[hackerspaces] Laser Cutter Fires?

JB Zurn jbzurn at gmail.com
Thu Apr 30 17:42:37 CEST 2015

The flaming situations I'm familiar with, were due to inadequate

Someone I knew, his personal Epilog had a pretty bad fire when his outtake
fan failed. He couldn't hear that the fan had stopped, over the sound of
the machine running.

At Sunshine Labs we had an issue with decreased power and increasing
flaming over several weeks. We cleaned out the machine, disassembled and
cleaned the laser path, which helped but didn't solve the problem. Finally
we found the outtake vent to the -outside- of the building (located near
the roof), had a grate to prevent vermin entry. The grate was clogged with
debris, little bits of paper, etc. Once that was cleaned out, the laser
worked well again.

-if you are setting up a ventilation system, make sure all parts are
accessible so they can be checked periodically for debris.
-ventilation fans should be checked prior to each job (one advantage of a
loud outtake fan)

-Brooks Zurn

On Thu, Apr 30, 2015, 11:07 AM matt <matt at nycresistor.com> wrote:

> coherent scimitar?
> On Thu, Apr 30, 2015 at 8:08 AM, James Arlen <myrcurial at thinkhaus.org>
> wrote:
>> It is worth noting that I watched the acrylic burst into flame.
>> Saying "you have to stay with it while it's running" is just not enough
>> -- and you WILL run right past the closest fire extinguisher.
>> The most important thing to remember is that a laser cutter is an
>> industrial tool and you need to treat it with respect.
>> Also, seriously, we are talking about how we all regularly use a photon
>> sword (the other term is TM Lucasfilm/Disney) and that's pretty damn cool.
>> --
>> James Arlen
>> On Apr 29, 2015, at 22:59, Morgan Gangwere <morgan.gangwere at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>> At Quelab the rule is that the laser cutter is to be attended to when
>> cutting. You stick with it.
>> I've had a few small fires from wood, but nothing dangerous. We only
>> allow materials that have been cleared, and that clearance includes a test
>> run with a couple of people just to check if it lets off anything noxious.
>> As for remedies, we have a fire blanket next to the door and next to the
>> cutter
>> On Apr 29, 2015 18:43, "matt" <matt at nycresistor.com> wrote:
>>> Foam Core torched our old epilog at resistor.
>>> Biggest fire we had.   Did significant damage.
>>> And frankly we're occasionally ... adventurous with our burninantion.
>>> -matt
>>> On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 3:51 PM, Nathaniel Bezanson <myself at telcodata.us
>>> > wrote:
>>>> Thinkhaus had a small fire back in 2011:
>>>> http://www.thinkhaus.org/2011/04/03/lazzoring-is-serious-business/ and
>>>> their post about it has become part of i3Detroit's standard laser cutter
>>>> training. Thanks, Thinkhaus!
>>>> At i3, we've had a few small fires in the chamber, though not by the
>>>> apparently-common tray fires described by others in this thread. For us
>>>> it's the material being cut, remaining aflame after the head moves away. I
>>>> think corrugated cardboard is the usual culprit, since it has channels that
>>>> can sustain "peaceful" combustion, even as the air-nozzle blasts down from
>>>> above. (There's a project idea floating around, to use the oxygen-poor
>>>> exhaust of a medical O2 concentrator, or just a plain old tank of argon, to
>>>> supply the air assist blower with inert gas during the entire cut. I'd be
>>>> super curious if anyone else has tried this and how it went! It should
>>>> reduce edge char too, no?)
>>>> Most folks just pause the job and Big Bad Wolf the flames, but the
>>>> extinguisher has come into play at least once.
>>>> I don't know how others' cutters are constructed, but on our big
>>>> machines, the platform (tray?) is several inches below the cutting plane
>>>> (there's the honeycomb, and then the slats, and then a gap caused by the
>>>> slat bracing), and while the beam is still focused enough down there to
>>>> melt through adhesive tape, I'm not aware of anything ever having caught
>>>> fire in the tray. That's a good point worth making, though; we should give
>>>> it a look after shutting down the exhaust, in case anything down there is
>>>> smoldering.
>>>> In addition to linking to the above Thinkhaus page from our tool-info
>>>> page, I make a point to discuss the incident during training. (I don't know
>>>> if other trainers do, but operators are supposed to be trained twice by
>>>> separate trainers, so I think most have gotten The Talk.) We have a strict
>>>> "do not walk away" policy, and have recently mounted a phone/intercom near
>>>> the operator's position to help with this. Sometimes when I walk past, I
>>>> make a point to offer to grab a soda for anyone babysitting an active job,
>>>> even though I know they could easily pause the job and get their own, since
>>>> I want to emphasize gratitude for their vigilance.
>>>> We have a checklist for operation, which includes "lift the fire
>>>> extinguisher from its spot and set it back down" as the last step before
>>>> pushing Start, with the intent of both confirming that it's always there,
>>>> and building the muscle memory of how to unhook it. That's a 5-pound
>>>> nitrogen unit, which is what the service place offered as a replacement
>>>> when our beloved halon unit went out of date. (That's a tradeoff.
>>>> Nitrogen's environmentally harmless, but pound-for-pound, inert gas isn't
>>>> as effective as halocarbons at actually extinguishing fires.)
>>>> In the future if we ever get a tool-auth system going, in addition to
>>>> badging into the laser to prove that you're on the operators list, I'd like
>>>> to rig a switch so it confirms that the extinguisher-mount changes state
>>>> before enabling the machine. For the time being it's all manual.
>>>> Also sitting nearby is a 20-pound CO2, which every laser operator is
>>>> encouraged to practice with before getting certified. We blast each other
>>>> with it and generally treat it as nonthreatening, in hopes of building
>>>> familiarity and reducing hesitation in the event of an actual fire. It's
>>>> cheap to refill, and since it's not the "official" extinguisher for the
>>>> area (that would be the nitrogen by your knee), I'm not worried about
>>>> running it empty playing with it. That's happened once already, and I think
>>>> the practice and familiarization was well worth the trivial refill cost. I
>>>> plan to swap it for a 10-pound next time it's due; the 20 is clunky to
>>>> handle.
>>>> I've had a LOT of folks say it was the first time they ever actually
>>>> pulled the pin on a fire extinguisher, much less discharged one. I think
>>>> this is important -- we practice CPR on dummies, we practice fire drills by
>>>> walking outside, even the AED has practice pads. Why isn't it more common
>>>> to rehearse with actual extinguishers? They're cheap and fun!
>>>> There's another 5-lb clean-agent (halon or nitrogen, I forget) in the
>>>> electronics lab, and the rest of the space has big dry-chemical
>>>> extinguishers everywhere. Most are mounted right near the supply-stations
>>>> (paper towels, tape, pens, markers) in each zone, to capitalize on the
>>>> habituation of turning toward those during other instant needs, such as
>>>> spills.
>>>> -Nate B-
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