Top 5 Tips For Lasering MDF

MDF Processing Tips

TOP 5 TIPS FOR LASERING MDF

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) is a strong, engineered material made of wood fibers, wax, and resin. The ability to laser cut profiles and engrave deep numbers and logos has much money-making potential in the crafting, signage, interior design, and furniture industries.

Laser cutting is an easy way to process shapes with minimal scrap material. A common problem I see from customers who are trying to use their laser to get the most production and the best quality parts comes down to incorrect machine settings. I would like to spend some time and look over all the essential machine settings to get the best results for laser cutting and engraving MDF.

The following 5 parameters are crucial to understand to gain the biggest benefits from your laser system.

POWER

Each Kern laser system is specified by its laser wattage. The actual laser wattage emitted from the laser tube is known as laser power. The higher the wattage, the more power the laser machine has. Every Kern CO2 laser can cut MDF at full 100% power. At this full power setting, you will maximize your machine’s efficiency, or it’s ability to cut out the greatest number of pieces in the shortest amount of time.

Alternatively, you may only be needing to engrave the surface, mark a logo, etch a part number. In these instances, a REDUCED power setting may be best, resulting in a depth and color according to your desired look.

A final consideration with laser power is adjusting the PWM (Pulse Width Modulation). The Kern CO2 laser is a pulsing laser that allows you to adjust the pulsing frequency during the laser process. This frequency range varies from 100 to 50,000 Hz. I have found the peak cutting performance for MDF processing to be in a range from 3800 to 5000Hz. If you increase the pulsing to 10,000 and above the audible noise level will be noticeably quieter, but it will not be in the peak cutting performance range.

SPEED

The goal when cutting MDF is to complete the job in the least amount of time, with the highest quality results. A point of consideration for clean fast cutting is to push the speed as fast as you can and still get completely through the material. One of the problems with cutting too slow is that you will create more dark char or burning on the profile as well as dark smoky spots on the back of the material. This will require your operator to clean the honeycomb bed more often, as well as require a more detailed cleaning of the parts.

When it comes to engraving the MDF, a faster speed will produce more smoke and fumes so be sure the top-side engraving vacuum is enabled and pulling away any lingering smoke from the engraving process.

Sometimes a much lower DPI of the image or artwork will be sufficient when engraving MDF boards and panels. This decrease in picture resolution will allow your overall speed to increase, which will reduce the time it takes to complete the job.

VACUUM

When cutting the MDF material you will notice a good amount of smoke being generated by the lasering process. Most of our machines are equipped with two 2-3 HP blowers, and it is essential to ensure your vacuum system is in operation and running optimally.

One of the import steps when setting up your MDF cutting is to have a powerful suction holding your sheet of material down flat. Since you do not have any clamps to secure or keep the material from bowing up, you will need to be sure to have your vacuum running at full strength as well as sealing off any open area of honeycomb to ensure full vacuum potential.

When engraving with the OPTIFLEX or LASERCELL machines, the top gantry has a vacuum manifold built into the underside of the moving gantry. This manifold is connected to a vacuum unit that assists in the removal of smoke and debris. You will notice when you engrave a piece of MDF the white smoke will rise up into this manifold area and not be deposit back onto the material.

The most misunderstood aspect of cutting this material cleanly is assuring you have your material flat and held down so the nozzle will stay in its proper focus position.

FOCUS

The Kern laser systems have an adjustable tube that allows the movement of the lens assembly into the correct focusing position. Once the lens has been moved to the proper height using a lens spacer tool, the lens assembly has been focused. Now, the part of the beam with the thinnest width can cut the MDF material quickly and cleanly.

If, over time,  the material starts to lift up, or the honeycomb table is bent you may notice some wider lines during the cutting process. This is because the distance from the center of your lens to the top of the material has changed and it is no longer in focus.

