change all of the lines in your drawing to a width of 0.001.

Second, change the color of your lines to correspond to their function. Lines that you'd like cut should be red (RGB 255, 0, 0); lines that you'd like engraved should be black (RGB 0, 0, 0). If you'd like to engrave an entire area, the area should be black.

Step 3: Using the Print Dialog

Once you've formatted your drawing, go to the print dialog (Control-P, Command-P, or File > Print). Select the Trotec Engraver as your printer, then press "Setup", then "Preferences". Here, you can select your material and engraving settings, like power and speed for cutting and engraving. Most of the settings should be preset; you should just choose your material.

Once you've set the correct settings, press the button with the JobControl logo, then "Print", then "Print" again. You'll be taken to the JobControl software, where you can send the job to the laser cutter.

Step 4: Using the Laser Cutter and JobControl Software

Before using JobControl, you'll need to adjust the laser cutter. First, make sure the exhaust and laser cutter are both turned on. Place your material on the plate, and position the laser above it. Focus the laser cutter by placing the focusing tool on the cutting head and moving the bed up until the focusing tool falls off.

Once the laser cutter is focused, you're ready to start your job using JobControl. JobControl is the computer's direct interface with the laser cutter. When you're taken to the software, your job will appear in the list of jobs to the right. Drag it from that list to the engraving plate on the left. Place the job on the plate so that it lies entirely within your material -- you can use the position of the laser as a guide. Move the laser to the corner of your material, then position your job relative to the laser's position. When you're ready, connect to the laser cutter and start your job.

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