My non-profit Beneficial Bio is helping to establish a biology innovation lab at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, where we hope multiple open hardware designs can be developed and fabricated. We have a small maker space area as part of the lab and are looking for a small footprint laser cutter that is very user friendly.
I had in mind the Glowforge Pro but have since learned that it needs an internet connection at all times just to operate, which is not going to work for us.
Does anyone have other laser cutter models that they’ve used successfully in workshops that are very user friendly for biologists and other non-engineers, are small footprint but ideally allow for material pass-through like the Glowforge Pro, do not require a constant connection and are robust and reliable?
I’d be particularly interested whether anyone has direct experience of deploying any of these models in labs with less-than-ideal connectivity, and also using them easily with a wide variety of users without the need for extensive training.
Once we’ve got it to Kenya, it is going to be more difficult and very expensive to return/change anything than it would be in North America/Europe, so selecting something “tried and tested” by this community would be excellent.
The advantage to the OMTech laser cutters obviously is the price. If preconfigured with a Monport laser controller (only $50) printed circuit board, then you can run into off of Lightburn. See pp. 332-334 of the latest draft of my textbook at
You also need particle filters and a compressor as described in that section, plus a chilled water recirculator referenced in a prior section of the book. Grand total = $900 for a full system. The big advantage to this is at that price, you can have multiple engravers in case something goes wrong with one.
I have used a Mr Beam, which I can recommend. Great usability, but it is not a CO2 laser like the Glowforge. It has some features that need an internet connection, but it also can be used without internet without any issues.
I also used one of the Chinese K40 machines, which I can NOT recommend. Safety issues and usability is not great.
The other laser cutters I have used are larger/more expensive machines.
We have a medium sized CO2 laser cutter that’s like a step above. The really cheap k40 laser cutter, but still kind of the same thing. It was about 5k. And we have since upgraded the tube and power supply and mirrors and refrigeration for maybe a cost of a little under another $1,000 over the past 4 years. The reason for the recent upgrades was because it’s in the hot tropics and stuff fails way quicker here and we did not have a decent cooler on it. Stuff also failed. Quicker because the company we got it from demanded that they set it up and I found out that they had things set up wrong so that shortened the lifespan of things like the laser tube. But even with that, the laser tube replacement to get us up to a little 50 watt laser was only about $120.
And dealing with long-term maintenance. Kind of stuff the laser tube was probably the trickiest because we had three get shipped out here that got damaged on the way and became garbage. But the company was nice and resupplied us for free and I just had to message everybody along the shipping supply chain to like not smash this tube up.
We are VERY HARD on our equipment out here (We cut all sorts of recycled plastic that we make ourselves), and still we have the thing running like a champ.
I would say in my experience I really don’t like any of those very inexpensive diode lasers. A) They are really picky about what materials they will actually be able to cut. B) if it is just used for engraving that can be fine but again even some items it has a really hard time engraving. C) they’re often totally unenclosed and kind of make it seem like they’re safer, but they will still let out all kinds of not great smoke and scattered laser beams.
Also i will have to say that even though it is xlosed source, the program lightburn is a pretty worthwhile investment and pretty essential if you were doing any type of larger scale, laser cutting and running lots of jobs on it. It really makes things about calibrating and setting up and maintaining and running jobs on your laser cutter a lot better and it’s only like 100 bucks one time fee.
Thanks so much for all the recommendations everyone!
We’re not very budget-limited for the upfront purchase, we are space-limited and expertise-limited so willing to pay out for something that requires less maintenance. It pretty much needs to work fine out of the box and have a simple calibration routine.
Both of these came recommended by a makerspace in Kenya, although they’re a little bigger than what we had in mind:
You may find this of interest for your needs http://fabulaser.net/
It’s being used by the absolutely wonderful Tolocar project so it’s been literally road tested in mobile makerspaces bringing constructive engagement around Ukraine. InMachines Ingrassia
Closer to home I can suggest the LionsForge Craft Laser LionsForge CraftLaser - World's Safest 40W Home Laser Cutter Engraver. which is proudly made in Singapore and is being used in schools and public libraries here. Though it’s work-area is smaller (A3 size). It’s also only 25 KG and has been tested as airline passenger check-in luggage and transports surprisingly well. If you need me to link you up with the founder do let me know.
Both are 40Watt Lasers, both open-source and Arduino compatible.