Several times I have seen where the operator has assumed the lens assembly and the lens spacer tool spacing is correct, but it was not due to the material lifting or the bent honeycomb. Typically, this space is set at the factory so you can quickly place your cutting lens into focus, but in your shop there are other variables that can skew the accuracy of this focusing tool.

The best way to find your focus height is to do a focus test. This focus test can be found in our video library (also shown below) and you only need a a piece of paper or scrap wood. The goal of the focus position it to have the finest or narrowest beam width possible. This may require the operator raising or lowering the internal lens position OR the focus dial slightly to get the lens into the correct focus height.

AIR ASSIST

Finally, another important parameter when cutting this hard fiberboard is to use a good amount of assist air when cutting or engraving. Mounted on the lens assembly, you will find an air elbow. The lens assembly has a ¼” airline that allows for a steady stream of air flowing out the nozzle during the laser process.

The air compressor source will need to have a moisture and oil trap to prevent any contaminants from getting onto your lens. The best pressure to use when cutting MDF will depend on the nozzle size you are cutting with, but I have found the best cutting and engraving pressure with a 0.100″ diameter stock nozzle to be 40 psi.

Kern’s KCAM Laser Software has advanced settings to allow you to piece the material with one air pressure and then cut the profiles with another. The machines have two air gauges that will assist in getting the cleanest entry hole as well as allowing a clean look by pushing and spreading the vaporized MDF away from the kerf path.

If you plan on cutting MDF in the future, be sure to learn and review these five essential parameters to cut your material cleanly, smoothly, and with maximum speeds.

Kern Offers 650 Watt Laser

650 Laser Release

KERN OFFERS 650 WATT LASER

In the many years Kern has been in the laser industry one thing has always been true: Customers want more power to engrave quicker and cut thicker material faster. In 2013 we developed our first laser with a rated power of 150 watts and released it to the market. Soon after, customers were asking for more power. In 2016 we released a 400-watt laser that quickly became a best seller. Again we listened to our customers requesting more power and are now releasing a 650-watt laser. This power level fills a gap the United States CO2 laser market has been missing.

Features

Size and Weight

The KT650 is conveniently offered in the same overall footprint as our KT250 and KT400 models. The laser beam output position, mounting points, and overall package size match up exactly to our 250 and 400-watt laser models. No need for current customers to redesign how to mount the laser into their existing machine architect.

A redesign of the laser resonator cavity allowed us to maximize power while adding less than 10 lbs. to the overall weight of the KT650 when compared with the KT400. Needless to say this laser packs a punch for its size and weight.

The KT650 can go up against any similar CO2 laser on the market as it offers the most power, pound for pound, in a compact, convenient package.

Patent Pending Laser Resonator Technology

The new patent-pending laser resonator design1 produces a high-quality top-hat-like raw mode. Through external optics, we shape this beam into a near-diffraction-limited Gaussian beam. Starting with such a high-quality raw mode allows for less power to be lost in the external beam delivery. This allows us to produce the common Gaussian-like CO2 laser beam in a highly efficient manner with minimal spatial filtering or beam apodizing required. The result is a high-quality, round beam with low divergence from a very efficient laser source that has a high wall-plug efficiency compared to similar CO2 lasers.

Rise and Fall Time

The rise and fall time may not be the first laser specifications you look at when comparing lasers but it does play a very important role when processing material. The benefits of a fast rise and fall time include easier piercing of material, less heat-affected zone, and a well-defined pulse which is desirable for specific low frequency, pulse applications. The KT650 has a rise and fall time under 40 microseconds making it an ideal laser for anyone looking for improved piercing capabilities and a high-quality processed edge. Customers cutting metal will also notice parts just processed on the laser system feeling cooler to the touch as they collect their finished products due to the limited heat affected zone.

Materials and Applications

A CO2 laser at the 650 power level is extremely versatile in the various types of material that it can process. The laser is powerful enough to cut through ¼” steel while it is delicate enough to kiss-cut stickers. The pulse energy, pulse width placement, and stability are well-controlled enough to provide the same high-quality 3D wood engravings our customers have commonly come to know from our samples kit in our lower-powered lasers while significantly increasing the processing speeds.

