Posted by victor
I’ve always considered myself a maker, and I’ve found that I always have a tendency to take on a more ambitious and complex project than the previous. Early projects usually consisted of assembling off the shelf parts to create some random contraption that I had dreamed up or had seen online. As my confidence with tools improved and my tool library grew, I started becoming fascinated with fabricating some of these required parts on my own from scratch. Machines like my CNC mill, router, and manual lathe have really opened the doors to some interesting projects over the years.
Recently I’ve really been intrigued by projects that make heavy use of a laser engraver/cutter to help fabricate parts ranging from simple enclosures and stepper motor mounts to incredibly complex 3 axis 3D printers and robotic arms. While some of these parts could also be created on my 3 axis mill with a smaller bit, the laser opens up interesting possibilities with it’s fractional kerf or cut width, the ability to clean cut very delicate materials such as paper, and new techniques such as engraving. There’s also something to be said for the simpler clamping setup – if you want to cut a collection of complex shapes out of 1/4″ acrylic, simply drop a sheet of material on the laser table and press start. Between my wife’s love of creating intricately cut paper and card stock for her crafts, combined with the dozon projects I had already dreamed up just for the laser it was almost a no brainer – almost.
The catch was the three variables that are important to me when it came to a laser cutter:
- Work table size
- Quality of construction and parts
Like most people, I want a quailty machine with a reasonable working area that’s relativly affordable. I’m willing to pay more if I can have a larger work surface or higher quality parts, but as a hobbiest, the price needs to be reasonable. This is still currently a very hard balance to find as smaller CNC laser systems can eaisly be in the upwards of $15,000.
This is where there G.Weike’s LC6090 laser engraver/cutting system came in. I discovered this model from links in the CNCzone.com forums and understood that existing owners of the USB based machine were very pleased with their purchase. The unit was also very affordable because you were purchasing the direct from the manufacturer in China. I’ve personally had good experiences in the past with Chinese manufactured machinery that I’ve researched and read reviews on before purchasing. Most of my larger metal and woodworking equipment in my garage was manufactured by Grizzly Industrial out of China, and I’ve had an enjoyable history with these purchases. The Super X3 Mill with a CNC conversion, the 9″ x 19″ bench lathe – most of these are familiar machines to the weekend warrior metalworking hobbiests and makers out there.
I spoke with Lucy from G.Weike about the LC6090 and was pleased with their base and accessory pricing, not to mention their commitment to supporting the machine in the event of any issues. I decided pulled the trigger.
The purpose of this review is to provide an end to end review of the entire LC6090 laser engraver/cutter process from the initial email contact to Jinan G.Weike Science and Technology Co. in China to the first laser cuts and current impressions of the machine.
LC6090 Manufacturer Specs
The LC6090 is considered a medium sized laser engraver/cutter that can accept material up to 36″ x 24″.
- 36″ x 24″ Work Table Area
- Sealed C02 Laser - 60 and Optional 80 Watt
- ZnSe Coated Focus Lens & Mirrors
- Air Assist w/ Compressor
- Cabinet Smoke Suction Vacuum
- Micro-Stepper Drive System
- 0 – 950 inches/min cutting speed
- 50-1000 dpi Resolution Raster Engraving
- 0.0004″ Position Repeatability
- AC 110v – 220v Power Supply
- Color-based Laser Power Settings
- Vector, Raster & Mixed Mode Operation
- Input Files: BMP, HPGL, PLT, DST, DXP, DXF, DWG, AI
- 485 lbs Net Weight
I initiated the entire process with an inquiry mail on the LC6090 to ‘email@example.com’, an email address posted to the cnczone.com forums as a sales point of contact. I received a quick reply from a Lucy at G.Weike with a base system quote plus freight shipping for the laser.
G.Weike is a manufacturer of CNC equipment based in Shandong, China. While G.Weike does provide their telephone number on their site, unless you are comfortable speaking in Mandarin, questions and orders were much simpler over email.
