Initial Setup

Acquisition

After making my initial enquires I had a number of conversations with HPC Laser in the UK however after weeks of being fobbed off about when I might actually get my hands on a machine, I gave up on them and ordered a machine from a Strong Signs DigiTech via eBay. The machine cost 649 UKP plus 270 UKP for shipping by airmail from China. It arrived within the week however I also had to pay 117 UKP in VAT and import duties.

HX40A Laser Cutter

Strong Signs DigiTech describe my cutter as a HX-40A however you will see VERY similar machines from other sources with different names. From what I've seen they are all, what is generally known as a Rabbit 40. This is worth knowing because although there appear to be slight differences between different suppliers' offerings, any information that you find about one, can probably be applied to the others.

Initial Setup

My laser cutter came with a video file in .mpg format showing how to set it up. I've put it here, but be warned that it's 330mb. Most of this is obvious but worth watching so you don't miss anything, particularly the stuff that holds the cutting head during shipment. The video also shows how to clean the mirrors and lens (which should be done regularly), replace the laser tube when it needs it, and the main power board (should you ever need to).

My Laser Cutting Workstation

The extractor fan and cooling pump were supplied with the machine however a container is required for the cooling water and for this purpose I purchased a big blue 55 litre tub (see bottom right of photo above), on eBay.

I also obtained a kitchen unit and a length of worktop from Ikea, and a laptop running Windows XP. The laptop was necessary because the NewlyDRAW software that comes with the cutter is Windows only. I had hoped to run it on my MacBook using Parallels Desktop however the laser cutter has a parallel connection (there is a USB version but it costs more), and of course the MacBook doesn't have a parallel port. I decided in the end to get a second hand Windows laptop on eBay.

The NewlyDRAW software supplied with my laser cutter is capable of controlling a number of different models so it is vital to set up the configuration as per the information supplied with the machine. This configuration includes details such as the cutting bed orientation and dimensions; so it's important to have it right.

I was also supplied with a manual in .doc format. There appeared to be something wrong with it as I couldn't see the pictures. After some searching I found it on the web in .pdf format and have made it available here (812kb), for your convenience. It's not great, but it's worth reading.

Two other sources of information that I found are these files:

IE300_Manual.pdf (1.2mb)

IE300_Software_Manual.pdf (1.3mb)

Bed Dimensions

A printed sheet that came with my machine suggested:

TopLeft X: 21
TopLeft Y: 307
Width: 210
Height: 205

However, as can be seen from the image below, my machine came with a metal mesh in a frame that can be used as a cutting bed to give better results.

The cutting bed of the HX40A

With the co-ordinates as given the beam will go over the edges. So I adjusted these settings:

Starting with the TopLeft settings, I clicked the "To TopLeft" button. This put the head over the frame. I added 2 to the value of "TopLeft X" and hit the button again. Having observed the direction that the head moved I was now in a position to guess a value for TopLeft X that would move the head in the appropriate direction and put it over the mesh. Then I did the same for TopLeft Y.

With TopLeft on the mesh I put a piece of material in place and test fired the laser. I repeatedly adjusted the values, clicked the button to move the head, and fired the laser, until I got TopLeft exactly where I wanted it.

To set the height and width I started with low, safe, values and used the "To BottomRight" button to move the head. Repeated value changes, head moves, and test fires enabled me to set appropriate height and width values.

Height Adjustment Knob

The height adjustment knob will foul the cutting headSomething to watch out for is that, as you can see from the image to the right, the bed height adjustment knob can foul the cutting head if you leave it in place. Initially I considered choosing values for the bed size that would prevent this, but in the end I decided that it made more sense to keep the knob separate, only putting it in place when I actually need to adjust the bed height and removing it immediately afterwards.

Bed Height

I do read manuals but somehow I managed to miss the page describing the optimum height to have the bed below the head. I did a number of experiments, raising and lowering the bed to find the point at which I got the finest cut line. When I finally noticed the instructions in the manual it confirmed what I had found by experiment.

57mm from top of material to the top of the plate with the stickerFrom what I've read elsewhere it seems that the lenses generally have a focal length of 54mm however as shown in my manual, when I found it, it is easier to measure to some convenient place on the head assembly. On my machine the distance from the top of the material to be cut, to the top of the metal plate with the sticker (as shown in the image to the right), should be 57mm.

Power Settings

The fact that NewlyDRAW can control other cutters caused me some initial confusion. NewlyDRAW screens imply that you can draw with different coloured lines and allocate a power setting to each colour. However with the Rabbit40 selected in the configuration, most of these parameter boxes remain greyed out. With the Rabbit40 you can choose a cut speed (from 1 to 10) within the software, however the power is set via the knob on the machine itself and not through the software. This is not a major drawback but it does mean that if you want to etch and cut on a Rabbit 40, you'll need to perform two separate operations, with a separate drawing for each.

Speed Settings

Speed is set via the software and the blurb that came with my machine suggested speed 2. Something that I didn't twig at first is that this is the speed of the motors and not necessarily the speed at which the cutting head moves. If the head is moving in the X direction at speed 2 and, at the same time, is moving in the Y direction at speed 2, then the head is moving diagonally at speed 2.8 (consult Pythagoras or take my word for it). Consequently the laser will cut less deeply when moving diagonally (because it's moving faster) than when moving in the X or Y directions alone.

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© 2018 Andy Slater - All Rights Reserved.