Middle School Teacher Needs Help

Hello,

I teach a stem program that is disguise as a rocketry club. Last year I took my students to the High School to use the Laser Machine to manufacture fins and centering rings for their rockets. The students used TinkerCAD to design the parts and Adobe Illustrator to print.

The Vice Principal of Technology was so impressed, he acquired a Ten-High 440 Laser Etching Machine from another school district. Needless to say, this machine lacked certain functionality and equipment.

Sadly it requires an outdated version of CorelDraw and USB sentinel to run the machine. I bought the USB sentinel and I have scarified an older laptop to get it running, so far this is not a good solution for an education environment, but works for a hobbyist.

My school district uses Adobe products and I need this machine to function in that world. Multiple teachers might use the machine for CTE programs.

Omtech makes a Light Burn compatible mother board for K40 printers.

I am assuming the Ten-High 440 is a K40. This machine has a M2 Nano control board. Again LightBurn is not a school approved software which brings me to other controllers, such as the, " OMTech RDC6445G Ruida Control Panel Kit" found on Amazon.

With the current configuration, the software is cumbersome and the USB sentinel will get lost. I am looking for a solution that a student can run with adult supervision, but can perform R&D for class projects.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions,

Warm Regards,

Marshall

if the machine does have an M2 Nano controller like stock K40 machines then there are a number of software packages which will work with it out of the box.

K40Whisperer: K40 Whisperer
MeerK40t: GitHub - meerk40t/meerk40t: Hackable Laser software for the K40 Stock-LIHUIYU laser boards.
VisiCut: https://visicut.org/

And I feel like I’m missing at least one other. And these are all free software(as in free beer) and also most are open source( as in free speech ).

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Thank you for your suggestion. It does have a M2 Nano board. I love free software, but freeware is open to modifications. I have some overly smart students that will tear into it and I don’t want to temp them.

My goal is to create a SVG file from TinkerCAD and save it to a USB drive, then transfer it to the printer. That would be my easiest solution since I am only using the machine to cut thin plywood. Amazon has several controllers available that are capable of this.

I need to find the K40 settings to program the steppers and laser pulses to program the controller. This is the direction I am favoring.

I’m not sure what your threat model is in which proprietary software will somehow protect you from students doing something. What in particular would using free software enable that using proprietary software would not?

Thank you for your question. I would like to take the software out of the equation. My choice would to be able to transfer a SVG to the printer via USB thumb drive.

There are school district IT policies that I must follow. I would prefer not to update software. I don’t have worry about software being corrupted. I wouldn’t have to install software if it was modified by a student or teacher.

The student are issued a small laptop computers that last them 3 years. I have the students use TinkerCAD because it is in the cloud. Anything else would crash these laptops. Any outside software requires school district and IT approval. Every year I have get approval for the rocket design and flight simulation software.

If this was my personal machine, then I could use freeware, but it is owned by the school district.

Post a picture of the machine, the control panel, the controller, the power supply, and the entire electronics compartment.

If it is K40-like, upgrading to one of the LightBurn-compatible drop-in controllers (e.g. Awesome Tech’s Mini Gerbil, Cohesion3D’s LaserBoard) would be quick and easy.

OMTech’s nameless (?) controller could be a good fit if your machine uses those plugs and does not use that 12-pin flexible flex cable for the end stops and maybe also the X motor.

Upgrading to a “budget” DSP controller (e.g. Ruida RDC6432G or Ryxon KT332N) may require some additional components and if your machine uses that 12-pin FFC, you’ll either need some breakout board or redo the endstop & X motor wiring.

Yea, sort of. I don’t know any controllers which can run SVGs directly. You generally have to put controller-specific “job” files onto the USB stick. E.g. with a Ruida controller that would be an “.rd” file. RDWorks and LightBurn can save jobs as “.rd”.

If you want to do that kind of thing with a Grbl controller, you’d need to generate a “.gcode” or “.nc” file which you gcode sender of choice can stream to the controller. (With C3D’s LaserBoard, you can save to an SD Card and then select & run them via the optional LCD panel.)

Your machine likely lacks an interlock switch for the lid. I highly recommend to install one.

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Epilog had a crazy way of setting power by the width of the lines in the SVG(or was it PDF) but still you had to have a way of positioning the design.