The product website did not provide any details about the options and accessories available for the laser cutter I was purchasing, so a request of this list with prices was provided. The items and prices at the time of my purchase:
- LC6090 Laser Engraver USB + 80W CO2 Laser – $3900.00
- Motorized Z Table – $200
- CW5000 Industrial Chiller Accessory – $400
- Rotary Attachment Accessory- $300
- Red Laser Pointer Attachment – $100
- Auto Focus Attachment – $150
- Additional 80W CO2 Laser Tube – $280 (Normally $350, 20% off with purchase of machine)
- Additional Mirror Set (3) – $60
- Additional Focus Lens – $50
- Freight costs to ship to the Port of Los Angeles – $240
- Insurance – $27
I opted for all of the options above, and placed my final order with Lucy over email. Lucy replied that evening with an attached PDF invoice of the total purchase price.
For payment, G.Weike requested a money transfer for payment. All of the deposit information necessary for the transfer was included in the laser cutter invoice. Three days after my money transfer to their account I received an email from Lucy notifying me that my payment had been processed and they have begun building the LC6090 to my order preferences. This was on March 22nd, and it would be ready and on the next available cargo ship leaving China on April 2nd.
The crate in route was about 700 lbs and headed to the the port of Los Angeles.
Shipping and Bills of Lading
Like most of you, I’ve never personally arranged the shipment of a large crate to my home from a foreign country. I was fortunate that many of the people I worked with on the phone were patient enough to help explain the process, and walk me through the steps between the crate arrival at a US port, to finally delivered to my front door.
The first step of getting it from G.Weike in China to my destination city of Seattle was all handled by Lucy at G.Weike. Lucy informed me that shipping the crate overseas would take about 20 days, and she would be sending me hard copies of the purchase invoice and the Ocean Bill of Lading via DHL. I received the paperwork a week later.
On April 21st, I received an email from ‘Pan Star Express Corp’. Pan Star is the company that G.Weike arranged to handle the delivery of the crate from the port of Los Angeles to a warehouse in Seattle. An invoice was attached to the email notifying me of the destination freight warehouse for Seattle, and a collection of fees paying for this transport by rail totaling $168.80. The break down of the fees:
- Chassis Fee – $9.80
- Stripping Fee – $50.00
- I.T. Charge – $30.00
- Handling Charge – $65.00
- Clean Truck Fee – $5.60
- Pier Pass Charge – $8.40
I was told on the phone with Pan Star that they would hold the frieght in the Seattle warehouse until they recieved a money orders/cashier’s check for the invoice amount and an original bill of lading provided by G.Weike. I headed back down to the bank and sent off a cashier’s check and bill of lading as my crate was on it’s way to Seattle from L.A.
On April 27th, I received a second mail from Pan Star notifying me that they had received my payment and Bill of Lading, and the freight has been released to ‘Mercer Distribution Services’, a freight warehouse and shipping company in Seattle. I contacted Mercer Distribution that afternoon and was told that they could release the crate to me once it cleared customs. Mercer Distribution provided me some contacts of customs brokers they typically work with to help clear freight through customs.
I contacted one of the companies recommended, Sound Brokerage, and answered some basic questions about the freight and contents. I signed a power of attorney that specifically allowed them to handle the freight customs on my behalf, and on May 6th I received an email from Sound Brokerage that customs had released the shipment and they will be filing final paperwork with Mercer Distribution to release the freight to me. My total amount owed for the customs broker was $458.10 – itemized as:
- Duty and Taxes Due – $169.10
- Messenger Fee – $15.00
- Surety Bond Premium – $99.00
- Customs Clearance Fee – $150.00
- FDA Clearance – $25.00
At this point I needed to settle up with the Mercer Distribution for storage and the crate could then be delivered by a service of my choice or I could pick it up. The total for storage and processing at Mercer Distribution was $123.00.
