Session 36 – How to Laser Cut Thin Materials

The Concise RDWorks Learning Lab Series

Welcome to the new Concise RDWorks Learning Lab Series with Russ Sadler. In this Session, Russ progresses this laser cutting module showing how to laser cut thin materials such as paper and card. He explains the laser power characterisation of a laser tube and explains the theory and importance of the pre-ionisation zone. Using the visual characteristics of the pink plasma glow of the tube, he explains how to determine the pre-ionisation zone for your own laser tube. Russ then goes on to demonstrate a laser cut Xmas card and a model bird project.

Release Date: 18th March 2022

Over the last 6 years, Russ has built up a formidable YouTube following for his RDWorks Learning Lab series which currently has over 200 videos.

The original RDWorks Learning Lab series on his “Sarbar Multimedia” YouTube Channel, follows Russ as he tries to make sense of his new Chinese laser machine and to sort out the truths, half truths and outright misleading information that is available on the web.

Six years later with over 3 million YouTube Views under his belt, Russ has become the go to resource for everything related to the Chinese CO2 laser machine user or wannabe user.

Laser Cutting Thin Materials - Cardboard Model of Bird
Laser Cutting Thin Materials – Cardboard Model of Bird

In this new series, Russ has condensed his knowledge and experience of the last 6 years to provide valuable information and insights into the purchasing, understanding, use, repair and maintenance of the Chinese CO2 laser machines and their key component parts.

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Session 36 – Cutting Thin Materials

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Session 36 – How to Laser Cut Thin Materials

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Laser Cut Xmas Card - 200 GSM Card
Laser Cut Xmas Card – 200 GSM Card

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials

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The Concise RDWorks Learning Lab with Russ Sadler.

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Session 36 Cutting Thin Materials. Well, in previous sessions, we dealt with the basic principles of cutting. As I explained,

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then, there is some, there are some very serious difficulties associated with cutting quite a lot of understanding.

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You can just cut stuff without any problem at all. You can make it fall out.

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But is it neat? Is it tidy? Is it efficient? Those are the sorts of things, the skills that you’ve got to really start practicing and learning.

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Now I can never teach you those skills. I can only show you the principles.

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And today we’re going to start off with the easy end of the cutting spectrum, very thin material.

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In fact, not only thin material, but very flimsy and weak material.

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We’re going to deal with paper and card. What can be difficult about that?

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Okay, look, we’ve got some it’s a slightly thicker than inkjet printer paper.

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It’s about 110 grams this. So yeah, it stays fairly level and I can support it on these little bars that I’ve got here.

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The first thing I’m going to do is find out what the correct focus is for this paper.

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Now, if you remember, I’ve got a little automatic test in here,

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which because I’ve got a programable z on this machine, allows me to test the focus point at various depths.

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So I’ve set it to three millimetre gap under there to start with.

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And then we’ll drop the table one millimetre at time and we’ll try and find the correct gap.

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For the ideal focus. Now, this is a standard focus test that I’ve got set up on here, and it’s running at cutting speeds of typically 20mm a second,

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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which is not an unreasonable cutting speed and 15 percent power.

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Ideally we’re looking for the thinnest line.

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Now, remember, I said, I set this to roughly three millimetres to start with,

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so that’s three four five six seven eight nine mm, looks to be about the ideal gap that we have for the thinnest possible cutting line. ow 20mm

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a second is pretty slow, so we want to find out how quickly and efficiently we can cut this paper.

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So if you remember the basic rules that I described to you in the previous session, maximum power.

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We’re going to do some test squares because that’s the quickest and the easiest way to try and find out our cutting parameters.

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But our first test will be twenty five millimetres a second at

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Ninety five percent power, full power basically. It’s done a reasonable job, it’s cut it out,

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but it’s also done a lot of scorching around the outside. And look what the heat has done, it has caused distortion on the edge of the paper.

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Such a thin material. We should be able to rip through this very quickly.

