The Redsail laser cutter at the Vancouver Hack Space is a terrific 80w cutting machine. It’s fast, precise, and makes prototyping so very, very easy. Unfortunately the software is a bit dumb. If I load a complex design it will spend half the work time traveling between random cuts. It would be much faster if the travel time was minimized, especially if you have to cut a lot of similar parts. Fortunately, there’s a way to do just that.
In the picture here I’ve loaded part of the box for the Makelangelo 2. Every yellow dot is the start of a cut. Red arrows show which way the cut will be made. It might look like some make sense – one cut ends where another starts – but that doesn’t mean the machine will cut them in that order. The secret is to select all the lines and use Tools > Unite lines.
In the example above I used a second trick to reduce waste. First I united all the lines in the part on the left (in black). Then I moved the red part so that the black and red part edges lined up as close as I could get them. You can drag any selection by clicking on either the blue X or on the yellow dot at the start of any line segment. I zoom in really far and try to match up a corner to get a good fit in both directions. Once I have a nice fit I select all the smal red line segments that overlap the black part and I delete them. Then I select the remaining red line segments and unite them. Now I have two cuts with minimal travel and no wasted material.
It may not seem like uniting means much if you’re cutting a single small piece but if you start to cut large quantities the time and material savings really start to add up.
“Wait!” you say. “What’s the third secret?” That would be the one that you know and I don’t. Have you got a tip for getting more out of the laser cutter? Can you tell me how to pan instead of zoom out/zoom in? Comment below so everyone can benefit.