(Left-side is of stacked metal samples cut by Kern’s 650W Laser, right-side is an example of 3D laser engraving capabilities)

One of the best benefits of using a CO2 laser is that it can process a wide range of materials. You can be processing thick steel in the morning, cutting foam in the afternoon, and finish your day off engraving on wood all with the same laser. Some of the most common materials we see processed with our lasers include acrylic, aluminum, brass, cardboard, copper, foam, glass, leather, PCB material, rubber, steel, plastic, stone, and wood. The material list continues to grow as our customers find new applications for our lasers. If the laser can pierce the material with relative ease then there is a very good chance it can process your material. Applications include cutting, drilling, engraving, kiss-cutting, marking, perforating, and much more.

We plan to add to our material and application lineup by offering wavelengths besides the predominant 10.6 um. Later this year we will be adding a 9.3 um option and possibly 10.2 um soon after that. These other wavelengths provide higher absorption in specific materials which allows for faster processing speeds.

Benefits

Today’s focus of many companies is how to make their processes more efficient and maximize throughput. Customers will be able to do exactly that by adding the new 650-watt laser to their production floor. With an additional 250+ watts of power from our 400-watt laser, the KT650 improves processing speeds by approximately 60% in most materials. This increase in power plus improved rise and fall times will also allow thicker materials to be cut and the possibility of new materials to be processed.

The addition of the 650-watt laser brings our product portfolio range from 100 watts to 650 watts between three different model series sizes. This product release comes with much anticipation from our own employees as well as many of our customers. We will continue our goal to advance CO2 laser technology by manufacturing the highest quality, most dependable, and innovative CO2 lasers on the market while proudly designing and manufacturing lasers in the USA.

[1] Pending patent applications US2021083447A1, EP3793044A1 and CA3089689A1.

Precisely Our People: Meet Nate Korkowski

Precisely Our People

Meet Nate Korkowski

What is a company without its employees? Who would be there to help customers? To build products? To pack and ship replacement parts? At Kern Laser Systems, we don’t like to imagine a world without employees. After all, most of the work we do just needs that special touch. It needs the kind of attention that can only come from people who are passionate and knowledgeable. You know, people like Nate Korkowski

Nate joined our team in 2006 as a machinist. He was responsible for building parts and sub-assemblies for our laser systems. Over the years, Nate progressed to building machines and helping our customers as a Laser Technician.

Nate’s ability to communicate openly and honestly with customers, answer their questions, and go the extra mile brought him to his current role in sales. 

HELPING CUSTOMERS IN EVERY WAY 

For many of our customers, investing in a Kern laser system is a significant business decision, and with that can come a lot of questions. As a salesperson, Nate believes in going above and beyond to help our customers make the best decision for them and their business.

“For me it’s important when somebody’s looking to buy a machine that I do everything I can, whether it’s cutting samples or making them videos, just letting them know that they can be confident that the machine they buy is going to do the job they need to be doing.” 

And even though Nate no longer works in tech support, he’s more than willing to help customers who call in with technical issues. After all, why bother transferring the call if you have everything you need to help?

“If somebody has a problem or a tech support question, they can just call me. Typically, I can help them right away and they don’t have to go through the tech support guys. It’s just nice when it’s one call and you get your quick answer, fix it and you’re done.”

KNOWING OUR NICHE

Nate will be the first person to tell you if a Kern laser system isn’t your best option. Sure, we’re in the business of making and selling lasers, but if the needs of a customer don’t quite fit with what our systems have to offer, we find it’s best to be upfront and honest about it. 

For many new customers, learning that multiple CO2 lasers in the Kern lineup can cut metal is a welcoming surprise. It’s a level of versatility you don’t find everywhere. Luckily, we have knowledgeable and friendly salespeople, like Nate, guiding our customers and helping them find the laser system to meet their needs. 