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So let’s put the speed up to one hundred. OHOH. So in case you didn’t see that look.

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Several things seem to have happened here. We’ve got terrible reflection off of something.

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I think it must be off the back of our grid.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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So let’s move my supports out the way and we’ll do the same thing again. A-ha!

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So now it’s clean and we don’t have any burn marks.

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So it just shows you, doesn’t it? What

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reflection off of things can do for your cuts, especially on thin materials like this, which are very sensitive.

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Now there is some browning around the edge here if we look. It’s not exactly perfectly clean and is that on the back or the front?

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Well, the front looks reasonably clean when we look around here, and so does the back.

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Although there is just a hint there on the back of some sort of scorch mark just there.

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So maybe high power and high speed is not the right approach for paper.

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I can turn my air assist on or I can regulate it back with this ball valve to just the merest whisper to protect the lens from getting smoked up.

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You can hear how silent things are at the moment, except for that small amount of air that you can hear in the background.

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Let me turn that down a little bit more. There we go. Now you can hardly hear any air at all.

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So let’s just run that cut again. The cut is absolutely silent.

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It just dropped out. I’m going to change the settings on this machine.

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We’re still going to leave it at 100mm a second.

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And now listen very carefully and compare what you hear this time with what you heard last time.

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Can you hear that noise? Listen again. It’s no longer silent.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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It’s what I like to call hissy. Listen and hear what I mean.

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Did you hear it? Now, I’m still using 100mm a second.

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But I’m only using 15 percent power. I’m probably down at something like about 20 watts.

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And if we take a look at my ammeter while I’m running that cut. We’ll notice that it probably only goes up to maybe four, six, five milliamps. Four milliamps.

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I mean, that’s half of nothing. So what’s going on?

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The quality of the cut is superb. There’s no smoke marks or damage to it, either on the top or the underneath.

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How am I able to get such a clean cut at such a low power and such a high speed?

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This is a calibration graph for typically this sort of machine.

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And what we’ve got here is 0 to 100 percent power.

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And up here, we’ve got 0 to 90 watts and this happens to be in this machine, about an 80 watt tube.

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And what happens is when you select zero to 100 percent power, you’re actually selecting milliamps, the current that flows through the tube.

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You’re not actually selecting watts. The Watts are related to the milliamps in a very non-linear way.

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It’s all to do with the physics, but it’s not linear. And as you can see here, we get the power coming up in a strange, non-linear fashion.

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And so consequently, we’ve got an 80 watt tube. You might think that 25 percent a quarter of 80 watts would be roughly 20 watts.

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Well, look, here is 25 percent. Power takes us up here to nearly 50 watts, so that’s nowhere near what you might expect.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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And 50 percent power 40 watts. Well, 50 percent power is up here, nearly 70 watts.

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So there is totally no sense in looking at watts in terms of percent power.

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You have to understand how your machine works because this scale is not related to Watts, and I can’t stress that enough.

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If we look at this red graph, you’ll see that it drops down to here and stops.

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This might not be exactly the right number that I’ve drawn on this graph, but somewhere down here below, these are millliamps remember, as well.

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And we’ve just seen that at 4 milliamps, we’re getting tremendous power out of this machine.

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We were able to cut the paper at 100 millimeters a second.

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That that just doesn’t make sense because this graph says that there’s virtually no power down here at all.

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What is going on now? The laser tube is something called a gas discharge tube.

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If you’re very old like me, you remember them as valves in radio, in steam radio.

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If you’re younger, you still know what a gas discharge tube is, even if you don’t know.

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I’ll show you that you do know. OK, now hiding under one of my cabinets here in my workshop we’ve got one of these things it’s a fluorescent tube.

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This is a gas discharge tube. And it’s quite an old tube now, and it takes a little bit of time to kick into action.

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Let me just show you. So there we go, Look, it’s glowing at this end here and then all of a sudden “Ping” it jumps into life now that glow at the end there.

