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Old 04-05-2014, 12:38 PM #1
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Default Just Another Laser Newbie....

I have experience with DIY CNC stages and a pretty good background in electronics, including a fairly comprehensive working knowledge of constant current drivers, but I don't know much about lasers at all. I am primarily interested in Lasers with respect to prototyping PCBs with a casual interest in more industrial venues for cutting sheet materials (from plastics to metals). I don't have any delusions about DIYing a CNC Laser cutter with metal cutting capabilities, but I am interested in exploring the DIY viability of two approaches to PCB prototyping.

The first PCB prototyping method I am interested in is ablating a "painted" photo-resist from a copper clad board. There are is a myriad of info on the net involving Laser Ablation of various consumer paints sprayed onto copper clad board, but most of the information involves fairly high-powered commercial CO2 Lasers; a recurrent problem seems to be selecting a low enough power setting on commercial laser engravers to minimize inadvertent ablation, while still maintaining the beam.....seemingly suggesting it may be possible to achieve the task with a low to medium powered Laser Diode....but there is a tremendous gulf between the "lowest power setting" on a 50W-200W commercial CO2 laser and the readily available 5mW to 3W Laser Diodes.... And Sooooo much I don't know about Laser Diodes....

I am familiar with the concept of "pulsing" conventional LEDs to achieve very high peak power bursts while maintaining the "average power" specifications of the device...and have read that "pulsing" is a technique employed in some situations involving Lasers....but I am not confident I could work much below the 10uS time domain, and I have read pulsing references about pulsing in the nano and pico second time domains...I just don't think those are in my wheelhouse....Sooo, is it possible to achieve paint ablation with a <<5W diode laser? If so, what would be a good starting place? Is pulsing an "option" or mandatory? If mandatory, what are some guidelines regarding frequency and duty cycle? Do Laser diodes behave similarly to conventional diodes wrt (With Respect To) drive requirements such that I could prototype//debug the driver circuitry using a comparatively cheap conventional LED and expect a Laser Diode to act similarly (assuming Vf, If and Power Rating characteristics were similar)?

And as if the above is not enough for a first post, lol, the second Laser//PCB prototyping application I am interested in exploring is Laser based UV Exposure of CEM PCBs. I have not found any information on the net about attempts to use this approach, but the concept seems plausible to me. In a typical PCB production environment copper clad PCB material is coated with a UV photo-resist and then exposed to a UV light source to produce either a positive or negative image on the copper. The unexposed coating is then removed and the PCB etched. For the DITer this process involves printing either a positive or a negative on a clear acetate sheet; then laying the sheet over the CEM coated PCB and exposing it to a UV light source...developing and etching are the same as a production environment, but for "one offs" and "prototypes" this process is more than a little time consuming. My thought is to use a UV Laser Diode and essentially "print" the image directly via an X-Y stage onto the CEM PCB.

I already have the capability of "milling" PCBs using my CNC router, but there are some caveats to direct milling PCBs that can make it a less than ideal method. For instance when possible I use >30mil trace spacing and attempt to keep traces >20mil, but this is obviously not possible with SOIC or smaller packages....which requires the use of a "v-bit" which necessitates a tool change and requires manually defining the tool-paths....

Well, if you as a reader have made it this far, thank you! I don't mind searching and reading, but a bit of guidance toward what I should be searching for would be a great kindness.

Thanks,

Fish


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Old 04-05-2014, 02:28 PM #2
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Default Re: Just Another Laser Newbie....

Welcome to the forums F4F!

Sounds like you have a pretty good handle on the electronics end of laserish things! I'm sure someone will be along shortly to answer your technical questions.

You've found a very friendly bunch of folks here, and I'm sure you'll enjoy your stay!

If I may make a suggestion, though...you should add, at least, your general location in your profile. It'll make these kind LPFers a lot more likely to jump in and offer help and answers.

Enjoy the forums!!

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Old 04-06-2014, 01:16 AM #3
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Default Re: Just Another Laser Newbie....

@ Gadget...Thanks!...done. I know the post was a lot for the 'welcome' forum, but what I really need is a bit of advice on what to read, again, don't mind reading; I just don't know where to start;-)

I did read enough here to recognize this is a level-headed group....wish there were more forums populated with level-headed people.

From casual observation (no math) it would appear that with proper lenses the 2W 445nm M140 laser diode might be a good initial candidate for testing. The $100 price tag doesn't scare me, if it has a reasonable chance of ablating paint. Just a "nod" that laser diodes perform similarly to conventional diodes would allow me to begin playing with pulsed power circuits....I am assuming that for my purposes a boost-buck configuration driven by a uController could give me short "peak" bursts while maintaining the average power rating of the device?? IE, if we select the inductor/switch/diode such that we achieve X amps while the switch is on, the resulting voltage spike from the inductor will be clamped by a combination of the reverse recovery capacitance of the diode, the capacitance across the Laser diode and the forward current in the Laser Diode itself. Thus for a very brief period (perhaps 500nS-50uS) we might Lase @ 10W-50W, for (perhaps) the next 40uS to 1mS there would be insufficient stored energy to maintain a voltage high enough to cause more than minimal forward current.

...ok, maybe a bit of math....

Assuming the linear travel speed is 600ipm (10in per second) and a 20kHz pulse frequency (this would yield 2000 pulses per inch @ let's say 10W/Pulse)...assuming the beam width would be >= 0.001in (25.4uM) AND that a single pulse would ablate an area >= to 50% of the beam width then in THEORY using paint as a resist and a laser to ablate it will work really well, but I have NO IDEA how realistic any of these numbers are...I could be off by 5% or 500 fold. I am hoping that some here can point me toward some reading that will help me replace my "wish" numbers with real numbers. Again, I do know that people using commercial CO2 lasers complain that they have trouble ablating paint from copper clad board because there is too much power (over ablation) and they cannot increase the feed rate or lower the laser power any more....While they report ~20W is too much power, I do not know what their feed rate is, nor how accurate their 20W power figure is....If the ultimate feed rate for a 2W laser diode is only 60ipm it would still be "acceptable" from a time perspective (an average sized PCB might take 10min instead of 1min) with a 30min etch time, laser ablation would still be a HUGE time saver not to mention a big quality improvement.

...I did it again, lol. sorry.

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Old 04-06-2014, 01:22 AM #4
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Default Re: Just Another Laser Newbie....

Welcome to the forums Fish!
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Old 04-06-2014, 02:28 AM #5
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Default Re: Just Another Laser Newbie....

Welcome to LPF
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Old 04-06-2014, 06:14 AM #6
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Default Re: Just Another Laser Newbie....

@Tha Greenlander & i7377ok ... Thanks for the welcome....sorry for the verbosity.


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Old 04-07-2014, 02:02 PM #7
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Default Re: Just Another Laser Newbie....

And....I found my answer:-)

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects...g/posts/740663

If 200mW will do it then I feel confident 2W can be made to work! Now I can settle into figuring out the finer details....

I will be back when I have done more reading.

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Old 04-07-2014, 07:05 PM #8
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Default Re: Just Another Laser Newbie....

Welcome to LPF!

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