If it is a school district machine then they won’t allow the controller to be replaces just like they limit what software is installed on students computers. A better option would be, if allowed, a non networked computer( Raspberry Pi ) connected to the laser cutter/engraver(NOT a printer) with the login and root passwords locked so students can’t change things. And there is just too much design positioning done on laser cutter/engravers to be able to just send a design and have it “print” unless you are willing to always use a full sheet of material and waste the rest.

OctoPrint could possibly be setup to be the GCode sender if the controller could be replaced with a GRBL compatible controller. OctoPrint is a GCode sender for 3D printers and is a web interface where you basically send the GCode file to it, then hit the run button if it’s not setup for auto-start.

Frankly, I’m surprised they are even allowing a laser cutter in a middle school given all the exhaust requirements, fire suppression, air assist issues not to mention eye damage threats and toxic materials restriction issues. Maybe that’s why it’s being called a “printer”?

LaserWeb is a possible option too if you are allowed to replace the controller/firmware with something like Smoothieware, GRBL, etc. Also web based and will run on an rPi - https://laserweb.yurl.ch/

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Thank you for your reply and for your request for pictures. The machine seems very rudimentary. It dose have a door switch.

These DSP controllers are able to accept files from other software, " WIDE SOFTWARE COMPATIBILITY: This DSP controller pack is compatible with all the most popular engraving programs, allowing you to keep working with whatever you’re used to, including RDWorks, LightBurn, AutoCAD, and CorelDraw"

At the high school, we were using Adobe Illustrator and probably had a plug-in for the software to run the laser cutter.

These controllers can accept USB-A, Ethernet, and USB-B.
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If you’re information is correct, you have two different systems. One is a Ruida and one is a m2Nano. RDworks is the free software that comes with the Ruida controller and the m2Nano uses a proprietary software that you need a USB dongle for.

If you would like to only use one software for both, I would suggest LightBurn which will import AI files. It can also be used to send files to both systems. Unfortunately only the Ruida can use a USB to transfer the files to it and the m2Nano will need to be used with a computer and software.

You can convert the m2nano laser to a Ruida and then you have consistency between the both of them. Unfortunately it will cost will be between $500 and $1,000 plus the labor to convert it.

I hope I am correct, but please correct me if I am not. Currently the middle school machine is configured with a M2 Nano with a USB dongle. The last school district lost the dongle and I can’t get older CorelDraw to run the CorelLaser plug in. Ten-High recommends 32 bit because it is more stable or you get stutter when you print. This would require a dedicated computer that could never be updated.

I am glad to learn on this forum there are no dongle options, but still require a dedicated computer with program to run the 1980s processor. The RasbyPi computer is interesting with Octo-Pi. I did use this with a Prusa printer I built, but I need reliability and I can’t waste class time trying to get something to work. I was always tinkering with that Prusa to keep it running. I wish the school district would give me one of the three machines at the high school and I would not need to do anything. These machines are using Adobe Illustrator.

I would like be able to use Adobe products to print. Teacher and staff are trained on it. The student learn TinkerCAD in the 5th grade for a project.

It is beginning to sound like I would have to take a SVG file from a student and convert it in LightBurn to a rd file, then transfer it on a USB to the printer. I can make this work.

Re-wiring a device does not bother me. In fact it would be fun and my 16 year old can help.

I am also getting the out of date MarkerBots running and setting up a system to maintain and store filament; so another reason to use TinkerCAD.

comparing a $5,000-$10,000 laser cutter to a $400 laser cutter is a bit of a stretch. That first machine you posted pics of looks like it is probably running a Ruida controller and along with that controller is a separate 24V power supply, separate stepper motor drivers all of which on the low end will cost about $400. That is as much as the K40 costs.

Now the K40 has a VERY inexpensive controller which really does almost no control and relies on a computer sending serial commands over USB in order to do anything and it has cheap 4988 motor drivers onboard the controller. The K40’s cheap laser power supply has a weak 24V power supply built in and also a weak 5V power supply built in and these are used by the controller.

People have put Ruida controllers into K40 machines but like I said, it’ll cost you close to or more than $400 depending on the Ruida controller you purchase and you have to know if the Ruida display will even fit the width of the component compartment door. Some do not fit.

If you’re constantly messing with OctoPi/OctoPrint you’re doing something to cause that. I’ve had one running for something like 5 years on an old model B rPi. Or maybe you were having problems with the 3D printer, your comment was not clear.

Everything offered seems to be a problem so maybe finding a few hundred dollars for doing the Ruida upgrade is what you should target if the school district will let you pull out parts and rewire the machine.