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Is something called a ray discharge? It took a little bit of time for that beam to come on completely.

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The same mechanism operates in our gas discharge tube, the laser tube.

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So we’re just going to set up a little demonstration to show you the relationship between this missing bit

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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of data or this very strange bit of information at the bottom here and the fluorescent tube starter that you’ve just seen.

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I’ve found a very useful job for my cup of coffee.

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I’m going to run this machine and I’m going to fire the laser beam into my cup of coffee, but for safety reasons,

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because firing it down into that coffee, all the energy will be absorbed into my cup.

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So that’s all it’s going to do. OK, so I’ve set the power now to eight percent.

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Technically, that’s almost off the scale, and maybe we shall find that

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we’ve got zero cutting ability. But we can just check that, we’ll just run that program onto my piece of paper there.

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My cup is underneath remember. It’s just about scorching the paper.

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If we look, it’s certainly not cutting through the paper.

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So as near as, damn it, zero power, so this is the output end of the tube.

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And what we’re going to do, we’re going to study what’s happening just here at the cathode.

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Remember, the fluorescent tube? The end of the tube was the bit that lit up first before the whole of the tube illuminated.

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And look, can you see the merest little glow in here?

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So I’m now going to change that to 10 per cent. We’re going to go up in two per cent power steps.

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Now you can see it’s a lot brighter. That length, of the glow has got a little bit longer.

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Now we’re at 12 percent. The glow is traveling further along the tube.

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It’s not all the way along the tube, but you’ll notice how unstable that glow is.

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Now we’ll go to 14. Now we can see the glow is beginning to creep along the tube a bit more.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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It’s certainly not all the way along. Now we go to 16 per cent.

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It’s still not a really powerful beam, but it’s getting brighter just here, as you can see.

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And it is beginning to go along the tube a bit.

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Let’s just stop there and you watch when the tube goes out, it’s very, very faint and then it disappears.

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But the whole thing is that this tube, this beam is continuously fluttering.

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If you look, it’s misty. It’s very random in its motion and 22 percent.

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Well the beam is starting to travel along the tube now, but look how fluttery and unstable that beam is.

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It’s nearly along the whole length of the tube now. And this is 24 percent.

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This is 26 percent. No, we’ve still got lots of instability in the beam, even at 26 percent. Now look at 28 percent.

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That beam is completely stable, but the current is still only four milliamps.

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So lets go up to 30 per cent. It’s a pretty stable beam.

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You can hear my cup of coffee crackling away in the front of the machine as the power increases.

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We’re at 30 percent at the moment, and I’m going to drop this down to say 24 percent.

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And you can definitely see the fluttery nature of the beam, the difference between 24 percent and 30 percent.

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OK, now that’s the difference between pre ionization and full ionization.

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This current control is managed by the high voltage power supply.

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But as you saw with that beam, it was very flaky, it was very misty.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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It was very wispy. The current flow was effectively out of control.

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And what was actually happening there? We were getting little bursts of current there, very high bursts of current for maybe a few nanoseconds.

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So effectively, we may well have more power down here than we have up here.

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But this is stable power and down here, it’s incredibly high and totally random frequency and amount of power.

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So we’ve got this very weird power zone down at the bottom here.

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And because, as I said, it’s very, very high power. When we get weak material, thin, weak material like paper,

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these very high power pulses are able to burst through our paper and do damage without any burning. It just instantly evaporates

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the paper and the carbon. Now it doesn’t work when you’re starting to do things like thick or three millimetre thick, acrylic or 3mm thick.

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And the way that you can tell is you can hear this hissy mode and the hissy mode is,

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in fact, this very high frequency, pulsing hitting the paper and causing damage.

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As I say, cutting is quite a complex process.

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And this pre ionization zone is also the zone that we tend to use for things like photo engraving, which I’ve probably mentioned before.

