One of the great strengths of the Edison Nation engineering department is that we have the ability to design and prototype products very quickly. Each of the engineers on our team is skilled in our design software, and we have an array of tools that lets us bring these ideas to life and converge upon solutions in a short amount of time. From time to time in ProtoTYPING, I’ll highlight some of our favorite tools and how we use them. For this installment I would like to introduce you to one the most important and frequently used tools in the shop, our Epilog laser cutter.
Laser technology has developed aggressively over the last 20 years, and it is easy to see why. They are very versatile and can be used for tasks ranging from eye surgery, to hair removal, to temperature sensing. They are also great for cutting and engraving a wide variety of materials which makes them great for prototyping. Laser cutters are CNC machines that focus a laser beam through a head that can move in two directions. This makes it very easy to cut complex two dimensional shapes or engrave graphics or images.
Epilog makes a variety of different laser systems that vary in the size of the bed and the power of the laser, but the Edison Nation team uses the 60 watt Epilog Legend 36EXT. This unit gives us a 24″ x 36″ cutting area and it can cut through sheets of ABS up to 1/4″ (6mm) thick. The laser can be used in high power mode to cut through material or in low power mode to engrave text or graphics into the surface of the material. It is very easy to use, and unlike CNC mills or lathes, the laser cutter does not need an intermediate program between our CAD program and the machine to make cuts. The laser installs as a printer, so a simple print command is all we need to get the laser to cut. While we typically make cuts from our SolidWorks CAD software, we can make cuts from just about any program including Corel Draw, Adobe products, and MS Office products too.
Since the Epilog laser has been installed in the prototyping shop, it has become an integral part of nearly all of our product development projects. While it cuts 2 dimensional profiles, with clever design, these 2 dimensional shapes can be combined in clever ways to make robust 3 dimensional prototypes. One great example of this capability was in the development of the slow-pull dog leash in season 4 of Everyday Edisons.
The Epilog was used to cut 2 dimensional shapes out of ABS plastic that were stacked up and bolted together to get a prototype that was the proper thickness of a normal consumer dog leash. It was also used in this prototype to cut the gears and other parts that create the braking force for the leash.
This activity is usually accomplished with a 3D printing solution, but on larger parts, build times can easily be half a day or more, and the laser cutter gives us parts in the matter of minutes.
The laser cutter has also been used for small production runs of plastic parts. We designed packaging for a cochlear implant for the MedEl company. They wanted to highlight the design of the implant as well as create an attractive packing to compliment its functionality. As part of the packaging we used the laser to cut hundreds of acrylic parts that were assembled into a sliding case for the implant.
We have also used it to create signage for the Speed Channel to decorate their sets at the race track.
In product development, there is no substitute for iterative design. It can take minutes or even seconds to make changes to CAD designs, but it takes far more time to make the parts to test out the ideas or changes made in the design. The Epilog laser cutter helps us to cut prototyping time from days to hours so that we can do more iteration and converge on a better solution. Check out the Epilog website to learn more. There just may be a laser cutter that suits the needs of your garage or hacker space.