Thank you, Nate, for being a part of the Kern Laser Systems family and for all you do to help our customers! 

7 Tips for Cutting Mild Steel

Mild Steel Processing Tips

7 TIPS FOR LASER CUTTING MILD STEEL

Cutting mild steel with a CO2 laser isn’t just possible, it’s an excellent choice for those seeking clean, consistent and precise cuts. In this post, we’ll be discussing tips for laser cutting mild steel.

When equipped with the laser cutting option, Kern’s CO2 lasers are quick and efficient at mild steel cutting.

The following tips will help operators be successful…  

1. MATCH MATERIAL THICKNESS AND WATTAGE

As you likely know, the wattage of a laser will dictate the thickness of mild steel you’re able to cut, and the speed at which you’re able to cut it. 

Check out the manufacturing specifications of your laser’s system to see what thicknesses of mild steel different laser wattages can cut. While there may be some variation, the manufacturer recommendations provide an excellent guide. 

2. PIERCE YOUR MILD STEEL 

An important part of cutting mild steel is the moment when the laser first pierces the material. Keep in mind that the settings during the piercing process will be different than the settings during cutting. The pierce point requires lower power, about half the air pressure and steady contact for 1-2 seconds.  

3. DON’T CLIP YOUR BEAM

Laser beam placement is a key component of cutting mild steel. The goal here is to align the beam so that it goes directly through the center of the nozzle. 

The copper nozzle on Kern laser systems has an opening size of about 60/1000 of an inch. If the beam is not centered, the nozzle will clip the beam. A clipped beam spells all sorts of trouble for cutting mild steel. 

First, it will decrease the power, which can prevent the beam from having enough strength to pierce the material. Additionally, it will prevent the laser from making clean cuts. Instead, it will leave the mild steel with burrs and unclean edges. 

4. ADJUST YOUR FOCUS POINT

In order to effectively cut mild steel, the copper nozzle needs to be at a distance of 0.010″-0.020″ from the material being processed. This provides the laser beam with the ideal focus point for the laser to perform optimally. This also allows the assist gas to penetrate into the cut to help clear away debris and create a precise clean cut. If your nozzle is too high, not only would your nozzle be out of focus, but the assist gas would be dispersed over the cut leaving debris within the cut.

This same principle is in effect when using a magnifying glass to concentrate the sun’s heat. Making slight changes to the height of the magnifying glass affects how powerful the beam is, just like adjusting the height of your laser’s copper nozzle affects the beam’s power. 

5. CHECK YOUR OPTICS

A laser outfitted with bad optics is not going to cut mild steel effectively. Check your mirrors and your lenses to ensure they are free of debris. 

6. CHOOSE YOUR ASSIST GAS

When cutting mild steel, choose either oxygen assist or regular shop air. For thicker mild steel, choose oxygen assist with a lower psi. 

7. ADJUST YOUR POWER SETTINGS

Although it does take a fair amount of power for a CO2 laser to pierce and cut mild steel, too much heat will leave burn marks on the material. As a rule of thumb, less heat is better for mild steel. 

Instead of defaulting the power setting at 100%, try to figure out the lowest power setting that will still allow you to cut the material. The lower setting will help you prevent marks and dross on the back side of the mild steel. 

CUTTING 18 GA MILD STEEL

In this video, Jake Shaw will lead you through the basics of cutting 18 gauge mild steel with a 400W CO2 laser. 

If you have additional questions about cutting mild steel with a CO2 laser, please contact us. We would be happy to provide you with additional information.

Precisely Our People: Meet Jeremy Hagen

Precisely Our People

Meet Jeremy Hagen

Without a doubt, one of the things that makes Kern Laser Systems special, is our employees. The pride they have in their work, and the work ethic that they show up with, day in and day out, is unmatched. Our laser systems are powerful and industrial-grade, but they don’t have anything on our employees. As I’ve mentioned before, I might be a bit biased, but we have some of the best people around. Today, you’re invited to meet Jeremy Hagen and learn why he is precisely our people.  

