The Autodesk Pier 9 office is our space for employees to make stuff. The future of making buildings, things, and media will be different from what it is now. Autodesk wants us to use our software to imagine, design, and create so that we can experience what our customers experience. As we design, make, and use the stuff we've made, we'll have a better sense of how we can serve our customers better.
I completed general safety, fire extinguisher, and basic laser cutter training so that I could use the Epilog laser cutters at Pier 9. There are two basic safety rules when using a laser cutter.
- Use approved materials only.
- Never walk away from the machine while it is cutting.
By using approved materials, there is less chance of starting a fire by inadvertently using a flammable material. In the event of a fire, being next to the machine allows one to immediately address it.
Using the laser cutter is fairly straightforward:
- Since the laser cutter operates by burning a thin layer of material from its subject, make sure the exhaust fan is on, and the vent is open for the machine. This removes the smoke that results from the cutting process.
- Check to make sure that the machine is clean from any debris from prior use.
- Place the material in the machine and use the focus button and focus gauge to set the proper height of the bed. The laser comes into focus and cuts only when the material is the correct distance from the laser.
- Once the material is in the correct position, press the start job button.
That part is easy. Creating the job to be sent to the laser cutter takes a little more effort.
Our family does a Christmas gift exchange. This year I had my wife's brother-in-law's name. He is a New Orleans Saints fan and a fisherman, so I wanted to make him a personalized cutting board. I loaded some graphics into the program and sent the job to the laser cutter. The process is much like sending a job to a printer. The primary difference is that before printing, you set the device settings for the material (in this case wood) and the raster and vector data to be engraved. To get a rough idea of positioning, I did a test run on plywood and got:
You can see that I did not get an image of my wife's brother-in-law's face. I just got an outline. That is because I had not processed the image yet. I then did that by using image processing software to:
- Convert the color image to grayscale.
- Increase the brightness and contrast for the image.
- Sharpen the image.
- Convert the image to bitmap and specify a dithering algorithm.
After doing that, I swapped in the processed image for the original one, reran the job with the cutting board, and got this;
Months back, there was an internet meme where you are supposed to surprise some people. I decided to use the laser cutter to surprise some of my Facebook friends:
For Christmas, I also decided to engrave cheese-plate cutting boards for my brother and sister:
For fun, I did engrave Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star album cover on plywood. I also listed the messages that painter, Arthur Wood, encoded in the album cover artwork. This is the first Todd Rundgren album that I ever heard — back in 1973.
For 2016, my plan is to get certified on the CNC machines and get creative with Fusion 360.
Laser engraving is alive in the lab.