Tuesday, June 13, 2017

lightobject pro530z laser cutter

I've been wanting to purchase a personal laser cutter for quite some time. I was accustomed to using the Epilog Zing when I worked at UWM, and I used it for all kinds of things such as the typical cutting of wood, fabric, and acrylic as well as engraving aluminum and stainless steel. It was just too easy to use it as a way to remove resists for etching metal, making acrylic dies for die forming metal, etching into enamel, and making chipboard models for pieces. The laser cutter became a 3D sketching tool that is honestly more versatile, at times, than a 3D printer due to material options. In addition most of the raw materials that we work with, start off in sheet form so the translation from laser cut model to final piece just makes a lot of sense.  

I received some start-up funds as a part the negotiation of my new position at Appalachian State. I spent a considerable amount of time shopping around for a personal laser cutter so hopefully this review will serve others as they make the decision for what to purchase.

As I mentioned, the Epilog that I had at my previous job was an amazing machine. The software was easy to use and I could print straight from Rhino (my main modeling program) using the integrated print driver. The cost of the Epilog though was just too much for me. I looked at Universal, TrotecBoss, Rabbit, Full Spectrum, Glowforge, and priced out many of the Chinese made laser cutters being sold on Ebay. Similar to the Epilog, the Universal and Trotec lasers were just too expensive for me to justify. I was seriously considering the Glowforge, but the amount of time that it was taking for the lasers to be delivered was a drawback and I really had some questions about how effective their fume extraction and software would be for the range of things I want to cut. The Full Spectrum laser cutter was also in the running as I knew both Arthur (part 1 and part 2) and Aaron had purchased these and were considerably happy with them. I even checked into customs pricing for having a really large laser shipped from China, but in investigating this found out that you can never be sure what the customs and broker fees will be once the laser arrives in port.

I decided to check into pricing for a laser from LightObject. I had built a DIY honeycomb tray for our Epilog using honeycomb beds from LightObject and I knew they were located in the States and had dependable service since dealing with them for this project. I had also priced out laser components from them as I was working on a couple DIY laser cutter builds with John McGeen using the Buildlog 2.0 designs. After checking out their forums back in the Fall, I discovered that LightObject was developing a bench top laser cutter in China that was going to be within my budget and available soon. It appeared to be a nicely designed laser cutter, and I was intrigued as it looked very similar to the Buildlog 2.0 machine. Although the PRO530Z was low wattage (LightObject is honest on their laser ratings unlike many of the Chinese advertised lasers) I felt certain that going with LightObject would allow me to easily upgrade the laser tube with one of LightObjects more powerful lasers in the future. Also since LightObject is experienced with people who are kit building their own laser cutters, I felt certain that I would be able to get further information on "hacking" the machine. The Epilog that I had in the past was a pain as the technicians didn't want users messing with the sealed laser when something went wrong. Not to mention replacement parts were crazy expensive once out of warranty.

In the Spring semester I set about getting the proper paperwork through my University to enable me to purchase the PRO530Z. The price of the laser cutter had come down during the time that I was going through the paperwork. I ordered a water chiller from LightObject to use with the laser cutter. They also recommended an air compressor (which I already had) and I also planned on using a blower that I already had for fume extraction. After the order, LightObject representatives set up a user account for their forum that contains manuals, and software access that normal web viewers cannot access. They also sent confirmation and freight and shipping tracking numbers. They informed me that the laser cutter would be tested at their facilities in California before being shipped (again a nice feature if you are going with a laser cutter that is shipped from China). The water chiller arrived UPS and had been tested as well. The laser arrived a a couple days later and so I ran over to App State Receiving in Jill's Subaru to pick it up. I couldn't believe the size of the crate and it appeared that there must be a lot of packing material around the machine; it was WAY larger than I had anticipated! I ended up borrowing the Department truck and went over to receiving so I could get the laser cutter back to the Art Building.

Travis helped me get the crate inside the Sculpture studio and then later in the day I started un-crating the laser cutter. As I mentioned before I hadn't really looked at the outside dimensions of the laser cutter. I guess I was just so focussed on the inside cutting capacity (which is 19.6" x 11.8") that I didn't even consider the outside dimensions. I just assumed that the laser cutter would be around the same dimensions as the Epilog Zing (which was 12"x16" inside cutting size). I was surprised to lift the foam packing and realize that the laser cutter filled the entire crate. Also, the laser cutter is very heavy weighing in at 145 lbs. (although it feels like more than that).