I also decided that with the weight of the crate, and my schedule, I opted for Mercer Distribution to also deliver the crate to my door. On May 6th, I was delivered a monster crate with my new laser system. The total for delivery including a lift gate premium was $128.19.
To provide the ‘actual’ cost of the purchase of the LC6090 with all shipping, customs, and delivery included – my final ‘on my doorstep’ price was $6585.09.
Despite all of the different stops the freight had to make, the crate was in great shape on arrival. No apparent drops or fork lift incidents were visible from the outside.
The laser cabinet and external parts were secure and padded with a reasonable amount of foam and plastic wrap and sheets. There were no scratches or damage to the machine from any shifting within the crate during transport.
As I was removing the layers of plastic, I was surprised to find that the entire cabinet, inside and out, was sprayed with a very light oil. The viscosity and color was very similar to a light cooking oil. I’m used to machinery arriving slathered in tedious to remove packing grease to protect from rust and corrosion during transport and storage, this was nothing like that. A handful of paper towels, and I was able to completely remove all of the protective oil from the outside and inside of the cabinet.
I was starting to get my first look at the cabinet. The cabinet is constructed of a heavy gauge steel, welded together and painted with a very thick enamel. The machine is covered with keyed access panels. All of the locks are keyed the same, and the crate included one key for each panel + power. I was personally impressed with the use of materials on the cabinet. I’m often disappointed when I go to a Sears these days and browse their upright tool chests. I expect these cabinets to be bulletproof like my father’s old Sears tool cabinet – quite to the contrary. Even the higher end cabinets at these stores feels as though they are not built to take the beating of the day to day in an active garage/shop. Well, I do have a high standard here, and I will say that the LC6090 cabinet is built like a tank and looks like it can survive some pretty abusive conditions.
The cabinet has preinstalled casters and leveling feet. Despite the weight of the machine, it is very easy to maneuver the machine around my shop on the supplied casters.
Once things were unpacked and cleaned, I had a chance to walk through and inspect the different aspects of the cabinet layout, components, and accessories.
Inspection – Mechanical
I knew at the time of ordering that the drive system would be stepper motors (vs servos). I’ve built and converted CNC routers and mills using Gecko drivers with stepper motors and have had excellent results in output quality and resolution. While I do not think the laser steppers suffer from missed steps with such a light gantry, the disadvantage of a stepper can be reduced speeds and/or resolution in a laser system. We will begin to explore this later with first cuts.
The steppers appear to be geared down about4:1 and drive a belt system for both the X and Y axis. Another nice touch was the use of linear rails with ball bearings over a roller bearing or slide bushing solution. The gantry is very smooth and quick when jogging it around the table. Additional touches like the cable carriers and nicely organized wiring were appreciated.
The Z axis that lifts/lowers the table is an interesting mechanism. Two synchronized steppers turn separate belts which turn a total of four anchored threaded rods. The belts have tensioners installed on each belt assembly. Between the steps per revolution, and the threads per inch in the threaded rods, there is a significant amount of resolution in the Z axis. Also, because of the cabinet layout, you can easily lower the table over 18″ as-is, and a reasonable amount more if you chose to install an external blower or modify the existing blower in the cabinet to a lower profile.
Inspection – Electric
Now on to the electronic components. I was pleased to see that the motor drivers, USB controller, and power supplies were all seperate components. I get nervous with all in one units simply because if there is a failure over time with just one sub system, you still typically have to replace the entire assembly. Not the case here.
Digging in to the guts we have a few of the usual suspects:
- Separate X and Y stepper drivers
- A dual stepper driver for the Z axis
- USB controller board that also drives the LCD keypad display on the cabinet
- 3 stepper power supplies for the USB controller and steppers
- A large laser power supply tucked in the corner
Inspection – Laser Tube
To move to the centerpiece of the laser cabinet, the laser itself. There were two laser wattage options when I ordered the LC6090, the standard 60W CO2, and the larger 80W. The 60W laser fits exactly the width of the LC6090 cabinet, and does not require the additional enclosure attached to the back right of my cabinet. With the 80W laser adding an additional width requirement, an extension is added to protect the end of the glass tube. This part appears to be installed with screws and not welded, so there is the option to downgrade later to the 60W and simply reconfigure the cabinet to the smaller width if necessary. I’ve found this extension acts as a perfect stand for my laptop when driving the machine from my PC.
