Cutting plywood with a laser is one of the most modern methods of processing sheet materials. Unlike traditional manual or electric jigsaw cutting, laser cutting of plywood allows you to achieve a minimum material consumption, to perform the most complex shapes and patterns, jewelry detailing. This was made possible by the very small thickness of the laser beam, which is a fraction of a millimeter, as well as the use of computer-controlled machines. 

The high-energy beam acts on the surface point-by-point, carrying out non-contact processing. Due to a powerful increase in temperature at the point of contact between the wood and the beam, the material evaporates, resulting in a seam of 0.01 mm wide. The edges of the cut are very neat, which is very important for cutting openwork small details and engraving. Through high-temperature exposure, the edges of the cuts are slightly darker. In order to cut plywood, you do not need to make physical efforts. You can make absolutely any drawing or engraving — it is enough to have a sketch of the image in digital form. The quality of laser cutting depends on what wood the plywood is made of. As a rule, it is best to cut deresined material from softwood. With the help of laser cutting, you can perform: cutting down all sorts of blanks of different sizes from sheet material; souvenirs and gifts; elements of decoration of facades and interiors; presentation and advertising materials; different patterns and templates.

Tips for getting started with a laser machine:

CNC laser cutting machines are not cheap, but a novice entrepreneur can afford such a machine. Laser can do everything: cut out the body of devices, individual elements of construction, apply images to metal, wood, leather and plastic. Simply said, Laser CO2 machine cuts and engraves most types of non-metals. 

But the presence of computer control does not mean that the operator can rest on the side or completely move away from the machine. In order for the result to meet all the criteria for success, the operator needs to make a lot of effort. It is important that each material needs its own control, for example, when cutting plywood, the operator can serve several laser machines, and when cutting the tube he cannot move away from the machine more than a meter and constantly monitor the cut, as it is highly flammable. That is why often when cutting products such as Map puzzle a wood-fiber plate is used. 

Preparation for work

Even at this stage, a lot can go wrong. An error can be made when connecting the power supply. It is necessary to purchase a machine and buy a power stabilizer, even if the seller is silent about it. Or even something can be put together wrong, and everything will go to pieces after connecting the electricity. Now many systems contain an emergency stop, but there can happen all sorts of things.

Problems can be not only technical character, for example, badly checked dimensions of the equipment, but also it cannot get through the door. What to do? Disassemble the machine? It is not always possible. Expand the doorway? It is also difficult.

Connection of exhaust and cooling (technical project, budget). The laser cutter needs more than just energy to work. Exhaust and cooling are also required. The exhaust pipe can be any, depending on the specifics of the device. The shorter the exhaust pipe, the better (if possible, of course). If water cooling is used, distilled/purified water is required. You need to think about installing the exhaust and cooling in advance, and not after the laser cutter has already been purchased.

Noise and smell. Working laser machine, its cooling and exhaust produce a lot of noise. In addition, there will be a smell, no matter how good the exhaust would be. The system can work for hours, so you should choose the appropriate place — one where the cutter will not interfere. It is best to take care of all this in advance. The exhaust should really take the air with the vapors of the treated material out of the room, and not drive it around in a circle.

Despite the advice, quite a lot of beginners forget about something, something is neglected. And then, after installation, it can be excruciatingly painful because of an unsolved problem in advance.

Start of work

No compressed air supply system to the cutting area. If there is no such system or it has failed, then the flammable material that the cutter is currently working with may well catch fire.

 When the air is supplied to the place of work, all the vapors of waste material leave, and the temperature does not have time to rise too quickly.

Use of proprietary software. An inexpensive laser cutter from China will probably work with its own closed software. This is, in most cases, proprietary software written by the hardware manufacturer, and unexpected problems may occur with this software. We are talking about CAD programs that prepare models for the cutter that are incompatible with the software of the laser system. Some files may not be imported, and some may not be exported. This greatly slows down the work, and the problem itself in some cases can ruin the entire workflow. If something like this happens, you can think about changing the CAD program (no matter how convenient it would be) or replacing the controller. The most commonly used controller is the Ruida 6442G.