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This pulsing mode is a very powerful mode. So really,

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what you need to do is work out on your tube, identify between what percentage and what percentage

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you get this pre ionization and then use towards the top end of the zone that you identify.

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We’ve identified 30 as being stable and 25 is definitely being hissy.

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And that’s where I would tend to set the optimum cutting if I wanted to do paper or card.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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So here I’ve got some white card. This is really about probably half millimetre thick,

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and the reason why it’s shiny and smooth is because it’s got a lot of Kaolin or China cray built into the paper that makes it stiff and smooth.

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Now, China clay is a mineral material which doesn’t burn,

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and this does not have the same burn properties as that paper that you just saw. We’re already set to 30 percent.

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We’ll just run a test square. And we’ve done that at 100 mm a second.

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And it’s a thick up paper. And so consequently, it might not drop out.

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I think you can see how smoky it is around the cuts.

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As you can see, 30 percent power hasn’t really cut out.

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It’s got those Ferrari effects that I was telling you about look dark in the corner, but missing along the center.

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So we’re going to leave the head at exactly the same position. And all I’m going to do now is to change the power from 30 down to 24, lower power

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technically. It didn’t cut at 30, remember?

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So what’s it going to do at 24, it must by default cut even worse.

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So listen and watch.

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And sure enough, a little less power means we’ve actually not made it quite as dark in the center of the cut.

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But what we have done is probably got a little bit further into the cut.

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Away from the corners, we’ve now dropped the speed from 100 to 80, very noisy, and that is hanging in by the merest thread.

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So we drop the speed to 70. And there we go.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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It drops out completely, OK? On each of the corners where the beam runs away from the corner, it’s leaving a little trail behind it.

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That’s the smoking effect of this Kaolin that’s in this card. That’s why I don’t use this card.

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I bought this card originally because I thought it was an amazing, lovely piece of material to make Christmas cards or birthday cards with.

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No, it’s rubbish at actually cutting,

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as you can see. This is a creamy, much softer.

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This is not as dressed with Kaolin as the other one.

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There may be a very small amount in it, but it’s negligible and this time – the cuts are virtually clean.

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Although I use this for cards, what I normally do use it the wrong way round.

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In other words, I will reverse my images and cut them from the back.

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Now, here’s what I’ve found is one of the best materials for cutting when I do my cards.

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It’s a fairly thick 200 gram, but it’s you can see, it’s a watercolour paper and it’s a bit like a very,

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very thick cartridge paper that’s probably again half a millimeter thick.

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But it’s got none of the sort of additives in it. It’s a beautifully flat piece of paper, cuts without a mark.

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And here we are, cutting at 170 millimetres a second.

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This is a sort of job that I would do with this setting.

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Now, I don’t need to turn my air assist on, but I normally turn it on so that, let’s just stop that, I normally turn it on so that any of the pieces blow away.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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It’s not for any other reason than just blowing the pieces cleanly out the bottom of the work.

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I transferred this file from my other machine.

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So it’s totally the wrong way round because the datum on this machine is the opposite corner to the other machine.

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But really, this is just a demonstration to show you the sort of thing that you can do with this sort of mode.

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So I’m not going to I’m not going to take that through to conclusion,

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but that’s just an idea of the sort of stuff you can do. Now that was done at 100 millimetres a second.

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Remember, don’t leave debris behind because debris can catch fire, and this time we’ll run it at 200mm a second.

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Why would this work at 200mm a second?

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Well, remember the Ferrari effect when these dimensions are very small, it will never get up to 200 millimetres a second.

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It will only ever get up to 200 millimetres a second on the long, thin strokes,

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but it will achieve the fastest possible cutting speeds it can on those small cuts.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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{hissing sound of laser cutter}.

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Large things like this where it’s not going to exceed the damage threshold as I might not be cutting on these very large outer shapes.

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Just about, just about, so 200mm a second is really too fast for that job because it’s not too fast for these,

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but it’s too fast for these straights if you like where you do get up to 200 miles an hour.