One of my biggest concerns in the transport of the cabinet from China to Seattle was the laser tube actually breaking in shipping. To increase my chances of receiving a good tube, I ordered a backup just in case. Well, I was pleased that both laser tubes arrived without damage. Both tubes were secured in separate boxes with a substantial amount of foam keeping them from moving around.
The laser tubes are huge. I really didn’t have a sense for the size until actually unboxing one – they are easily over 4 feet long and have a little weight to them. They feel a bit more durable than I was expecting and the glass is quite a bit thicker than I had imagined.
Inspection – Accessories
There were a number of accessories that arrived with the laser that were included or I had added to my order.
- Pre-installed blower inside the cabinet with two sections of conduit for exhaust. The blower is responsible for drawing all of the smoke and fumes from the material as it’s being cut and forcing it outside.
- A small air compressor that connects to the back of the cabinet. This connection feeds into the cabinet via an air hose all the way to the laser output assembly on the gantry. A constant stream of air is blown from the laser output cone to both clear the smoke from the active cut area and ideally reduce the amount of burning on combustible materials such as paper and wood.
- A chiller unit connects to the water in/out connections on the back of the cabinet. This unit is filled with about 6 liters of distilled water, and constantly pumps cool water through the laser tube while it’s cutting to protect the tube from overheating. It appears that an aquarium water pump is provided with the LC6090 if you do not upgrade to the chiller unit.
- The rotary accessory is an assembly that allows the setup of cylindrical materials under the laser. The rotary accessory has it’s own stepper motor that connects to the Y axis stepper port when in use.
- Replacement mirrors and lenses arrived packed in a considerable amount of foam.
- 2 CD-ROMs, one driver/application disc and one documentation disc
The directions for setting up the LC6090 were in a PDF file included on one of the shipped CD-ROMs. The instructions are difficult at times to read because the Chinese to English translation is not the best, however there are plenty of pictures with every step to help make up for the occasional poor translation.
Setup – Compressor and Chiller
The steps here were pretty self explanatory. The chiller and compressor power was plugged into two of the 110v power outlets on the back of the machine. Then, I used the included hoses to make the corresponding connections from each unit to their inputs/outputs on the back of the laser cabinet. One nice feature of the chiller is a overheat/circulation alarm that connects to the signal port on the back of the laser cabinet. When the pump flow rate drops below a certain amount, or the water temperature goes over it’s set amount and cannot be chilled by the unit, the chiller sounds an audible alarm, and provides a signal back to the laser hardware to stop operation. I was able to pinch the input water line going back into the chiller to test this, and the alarm triggers just a second after limiting the flow of the water.
At this stage of the setup, I ran into my first minor issue. The plug provided for the air compressor was a 2 pronged polarized plug, meaning one of the prongs is slightly larger than the other. The outlet provided was a non-polarized outlet, meaning both prongs needed to be the same, smaller size. Polarized plugs are meant to provide some level of safety, though cannot be completely relied on. In the end, the plug would not quite fit and I didn’t want to force it . As a remedy, I simply used a dremel and ground off the slight difference and labeled the prong for reference. Looking at the wires to the outlet, the neutral side of the plug receptacle (expecting the larger tab) was on the left, so I made sure I followed this orientation when I plugged it in. The entire fix took about 5 minutes.
Setup – Laser Tube Install
It was time to install the laser tube. The process was very straight forward, and once installed, turning on the water pump in the chiller to fill the laser tube and work out any air bubbles that remain in the tube. On filling the tube with the pump turned on, a single, large bubble remained at the end of the tube. Turning the pump off and gently tilting the laser tube, the bubble rolled into the water out leg of the laser tube. After turning back on the pump to ensure that all remaining bubbles were clear, the laser install was complete.
