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Realise your K40 laser's potential with open software for productivity and upgraded hardware for enhanced engraving and cutting quality
Realise your K40 laser's potential with open software for productivity and upgraded hardware for enhanced engraving and cutting quality
Realise your K40 laser's potential with open software for productivity and upgraded hardware for enhanced engraving and cutting quality
168 backers pledged AU$ 22,075 to help bring this project to life.

About

Gerbil: The Open upgrade for your K40 Laser project video thumbnail
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Gerbil: The Open upgrade for your K40 Laser

AU$ 22,075

168

What is a prototype?

A prototype is a preliminary model of something. Projects that offer physical products need to show backers documentation of a working prototype. This gallery features photos, videos, and other visual documentation that will give backers a sense of what’s been accomplished so far and what’s left to do. Though the development process can vary for each project, these are the stages we typically see:

Proof of Concept

Explorations that test ideas and functionality.

Functional Prototype

Demonstrates the functionality of the final product, but looks different.

Appearance Prototype

Looks like the final product, but is not functional.

Design Prototype

Appearance and function match the final product, but is made with different manufacturing methods.

Production Prototype

Appearance, function, and manufacturing methods match the final product.

5327a0352990bf18bef8000a0f55d9b1 h264 high

Prototype Gallery

These photos and videos provide a detailed look at this project’s development.

What or who is Gerbil?  

This Kickstarter project upgrades the popular K40 laser cutter/engraver. If you don't already own a K40, go buy one on eBay of similar - they're now really affordable, starting at around $250 USD.

  • Extremely easy, just import a picture in Inkscape and engrave or cut (no manipulation effort)
  • 16 bits PWM, 380DPI resolution engraving (enabling max. resolution of stock laser), not a stock Arduino but bespoke design
  • Keeps the CO2 Tube energized during engraving, so better quality engraving and longer life span of the laser tube
  • Just plug and play, all the hard work has been done by us
  • and ... it is Open source!

Gerbil is a small device to make your K40 laser cutter/etcher more user-friendly and improve the output quality.  It can be installed into your K40 with a minimum of fuss, and at last, you can realise your K40's potential to easily produce quality laser cuts and beautiful engravings. Instead of clunky proprietary software, you can now use any software produces G-code output.  We've enhanced the popular (and free !) Inkscape so you'll be getting the most out of your laser cutter/engraver in no time without the trial and error approach.

By supporting this project, you'll not only be getting great hardware at a great price, you'll be releasing a robust G-code software solution into the open source community, so we can all benefit from further improvements. We will monitor the community feature requests, and will jump in and help out when we can. For example: include a g-code sender within the plugins.

Setting up your Gerbil's new home  

Simply turn off your K40 at the powerpoint, disconnect your existing controller, and plug in your Gerbil.  Grab a screwdriver to re-position the end-stop.  That's the hardware done.  On your PC/Mac, install Inkscape and the plugin/extension, and you're ready to go.  

How does Gerbil communicate? 

Gerbil connects to your PC or MAC via a USB connection.

What's so special about Gerbil? 

Some engravings produced
Some engravings produced

 

 

Gyrfalcon engraving
Gyrfalcon engraving

 

Photo engraving (1/4 of A4)
Photo engraving (1/4 of A4)

 

Photo engraving (A4)
Photo engraving (A4)
Easily produce from plastics and leather
Easily produce from plastics and leather

 

     

Any laser cutter/engraver requires you to experiment with hundreds of permutations of settings and image manipulation to achieve an acceptable result with a lot of wasted material in the process.  But with Gerbil, the plugins and firmware will help you create a great result first time.  

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For you tinkerers out there, don't worry - you can still optimize, configure and experiment with picture settings (in the movie above, F-Feedrate, S-Laser strength, Receive-Data buffering settings in the g-code sender). Gerbil engraves with 256 Grey levels in a very laser small range (2mA of 20mA range) and beyond if you want to carve the wood or work piece even deeper to make your images really pop out.  Additionally, Gerbil excels at cutting with different power settings and any repeat cycles. 

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Is Gerbil safe?

Gerbil includes sensible features to increase the safety of your Laser Cutter.  The laser is automatically turned off when the K40's carriage or motors stop moving. If you choose to install the optional pause, resume and abort buttons, you will be able to safely adjust or inspect the work piece during the cutting or engraving process.

Can it drive other Lasers?

Well depends on the hardware and how tech savvy you are. I bought this 18 year old Trotec laser (75 watt Synrad excited RF laser) for $250 on eBay (postage another 250) and removed its dead controller (size of a old pc motherboard). 

Old vs New controller (below/right corner)
Old vs New controller (below/right corner)

Replaced the dc motors/encoders with just simple of the shelf NEMA17 stepper motors that I had laying around. The existing mechanical end stops could be re-purposed. All with all took me under 2 hours. And now I have a big massive working laser, hurrah!

What else is included?  

All rewards include:

- End stop flag and 90 degree conversion bracket

- Access to the enhanced Inkscape/Gerbil software plugins

Rewards in a nutshell
Rewards in a nutshell

What additional accessories can I get for Gerbil?  

For the best possible results, consider the 'pro-pack' reward, which includes:

- a small drag chain to feed the K40's air assist or electric fan cable

- a high quality laser lens to concentrate the laser into a smaller area, resulting in sharper engravings and improved grayscale spectrum

Where was Gerbil conceived?

The journey began over a year ago when I purchased a Chinese K40 Laser cutter and engraver from eBay. I quickly discovered that the Chinese proprietary software and dongle were unusable, especially as it came without instructions.

Fortunately I had some knowledge of the open source CNC motion firmware 'Grbl', and it turned out to be very suitable for controlling the K40 with some software modifications. 