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We could reclaim this because it’s basically perforated.

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So I hope you can see that although it hasn’t pierced through completely, it’s actually perforated because of the randomness of the high power pulses.

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Some of it is perforated through. So that’s how we can actually still,

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effectively reclaim that. With the right material and an understanding of what the right settings are.

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You can do some really nice work with thin card and thin materials.

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Two things first of all. Here I’ve got some white card, which is basically what they use for making beer mats.

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It’s a very soft white card, which is basically almost like grainless wood because it is just wood pulp.

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There’s no China Clay or anything in this and I often use this for making cardboard models, which is what we’re going to do today.

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You will notice that I’ve got this stuff on here that I am not very keen on because it normally marks the back of your product.

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There are times, like today, when you can use it with almost zero effect on the back of your product.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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If you’re using this pre ionization or hissy mode, you will find that it has virtually no effect on the back of the product.

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I can be lazy because when you see what I’m going to cut out of this piece of paper, it would take me quite a long time to put all the bridges in.

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That would allow me to lift this up, put it on some pins or my strips and prevent the parts from falling out.

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Because if parts fall out, then it’s possible that you’ll get burn marks.

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If the parts overlap, the next cut. So I’ve got this machine set up and what I’ve done, I’ve put my zero point right on the corner of the paper

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there. Now I can check that because all I’ve got to do is go {pulse} and you can see that a little teeny weeny white dot of

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light is right in the corner of the paper. That tells me that I’ve got the correct zero or origin starting point.

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Now I need to put some extraction on for this. This happens to be a nice flat card.

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Sometimes you may well find if you turn it the wrong way, the corners might stick up.

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So make sure that the sticky up corners are down.

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And then there’s a fair chance that the middle will get pulled down by the vacuum that’s underneath here.

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We’ve got most of our air drawing through here. So what we can do, we can improve the suction at this point here by blocking off most of the air.

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So now this card is being very gently pulled down by the vacuum.

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OK, well, we’re going to turn some air on now. So we’ve got air assist on this because we’re cutting.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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I’m running this at 35mm/s, but I’m also running at only 25 per cent, which is towards the top end of my pre ionization mode.

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If you remember. Even though this is one point one millimetres thick.

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We’re running at about four milliamps. This is not a continuous cut.

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This is like a perforated cut. You’ve got very high power, for very, very short intervals here,

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which means we’re able to do a lot of damage without doing a huge amount of burning to the product.

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We’re only just using the central power of the laser beam itself, not the outer intensity, low intensity scorching parts of the beam.

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So as you can see, this would be a bit of a challenge.

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I’d have to go round and bridge every one of these pieces, but hopefully now if I’ve done this right.

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And if we take a look at the back, which is the important bit, just a few odd scorch marks here and there,

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but nothing that’s going to cause any real damage to the product, as you can see. Now, these parts are numbered.

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I’ve got another sheet I’ve got to cut. We’ll start in the middle at eight, and we put that through there.

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And we put seven on the back of six, five and five.

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Put that on there like that, and there we’ve got the start of that bird.

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And we’ve got the tail. So that’s the beginning of our Model Bird. We’ll just go and make the other parts of the wings.

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So we’ve got one,

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two and three, which will fit on onto here.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials (Cont…)

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So I think that five goes in front of four and I think four fits behind it and just literally pushes in there to lock everything in.

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And one and there’s our little model bird, so there’s all sorts of things you can do with this machine.

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This was originally designed for two or three millimeter thick material,

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so I had to, I’ve had to go round and modify all the slots and grooves to make things fit.

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This is quite thick card at one millimetre thick, or 1.1 millimetre thick.

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And I’m still catching it with pre ionization power.

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Now I will explain in the next session why I’ve done this little demonstration

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with card, and why we started off with the easy jobs cutting thin paper and card.

Transcript for How to Laser Cut Thin Materials

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Last updated August 26, 2021

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