Thank you Dougl,

You are the expert. What should I do?

Marshall

if you need it to operate like the large high school machine then you’ll need the Ruida controller, a 24VDC power supply and 2 stepper motor drivers. Then it’s a matter of reading the schematic of the Ruida and getting the wiring connected and parts mounted after you remove the M2Nano.

BTW, I was not aware that you could put SVG or DXF files on a USB and load them into the Ruida. That would be a very handy feature. Man, it even reads Corel files too so that’s pretty amazing.

I’d never heard of the Ruida controller taking an SVG file directly and asked around and nobody could tell me they’d ever heard of that. So maybe that high school laser has a very expensive Ruida controller or it has some other computer built into the machine, does the conversions to the RD format and then that is sent to the Ruida controller.

And if Linux is too difficult to lock down then Windows is going to be a nightmare to keep kids from screwing with things. I’ve got nothing more at this time.

@TFMSRocketry you could run #k40:meerk40t on a Raspberry Pi in the case and then it’s just part of the laser cutter not a separate computer. It’s all kind of silly semantics.

If you don’t connect the raspberry pi to the network, then there’s a limit to harm/mischief the kids could do. They could just bring SVGs to it on USB cards, just like they are doing with the larger ruida-driven machine at the high school. And if you create a copy of the microsd card running on it, you could just restore the microsd card from the copy if kids “got creative” with it.

If you have a Linux machine to work on, it’s easy for me to describe how to create an archive of the entire microsd card to restore; if you don’t, others can probably help with disk image software for windows or mac.

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Alright. That’s a K40-like machine with an M2 Nano controller, a separate low-voltage power supply, a larger work area (should be 400x300mm), and a motorized Z table (AC motor, not a stepper motor).

It doesn’t use that flexible flex cable. That’s good news. Upgrading the controller would be relatively pain-free.

The machine should have a flow switch installed (in the tube compartment).

I don’t seen an EMI filter. Does the IEC socket have an integrated one? If not, consider swapping the IEC socket or installing a separate EMI filter.

The machine lacks an ammeter. I recommend to install one. An analog 0-30mA one would work, for example.

The machine has a K40-like XY stage which is a bit lame, but it does have a good head with air assist and a red dot. It should be able to produce pretty clean cuts with a sufficiently strong air source (e.g. a 60W aquarium piston pump or better).

Overall not the most amazing machine, but it’s quite a bit better than typical K40s. It’s perfectly usable as-is.

You’d need something like a Ruida RDC6432G or a (sort-of Ruida) Ryxon KT332N and two stepper drivers. The current low-voltage PSU looks relatively big. It’s probably powerful enough.

Measure the existing cutout for the control panel and check if there is enough room for the control panel of the controller you want to use. (The exact dimensions can be found in the listings.)

Controllers with narrower “portrait” control panels also exist.

If you want to use an autofocus touch probe or be able to control the Z axis via software, you’ll need to replace that AC motor with a stepper motor. You’ll also need a 3rd stepper driver and a controller which supports 3+ axes (the two “budget” controllers I mentioned above support 3 axes).

Anyhow, I’d also consider using a Raspberry Pi with touch screen and K40 Whisperer since that workflow is super simple. Since you got the source code, you can easily remove menu entries and make it start in fullscreen.

Speaking of safety, the K40 requires a LOT of monitoring:

  • often the control board side of the unit is free to open, so fingers could touch high voltage contacts
  • the handle on the main lid on my machine is a cresent moon shape cut into the metal: this means that laser light can escape out of that gap easily. my kiddos eyeballs are close to that area
  • smoke and fume removal barely exists and that can be very bad for young lungs
  • there is no fire monitoring

Then there is the fragility of the machine itself:

  • over-current the laser and destroy it in a heartbeat
  • water temps can quickly get out of control, and if pump stops its wrecked

An accident would mean far greater consequences than getting in trouble for using poor software or having it go non-functional.

Speaking as a father who owns a K40, I would never EVER let anyone, even an adult, who isn’t fully trained and understands HOW a K40 works operate mine. Even someone who knows how to use a laser can’t use a basebones K40 without understanding how much control you need to exert over it. I would never let a child use one, period. I’d let them watch, place items in it and maybe press the Go button, but that’s me doing it and letting them press a button.

I think I know why the other district gave up that machine.

Whatever the final configuration … interlocks are the most important feature to add!!
Of course we can help with that…