The laser cutter was well packed regardless of of thin packing foam. The crate is the main protection for the machine and the heavy steel construction seemed to aid in everything arriving safely. I admit that I was surprised at the thickness of the gauge of steel used to construct the laser cutter chassis. It is heavy duty! The chassis also appears to be powder coated and was well done with just a couple of tiny chipped areas that had been touched up (very typical of most factory powder coated finishes I has seen on mass produced objects). There were several empty cardboard boxes inside the machine to take up space and keep the gantry in place for transport. The acrylic covers seem a little light weight and personally I would like to see a little thicker material used here, but this is a minor complaint. Again, I think switching out to a different material or thickness would be possible in the future.

I really like the way the lid folds in half. It conserves space and makes the lid action feel very light.

One of the boxes inside the laser cutter contained hose clamps for the fume extraction duct, USB cable, power cable, and hose for the water chiller and airline. A flexible duct for fume extraction is also included.

A few bolts had loosened during transport. Luckily nothing that was critical to the function of the laser. It was just door hinge bolts that had some nuts that had dropped off inside the main chassis.

The laser tube is located in the back of the machine and is easily accessed by removing one small phillips screw and flipping up the blue cover. I really like being able to see the functional parts of the laser cutter. 

Again the bed is a decent size measuring in at 19.6" x 11.8".

The interior components appear to be a combination of anodized and powder coated aluminum.

The Z axis has a stepper motor mounted at the back of the machine.

The linear rails use polished half round bearing surfaces and a u-shaped roller bearing arrangement driven by belts. They also appear to be strong components resistant to twist or warp.

The lens reflectors are solidly mounted on the left side inside the chassis. Again, all of these items are easily accessible and it you look from the outside you can see small acrylic covers that can be removed to access these components from outside the machine if needed. With the room available inside the left and right side of the machine chassis, I feel like the bed size could potentially be expanded in the future. I would guess that the chassis needed to be this wide though to accommodate the long laser tube. I noticed many Chinese machines that had an additional box attachment off the back to accommodate laser tubes and you might see that Aaron had to expand his laser cutter chassis while fitting his replacement LightObject tube.

I decided that I needed to take the laser cutter home as I really didn't have room in my school office (as originally planned) and my studio is also a bit crowded at the moment. I figured having it in my garage would allow me to hook things up and at least test things during the summer months. I squeezed the laser cutter into the Subaru... just barely.

The laser cutter features a nice light connected to the main axis that insure that your work surface will always be illuminated.

The DSP controller display is easy to understand and navigate and allows for: repositioning/jogging the laser cutter, sitting focus with the Z axis, setting power and speed settings, and selecting files to cut. The use of the display is very intuitive.

The lower right hand side of the machine contains motion control and power supply. All components are mounted on "pull out trays" making maintenance convenient... if needed. The right side tray contains the laser power supply (sorry no picture of this).

The laser uses LaserCAM software. My first cut was generated from a Rhino file comprised of curves that I then exported as an Illustrator file. But the software will take .dxf, as well as .jpg, bitmap and many other file types (see spec list for a full list below). I just took a guess at the focus height on the first cut since there is no indicator tool. The detail came out really nice. I was expecting that laser alignment might be off from shipping as I've heard horror stories, but everything checked out fine. Since there are no presets for materials I was also flying blind on power and speed settings so I just took a stab at it and got lucky. I was spoiled by the Epilog presets present within their software. However, I would venture to guess that the settings are similar for this machine. In due time I am sure I will come up with a whole list of materials and optimum power/speed settings from using the new machine.

I ran my first cut tests without ventilation hooked up. The residual smoke inside the machine made the red dot pointer very visible.

You'll notice water chiller input and output on the back lower right side. Remember that the input of the chiller goes to the output of the laser and output of the chiller goes to the input of the laser. The laser cuter has a water pump sensor mounted at the left hand side rear (when facing the front of the laser). The laser WILL NOT fire if the pump does not sense proper water flow (don't ask how I found this out). Air compressor hook-up is to the left of the other fittings. The fume extraction duct in in the center. Two access panels allow you to connect the flexible duct to the duct fitting inside the machine.