Jeremy joined Kern Laser Systems in 2014, and since then, he’s been an integral part of the team. He’s a hard worker who knows what it means to put in an honest day’s work and take pride in production. 

“When I get to work, I work. I don’t mess around, I get straight to it, I do quality work. I always say, I’m pretty much building a Ferrari, so in my eyes, you take care of it like a Ferrari.” 

FROM THE GROUND UP

At our facility in Wadena, MN, Jeremy builds Kern laser systems from the ground up. He is the one bringing all the materials and components together to create the large-format laser systems in the Kern lineup.

“I build the machines from the ground up. I get a bare stand, I get all my materials, and I start to go to work. And when I’m done, we got a full machine.”

 

To say Jeremy knows these machines from the inside out doesn’t even capture the skill, expertise, and passion he pours into every system. 

“They’re very, very well-made industrial products. They can take abuse, and they don’t need much upkeep, really.”

FAMILY FIRST, FAMILY ALWAYS

The fact that Kern Laser Systems is a family business doesn’t end with the people with the last name Kern. The family business—and the family values we believe in—extend to our employees and to our customers as well. 

“I can’t say enough good things about the Kerns. They are amazing people, and they’re very family oriented. If you need something to do with your family or something’s going on, they’re like, ‘No problem. Go. Go deal with your family.’” 

Kern Laser Systems wouldn’t be the company it is today without our employees. We believe they deserve respect and care, and we believe that well taken care of employees are going to turn around and put care into their work, with customers and with equipment. 

And as you saw in the video, working at Kern Laser Systems is a family affair for the Hagen family as well! Jeremy’s brother and his father, Keith, are also members of the team. 

“I really like working here. I could’ve found jobs, but it’s so nice. They treat their employees so well. They’re super flexible, they’re understanding. I ain’t going nowhere.” 

Thank you, Jeremy, for sharing your insights and experiences and for helping us grow. We appreciate you and all of your hard work!

4 Ways To Increase Laser Engraving Resolution

Improve Laser Resolution

4 WAYS TO INCREASE LASER ENGRAVING RESOLUTION

Depending on the material you are engraving—whether it’s wood, acrylic, laserable plastics, marble, granite, aluminum, anodized aluminum—you’re going to have different settings for DPI (dots per inch), air pressure, speed, and power to create the best resolution on the end product. So, creating the best resolution is a combination of the right settings and the right application.

In this article, we’re going to share some of the factors impacting laser engraving resolution and provide operator tips for achieving the best results. 

We’re going to start with the number one thing operators need for optimal laser engraving resolution.

1. START WITH A HIGH-QUALITY IMAGE

There is no amount of settings and capabilities that can compensate for a poor-quality image. If your laser-engraving goal is clear, crisp resolution, starting with a high-quality image is essential. Too often, people try to laser engrave an image that’s either scanned from a physical photo, taken with a low quality cell phone/camera, or even found online and screenshotted. 

Typically, these images will not provide enough detail for high-resolution engraving. Instead, it’s best to choose images that have higher dpi/resolution and were taken with a digital camera. 

As a good rule of thumb, high-resolution images are those with 300 DPI and a large pixel dimension. 

Also note that what is considered a high-quality image depends on the desired result. In some instances, an image 400 or 600 DPI may be needed. To learn more about high-resolution images, check out this article.  

2. SET YOUR LASER’S DPI ACCORDING TO THE PROJECT

When it comes to laser engraving, the image’s dpi is not the only one you need to know about. There is also the dpi laser setting, which literally tells the laser how many dots to lay down per square inch. Unlike with the image, choosing a higher dpi in your laser settings does not necessarily translate into a higher resolution engraving.