Especially often this question arises before the client when expanding the fleet of machines, the control panel should be universal.

Error in the characteristics of the working material. In some cases, the characteristics of the purchased material (plastic, metal, etc.) may differ significantly from reality. And then set to one mode of operation, the engraver can ruin the entire project because of the discrepancy between the ones described by a manufacturer and the actual parameters of the material.

Working process

Leaving the device unattended. As mentioned above, the operator must keep a close eye on the system at all times. If this is not done, the device due to some failures (the most unexpected) can completely fail:

No matter how high-quality and safe the laser machine is, no matter what protection technologies are used in it, there is always a possibility of fire of individual elements of the machine or working material. This is true even for those materials with which the owner of the machine used to work without problems. The servo may fail, the belt may also break, and the software may hang up, and so on. If something like this happens, the operator can de-energize the machine, and the problem will not have any consequences. 

Incorrect laser focus. In order for the result to be perfect, the lenses must also be set up perfectly. If something is set up at least a little wrong, the work may not succeed.

Surface protection. It is better to apply the pattern on the surface using protection. This can be a special film that will not allow the surface near the work area to deform or change color. Many types of plastic for the cutter are already sold with this protection. But there is another problem.

The inability to remove the protective film at the end of the work. It is easy to protect the surface, but you also need to remove the protection after work. Under the influence of the laser, the film can sometimes fuse with the sample, resulting in a sloppy appearance. Such cases should be anticipated in advance, thinking about the progress of work.

Unique properties of the material. The characteristics of certain types of materials may affect the cutting process and affect the final result. For example, working with a mirror surface is a problem. The fact is that the laser used for engraving is reflected from the mirror surface, and the double image is obtained.

Debris removal. Usually laser cutting does not produce too much debris. But still there is such debris, it is impossible to get rid of it completely. And if it is not removed in time, it can damage the surface of the material – debris particles can catch fire or fuse with the product.

Pollutant emission.  It is necessary to give PVC as an example (PVC is forbidden to cut). When cutting polyvinyl chloride with a laser, chlorine is released into the air. As you know, this is a heavy gas, and it will descend into the bowels of the machine. Chlorine has corrosive properties. The gas interacts with a large number of materials, including insulation, rubber gaskets, etc.

If everything goes well – it does not mean that the result will be optimal

Let’s assume everything went well, there were no failures. But before you enjoy a job well done, try to check whether everything is really close to the ideal.

The fact is that some materials during heating by the laser show unusual properties (deformation, color change, etc.). Because of these properties, the material can change its appearance in unexpected ways. There may be other problems:

Deformation of the plastic. For example, very thin plastic is deformed when exposed to high temperature. In this case, a relatively flat surface heated to a certain temperature can help, where you can straighten the plastic. 
Sharp edges and burrs. Some types of plastic can leave both sharp edges and burrs. In this case, you should use mineral solvents to solve the problem.
Contamination of the current working sample with particles left on the desktop from the previous project. You need to make sure that the working space of the machine is clean. 
Hidden costs. Yes, it often happens that the laser cutter entails additional costs, and considerable. The user begins to take into account all this already with experience, in the beginning most of the extra expenses are formed. Excessive material consumption, a significant increase in power consumption, etc. All this should be tried to calculate even before buying the system.

Optimal setting. As a rule, they are achieved by selecting parameters and most strongly affect the quality of the cut, the cost of the finished product, and much more. Adjusted by selection, it is important to ensure that the selected parameters are observed, this will significantly extend the service life of the consumable parts of the machine.

Unwillingness to change anything

This is the most common problem. “That’s fine as it is” – this saying becomes a call to action for many of us. It can lead to excessive costs, poor cutting results, and customer dissatisfaction. If you decide to use laser cutting as a professional, then you should do it as a real craftsman. You need to watch and take care of the machine. You need to follow many rules of operation of the laser cutter and try not to break these rules. And then everything will be fine.

Well, now it remains to wish successful work!

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