As a tech editor, I try to keep up with all sorts of tech, even ones that perhaps aren’t too relevant in my own life. I know a couple of people who are using laser engraving heads in their small businesses, but I had no idea how messy this market actually is until one of my friends complained to me he had been ripped off yet again! To find out more I discussed it with my friends and chatted with Mateusz Szymański, the CEO of Opt Lasers.
As it turns out, the laser head market is flooded with manufacturers who mislead customers by giving the electrical power in the product name. Unconscious users treat the power as the optical power of the laser. Some manufacturers also overload laser diodes with current above the maximum current to deceitfully increase the power ranking of the laser. This unfortunately guarantees that the laser diode dies a premature death. Such a move considerably lowers their average lifetime to tens of hours, but the critical damage can happen in minutes. These manufacturers vaguely refer to less than 100 hours or even less than 48 hours guaranteed lifetime hidden deep within their websites, which ends up discouraging people from using blue lasers.
When buying a blue laser engraving head for your CNC machine or 3D printer it’s important to always check both what the optical power is, and how many blue laser diodes there are in the laser head. If there is only one, the maximum optical power should be 5.5-6 W. With two laser diodes, the optical power of the laser module should be 10 W, as there will be optical losses. In general, for optical powers above 6 W, there should be one blue laser diode for each 5 W of optical power.
If the manufacturer doesn’t tell you how many laser diodes they have included, and the optical power is given as being above 6W, it means they overdrive a single laser diode – which pretty much ensures its premature death. For multidiode laser modules, the same will be true if the optical power divided by laser diode is above 5W.
Opt Lasers was established in 2014 and is a European leader in providing compact engraving and cutting laser heads for CNC machines and 3D printers markets. I talked with their CEO, Mateusz Szymański, and he tells me: “Industrial market has been lacking the capabilities of highly efficient compact lasers for marking, engraving, or cutting. Available options have focused on single high-power laser sources reaching higher and higher speeds of material processing. Opt Lasers creates the possibility of changing the industry by using short-wavelength blue laser heads. High absorption of light, low power consumption, low maintenance cost, and a size that fits in the palm of your hand makes Compact Laser Heads an out-of-the-box solution in the production industry.”
The company has just released a new 15W laser head, and are planning to release 20 W and 30 W compact laser heads next. Their technology has been developed as an EU-funded research project (No. POIR.01.01.01-00-0988/18-00), namely “Development of innovative multidiode cutting-engraving head technology with the application of 450 nm wavelength laser diodes”.
Let’s have a closer look at their latest product – PLH3D-15W.
In laser world, the power rate of a product speaks for its performance. The most powerful laser diode we can get on the market is the 6W laser diode from Nichia, which can lase sustainably at 6W. The palm-sized PLH3D-15W laser module utilizes and combines three Nichia laser diodes to reach a real 15 W of optical power, making it become the first of its kind in the world. Furthermore, it is made with durable industrial-grade components, including a 3D-printed air chamber.
PLH3D-15W utilizes blue laser light, whose absorption rate is much higher for many materials than CO2 laser light’s one. They are also conveniently smaller than common IR (infrared) lasers, having more compact heat sinking and higher precision in the laser processing. These blue laser heads emit light at 445 nm, which is more efficiently absorbed than IR or CO2 laser beams by the majority of materials being laser cut or engraved. Blue laser heads are also able to serve as a replacement for IR lasers in industrial applications.
Thanks to the high-pressure air nozzle, the pressurized air speeds up the cutting and engraving process by blowing away any smoke and preventing dirt build-up on the lens, Opt Lasers tells us this means the lens will stay clean much longer, only needing to be cleaned one tenth as often. In addition, you will get a nice cut without burning edges as the directed airflow cools down the working site.
Co2 laser machines are all very big and bulky as the Co2 tube requires much space. Installing a CO2 laser tube on your own CNC machine is also inconvenient as a result of its high size and the requirement of a sophisticated cooling system. Once we are talking about a garage, a workshop, or a small store – size certainly matters. Most small entrepreneurs or hobbyists simply do not have enough space. PLH3D-15W can be installed on virtually any CNC machine or even integrated into larger systems. With its lightweight, Aluminum body, the palm-sized PLH3D-15W weighs less than 800g, any CNC machine can operate it effortlessly.
A major advantage of Opt Lasers’ 30 W and 15 W laser systems lies in their small power consumption and the lack of requirement of a high voltage power supply. PLH3D-15W and PLH3D-30W achieve a power consumption of 52.1 W and 104 W respectively and can be powered with desktop power supply units. Their maximum power consumption is <85 W and <180 W correspondingly. In contrast, the electrical-to-optical power conversion ratio for CO2 tube lasers stands at approximately 7.5%. As such, a 30 W optical power CO2 tube consumes approximately 400 Watts of electrical power.
The lifetime of a laser diode stands for a period that extends until the output power of the laser diode is reduced by a factor of 2. Without the issues like random failures and aging faster at higher temperatures, the typical lifetime of the laser’s blue laser diodes is up to 20,000 hours while an average glass CO2 tube laser only has 3,000 hours.
PLH3D-15W can cut or engrave all sorts of materials, from leather, textiles, plastics and wood, and even deep-engrave metals like stainless steel, mild steel, tool steel, and aluminum. Opt Lasers’ next release, a compact six-laser-diodes laser, PLH3D-30W, which is scheduled to launch in June, will also be able to do all of the above – even faster – as well as engrave titanium and copper, and could even be applied to micro-welding copper.
Overall, PLH3D-15W is the most powerful compact laser head on the market in the long run, and arguably the most versatile engraving laser on the CNC market.