Here’s a quick look at how we look at dpi in laser engraving: 

  • Low – 150 DPI
  • Medium – 300 DPI
  • High – 600 DPI

This is where you’ll see operators choosing the highest possible dpi available in their laser settings, under the assumption that it will create a higher-resolution engraving. What actually ends up happening is that their engraving has basically the same look as if they had chosen 300 DPI, but the actual processing takes longer. This is because the laser is passing over the same area multiple times.  

3. CHOOSE SPEED AND POWER SETTINGS TO SUPPORT RESOLUTION

When operators want a higher resolution laser engraving, it can mean taking some time to test settings and find the best result. Typically, processing speeds will be lower for high-resolution engravings, while power settings will be greater. Here’s a look at the same image laser-engraved at different power settings: 

For this engraving, the laser wattage and dpi remained the same, but the power was set at either 40%, 60%, or 75%. As you can see, the engraving’s resolution becomes more clear as the power settings increase. 

In this next example, we have made changes to both the speed and the power settings while using consistent dpi and air assist. 

4. TEST YOUR ENGRAVING TO CHECK SETTINGS

As you saw with the examples, how an operator chooses their laser settings has a big impact on laser engraving resolution. This is one of the reasons why we always recommend testing your engraving on a piece of spare material to assess and tweak settings. We recommend this even if the operator is running off of settings specifically geared toward their material, application, and end goal. At the end of the day, the only way to truly know what the result will be is to test it out. 

The ability to create high-resolution laser engravings is a valuable skill for laser operators to have. Whether you’re looking to laser engrave images or lettering onto materials, the advice provided in this article will help you achieve high-quality results. 

Do you have specific questions about achieving a high-resolution laser engraving? If you do, please contact us so that one of our craftspeople can help you.

Precisely Our People: Meet Mark Haataja

Precisely Our People

Meet Mark Haataja

It shouldn’t be a secret that what makes a company great is its people. Products are designed and created by people and services are provided by people. Now, we may be a bit biased, but here at Kern Laser Systems, we have some of the best people around. Our team members, at every level of the organization, make direct contributions to Kern’s success as a company. They are precisely our people, and we want you to meet them. Watch this video to meet Mark Hataaja, Vice President at Kern Laser Systems.

Mark joined our team as a Machinist and Laser Technician in September of 1997. Since then, he’s held numerous roles throughout the company, including Product Development, Sales, Research and Development Manager and his current title, Vice President. So, when Mark says he’s learned the laser industry from the bottom up, he means it. 

“Putting machines together, fixing machines, providing tech support, research and development. Everything.”

FROM ONE SYSTEM TO SIX

Mark’s time with Kern has granted him a front row seat to the growth and evolution of Kern and the laser industry as a whole.

When he first began, Kern Laser Systems offered a single laser system in various sizes. Over the years, Kern’s offerings have grown to include six laser systems, all with different standards, capabilities and target markets. 

“Because of customer demands, we’ve been innovative, make changes. Customers will ask for certain things on the machines. More speed, more throughput. Now Kern has multiple laser systems, each focused to a certain market.” 

KERN TAKES CARE

Mark is a testament to Kern’s focus on caring for customers and employees. Kern knows that when your employees are well taken care of, they’re going to ensure the customers are taken care of too. 

“Kern takes care of their customer, and it’s been the same way here as an employee. The Kern family is always taking care of us as employees.” 

Beyond Kern’s product line, it is their ability to care for and support customers that truly sets them apart.  

“That’s what sets us apart, our setting the customer first. Our level of support surpasses any other company in this industry.” 

Thank you, Mark, for sharing your insights and expertise with our company and our customers all these years! 

Target Field – Home of the Minnesota Twins

Target Field

TARGET FIELD - HOME OF THE MINNESOTA TWINS

A long time Kern customer, Tim Pawelk, recently completed a multi-piece project for the new Target Field baseball stadium. Large format murals, stone etching and plastic panels were just a few of the tributes that comprised this job.