Success factors:

  • Well thought through open source tool-chain: Be productive, less waste!
  • High resolution steppers for precision cuts
  • 16 bit PWM to perform 10 bit engraving (380 DPI picture engraving)
  • Keeping the laser ionized during engraving (enhances quality and expands life span of the tube)
  • Easy Plug-and-play solution
  • Safety features
  • Cost effective

Also seen at

Hackaday.com
Hackaday.com

 

Diyode.com
Diyode.com

 

Gerbil's website with lots of information
Gerbil's website with lots of information

 

Bay Area Makerfaire 2017
Bay Area Makerfaire 2017

 

 

 

The technical development

The Gerbil controller
The Gerbil controller

 

Starting out with a basic Arduino board (which is an 'Open-source electronic prototyping platform enabling users to create interactive electronic objects') and a simple Arduino motor shield, I found it worked really well for cutting wood and acrylic but the engraving results were unsatisfactory. I realized that more resolution, shades of grey, and depth were needed for high quality engravings. Finding another Atmel processor, one with two additional 16 bit counters, allowed for a proper grey scale range in the very narrow laser power band suitable for engraving, while still allowing full power for cutting.

To be able to use the hardware enhancements, I re-wrote the raster Inkscape plugin to generate a matching high resolution raster in g-code format and configured the right settings in the controller's firmware to generate the laser output pulses. After testing 64 combinations of frequency, speed and power within the controller firmware, the winning combination of contrast, depth, grey shades and resolution for the engraving was found !

The next barrier was the wire connectivity between the machine and the controller. K40 machines use a combination of hard to find connectors. Also, there are slightly different K40 models on the market so I needed to cater for these combinations. Sourcing these rare connectors at a reasonable price was like looking for a needle in a haystack. 

The next requirement was to ensure the installation process is easy for non-experts. That means swapping connectors and installing open source software like inkscape on your PC. The controller connects to PC via a regular USB cable.

Finally, I aligned the X-Y coordinate system in the K40 laser with that from Inkscape (bottom, left instead of top, left) so your work layout in Inkscape matches exactly that of the laser. This was achieved by adding an L shaped bracket (90 degree angle) to the existing end stop and a simple flag to trigger it.

What do you need to do once you receive Gerbil?

(note: the following instructions will be made available in detailed written and video form)

  • Safety first - turn off your K40 !
  • Unplug and remove your existing K40 controller board
  • Plug in your new Gerbil controller board
  • Turn the K40's Y end-stop 90 degrees and position the end stop flag
  • Install the Open source tool-chain (Inkscape, laser plugins, g-code sender) on your PC or MAC

Now you're ready to test - engrave a small picture and calibrate the firmware/tube power range (one parameter in Gerbil).

And you're done and can start being productive!

Project Timeline

Not much to be extended since we have done all the development work, it's just a supply chain from here.

The Project Time Line
The Project Time Line

The team behind the Kickstarter campaign

Paul de Groot, tinkerer and crazy inventor, has a B. Sc in electronics engineering. In daily life he works as a Business Architect to solve the challenges within the Australian Health sector.

Dan Collins, mad scientist and creator of the Personal Particle Accelerator STEM kit is a Data Scientist in daily life solving complex Big data and analytical puzzles.

Risks and challenges

Design risks are low since the product has been designed and successfully tested on multiple machines. Paul has had the Gerbil running on his K40 machine for one year.
Discussions with many other K40 owners indicates that all K40's use the same stepper motors and the same laser tube. Variability between K40’s appears restricted to the connectors, and two types of power supplies. The mitigation strategy is to use beta users from the Google+ K40 forum for various models before ordering and starting the production.
Production has already been tested - The supply chain risks are low because the production partner has already successfully produced good quality PCB’s and assembled units.
The production strategy is to place several batch orders, rather than a single large order. This should allow ongoing quality testing to quickly address any quality problems that arise.
Finally, the test plan is to test 100% of boards before sending to backers.
Ability to scale - our production partners are professional commercial operators, and are able to scale to large production volumes. We've established links and budgeted for a large local facility to perform testing and distribution of rewards, so that backers are not dependent on our personal time to execute these aspects.
Shipping rewards - will occur from Australia, with backers responsible for ensuring the product is suitable for their jurisdiction/locality, and if applicable, the payment of any inbound customs duty.
Timeline - we've planned a day by day schedule that integrates all our suppliers, transport, testing etc, and allowed a bunch of time for last minute delays, so we're confident that we can deliver by the time frames stated in the rewards.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 32 or more About $24

    ~$25USD - Gerbil T-Shirt

    Show your support with a white-red Gerbil logo T-shirt

    *Shipping cost not included

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    1 backer
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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 45 or more About $34

    ~$35USD - Upgrade Basic to Pro-pack

    This rewards is for the backers of the Gerbil Controller Cut&Engrave reward who want to upgrade to the Pro-Pack. No shipping cost required.

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    0 backers
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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 59 or more About $45

    ~$45USD - K40 Shield - Cut Only

    Allows use of open software for improved cutting productivity. Please note:
    1) this reward hardware doesn't support improved engraving unless you add an enhanced compatible Arduino controller (i.e R4)
    2) an Arduino Uno is required but not included in this reward
    3) Includes step sticks

    *Shipping cost not included

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    2 backers
    AU$
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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 85 or more About $65

    ~$65USD - Gerbil Controller Cut&Engrave

    This reward provides allows open software for productivity and upgraded hardware for enhanced engraving and cutting quality

    *Shipping cost not included

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    41 backers
    AU$
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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 130 or more About $99

    ~$100USD - Pro-pack - Cut & Engrave

    This reward gets you a Gerbil K40 controller, lens and a drag chain to keep your electric/air assist cable free from entanglement with the gantry

    * Shipping cost not included

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    111 backers
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Funding period

- (30 days)