The fume connection included a nice welded in screen to keep materials that fall down inside the machine from being sucked into your blower. Again, nice feature that my Epilog didn't have. This could be quite alarming when something got suck through the blower when using the Epilog.

A day or two later I was able to get the air compressor and fume extraction blower hooked up. I spent several hours this past weekend just experimenting with some simple logos from Brands of the World. I played with layer settings in LaserCAM and power/speed settings to engrave this Bultaco logo. I tweaked lines and layers in Rhino and then exported as an .ai file. This Bultaco logo is created in 1/8" birch plywood. It's amazing the relief you can get by burning down through the layers of ply (you may note that there is a weird strip running across the logo; it is a strange piece of material preset between the plywood that would not burn via the laser). It was fun to just play around and experiment to see what LaserCAM is capable of and the workflow between Rhino and LaserCAM. 

I admit, I wish the software was more developed, but it does work and I am sure some of this uncertainty is due to my lack of exposure to this particular software. I ran some raster images as tests as well. LaserCAM has dithering options, but again not quite as nice as what I was used to using with PhotoEngrave Plus and the Epilog presets. I have a feeling though that I will learn how to work around the initial limitations. Overall, I am quite pleased with the decision to get the PRO530Z from LightObject. It is a robust machine that is much larger and better built than I was initially expecting. I believe it will leave room for expansion in the future without breaking the bank and I think the hacker will love the machine. I look forward to checking into other software control options, but in the mean time will leave things alone and just develop a workflow between programs that gets the job done. 

PRO530Z Laser Cutter from LightObject
CO2 Power: 40Watt  
Tube Trigger Volt: 22KV 
Tube Operating Volt: 16KV 
Operating voltage: AC 110V, 4A, 50/60Hz
Current: 18mA 
Tube Length: 33.4" (850mm) 
Working area: 19.6" x 11.8" (500mm x 300mm)
Precision: 0.01mm , resolution: 0.05mm 
Speed: up to 47" second (1200mm/s) max
Wood cutting: up to 10mm/s on plywood with 6mm (1/4")
Water Protection sensor: Yes 
DSP Controller: Comes with LO-E5 DSP controller for excellent motion and power control
OS: Windows Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10 (32 bit/ 64 bit) 
Interface: USB port 
USB memory drive support: Yes 
PPI support: Yes 
Mico step panning: Yes
Real time simulation: Yes
Cooling: Water Cool (not included, we recommend the LightObject 600w Chiller)
Application supported: CorelDRAW X4,X5,X6,X7,X8 AutoCAD 2004 or higher version
Size: 45.8" x 33.8" x 22" (1165mm x 860mm x 560mm)
Net Weight:  145lbs

A list of files supported: DXF, PLT, DST, DSB, BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, MNG, ICO CUR, TIF, TGA, PCX, JBG, JP2, JPC, PGX, RAS, PNM, SKA, RAW


Unknown said...

After having this laser for awhile, how do you like it now and have you run into any problems with it?

Frankie Flood said...

No, I have not had any issues. The software is a bit clunky but it still does what I need. It's not as user friendly as an Epilog or Universal, but the price is right!

Christian Fisher said...

Alright. Thank you very much.

Unknown said...

Great Review! Couple Questions. Have you found any software yet to use that worked closer or as easy as the Epilogue software? Also how well do you think this machine would stand up, to being loaded and unloaded, to being used on the road at shows? Does the lasers construction seem good or flimsy? Thanks Robert from Georgia

Frankie Flood said...

Hi. I am still using the same software. I have gotten used to it and actually it works quite well once you get used to it.It is heavy duty in terms of construction. It's actually quite heavy. It takes two people to move it. The laser seems mounted very securely. Please let me know if you have other questions.

Al May said...

Wow, thanks for the review. I'm actually looking at purchasing the PRO530Z. Have you considered using LightBurn? It says it is compatible with a DSP controller.



Frankie Flood said...

Hi Al,

That software looks great. Ill do a test run and let you know how it works. Thanks for letting me know about this.


Ryan Shill said...

Hard to tell from the images, but are there doors on the machine that can be opened to engrave larger objects?

bruce_ventura said...

Did you get lightburn to run on that controller?