Because there was some alignment already done at the factory, the instructions recommended pressing the ‘Laser’ button on the keypad to test the functionality of the laser on a piece of scrap material. This is where my second, and last setup issue occurred with the LC6090. I closed the top cover and pressed laser over a sheet of acrylic - nothing happened. The instructions pointed me to 6 basic troubleshooting steps to walk through. These steps included checking the laser tube for cracks that might have occurred during shipping, and using a simple volt meter to check a series of 4 different connector locations to locate the source of the issue. Step two was a test to make sure the magnetic contact switch on the door was functioning by testing two points with a volt meter. Sure enough, the reading did not match the troubleshooting document. I looked at the magnet for the switch and noticed that the adjustment screw holding it flush to the sensor when the door was closed was out of alignment. I aligned the magnet against the contact switch, tightened the screw, shut the door, and watched the laser fire successfully for the first time.
Setup – Laser Alignment
With the laser tube now installed, it was time to actually align the three mirrors to center the beam’s travel to the focusing lens. The LC6090 came with an alignment jig that installed in the gantry. The jig has small metal cross-hair, and is designed to hold a scrap of paper to track the position of the laser beam. With this jig installed, and plenty of scrap paper, the directions guide you through a series of tests then mirror adjustment screw tweaks to help get each mirror aligned so that the beam is travelling in a centered path from each mirror until it reaches the focusing lens. The entire alignment process took about 1 hour and plenty of paper scraps. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I may have taken longer to feel confident that everything was really dialed in. At the end of it all, I was able to jog the gantry to the four corners of the table and burn a perfectly centered hole on the paper.
Setup – Software Install
The software install was straight forward. For the moment I’ve only installed their included LaserCut application and have not tried the CorelDraw printer driver yet. LaserCut is a very rudimentary software application that provides some primitive vector drawing tools, and a configuration and management component that allows you to manage the laser firmware configuration.
I won’t spend much time on the drawing portion of the software since I plan on using CorelDraw, AutoCad, or Adobe Illustrator for actually laying out designs, however it is possible to do some basic importing and manipulation within this software when necessary. I think the more useful aspect of the software is to actually manage the laser’s on board memory and settings configuration.
Once your drawing is ready, you can select different line colors in the drawing and associate a ‘speed’ and ‘laser power’ with each one. Both speed and power ranges from 0 – 100%, and it’s usually best to do some practice cuts with varying values on your material to get an idea of which combination will give you the best results for engraving vs. cutting, etc. Fortunatly, the included drivers and software do provide some default values for different laser operations as starting points.
Much like with most CNC setups, the software exposes many different settings available for tweaking to get the best accuracy and behavior from your laser system. The firmware/software does come completely preconfigured when shipped, so it was not necessary for me to change any of the preset values. However, if down the road I decide to replace the steppers with servos and servo drivers, changing settings like steps per inch are available.
One thing to note, all of the included software and documentation use the metric system for measurements and settings.
Setup – Embedded Firmware
With most hobby and consumer/prosumer CNC mills and routers, your required to have a PC constantly connected to your CNC control board to drive the system. The PC will typically run a software application that communicates directly with the CNC control board over the parallel port or USB to provide the jog and step operations based on either user input, scripts, or incoming G-Code describing a series of cuts.
One very nice feature of the LC6090, which seems to be a common feature on most laser engravers/cutters, is a built in microprocessor that acts as the computer for the laser cabinet. There is still the option to connect a PC over USB to the cabinet and drive it as you would a traditional CNC mill. However, once you’ve authored your laser cut definition file with G.Weike’s provided software or printer drivers, you can simply copy the contents on an included 512mb usb key, plug it directly into the machine, and the microprocessor will download the files on to it’s local memory for storage and execution. I do not have the specs on the total memory for storage on the machine, but I was able to load up quite a few files without having any space issues.
Once saved in the machine you can recall it at any time, have the machine trace a bounding box of the shape to help set your cut origin, cut a bounding box of the shape, or actually cut the shape.
Setup – Autofocus
Autofocus was an upgrade that I selected when I purchased the LC6090. As a standard option, G.Weike includes a plastic or metal ruler that is precut to exactly the focal length of your included lens. Normally, you would adjust the Z table until the top of your material to be cut, and the ruler end align squarely with the top of the first lens holder ring. This sets up your focal distance to 55mm, which is the ideal distance for their included lens.
With the autofocus option, they have installed a machined brass, spring loaded touch sensor next to the laser output assembly. To use the autofocus you simply setup your material and jog the laser output point over the workpiece. Then, simply hit the ‘Z’ button on the keypad, then ‘Reset’. The Z axis will slowly raise until the workpiece touches the brass probe, then move down a pre-programmed amount until the lens and top of the material are 55mm apart. Your now at the proper focal length to begin cutting.
Setup – Red Dot Pointer
The laser pointer was an additional option that I knew would be helpful for setting up cuts. The purpose of this accessory is to give you a precise preview on your material of where the laser is currently positioned in the X and Y. To calibrate the red dot pointer, I placed a scrap piece of acrylic on the table, jogged the laser assembly over, autofocused the Z, and pressed the ‘Laser’ button on the keypad for just a second. The laser left a very tiny point in the acrylic, and using an allen wrench I just tweaked the position of the red dot pointer to point to that exact spot. After tightening the screws, I now have an accurate way of determining the cut point as long as my Z depth is in focus.
Finally, we get to the part we’ve all been waiting for, how this unit cuts. I decided to do some first cuts on paper first before I move into materials like acrylic and wood, or engraving the top of laptops.
I loaded up some free stencil fonts I found on various websites as practice sources. Stencil fonts are nice on a laser cutter because they have connectors between the holes in the characters to keep the centers from falling out. I wanted to pick a font that had especially thin connections to see how tight I could get the cuts with the laser.
I taped down a sheet of office paper, setup the focus, and then used the keypad to trace the bounding box and adjust the origin point until the text would be cut in approximately the center of the sheet. Once happy with the origin position, I hit the ‘Start’ button on the keypad and away it went. The layout was created in the included LaserCut software, and the speed and power were both set to 30%.
I was impressed. The cuts on the paper were clean with no obvious burning on the edges. The only signs of a burn that I can see is if I place the cut over another white sheet of paper and turn up one of the cut edges. You can see along the literal edge of the paper a faint black line along the cut. The kerf or width of the cut seems to be just a tiny bit thicker with this paper than the scrap acrylic I was using, but I have a feeling that has to do with the more combustible nature of paper. I’ve also read that you can optionally feed low pressure nitrogen gas through your air inlet to reduce additional burning on materials like paper – with the goal of removing most of the oxygen from the active cutting area.
I will continue to post more items cut with the LC6090 as I try new materials with new projects.
I am very pleased with the overall LC6090 experience and product. I believe the product strikes a great balance of price/performance for makers, co-ops, and businesses interested in investing in a laser system. To summarize my initial thoughts on the LC6090:
- The entire system with all accessories costs substantially less than prices of comparable laser systems with 36″ x 24″ work areas
- Solid cabinet construction with quality mechanical and electrical parts
- From uncrating to cutting at full speed and power with minimal issues
- LCD with keypad and drawing storage feature built into the cabinet replacing the need for a constantly connected PC
- Support for CorelDraw, AutoCad, and Photoshop as authoring environments
- Friendly and proactive support from Lucy and the staff at G.Weike during the entire process
- A number of delivery steps required to have the crate delivered from G.Weike to your destination
- Initial setup documentation translation to english is mediocre
- LaserCut authoring software is not a great environment for designing intricate parts
I will continue to cut more interesting materials and tune the LC6090 and will do my best to post a follow up on these experiences.