Online Exclusive Product Review: Epilog 40Watt Zing 24 Laser Cutter
By: Gerry Yarrish
Our RC hobby is a tool and workbench kind of activity. Once beyond the basics modelers begin to invest more time and effort with their models. Steadily a lifelong collection of tools develops. From specialty mini clamps, razor planes and X-Acto knives, to more serious power tools such as belt sanders, drill presses and metal lathes, the serious RC modeler constantly adds to his workshop and develops into skilled craftsman. It’s also common place for RC modelers to use CAD (computer Aided Design) programs to develop model airplane plans and have their parts produced with laser cutters. The hobby industry is rich with companies that offer laser-cutting services. Some cut to order while others produce complete or partial (flat) kits containing all the cut balsa and plywood parts with the customer supplying his own hardware and stick stock. Comparable with other high-end industrial-grade power-tools or shop equipment and priced about the same level as a complete turbine-engine-powered RC jet aircraft, Epilog Zing Series Laser cutters are within the reach of serious RC model builders.
Enter the Zing 24!
In business since 1988, “Epilog Laser” was the first manufacturer of small-format laser cutting and engraving systems. The company offers a variety of laser cutters for all levels of production with several different power levels. The company’s entry level line is the Epilog Zing Series featuring the Zing 16 (12×16 inch,) and the subject of this review, the 12×24-inch Zing 24. The Zing 16 is available with laser power from 30 to 40 watts while the Zing 24 comes with up to 60 watts. Our Zing 24 test unit is equipped with a 40watt laser.
So what is a laser cutter and how does it work?
The best way to describe how laser cutters function is to compare them to a desktop printer. You draw and design the part or parts you want with your own Windows–based PC drawing software. Epilog has designed the Zing 24 with open architecture software so it works with whatever program you already have. This includes CorelDRAW, Illustrator, PhotoShop, AutoCAD, or any other CAD program you might have. Then instead of sending the file to a printer or plotter to draw out the part, you hit the same “print” key and the file goes to the laser cutter. Load your material to be cut into the machine and hit the green “GO” key. It really is that simple. To produce a job file, all you have to do is set up your page within your graphic software, then import your drawing, make adjustments to the parts placement within the page, and print the job to the laser. At the Laser’s control panel there is a Job readout screen and when the job name appears, hit the “GO” button to start the project.
(Above) the Job Keypad is located on the upper right hand corner of the cabinet.
The actual laser is a CO2 gas laser, and uses a “Wave Guard” tube to produce a very fine (0.005 – 0.007-inch) beam of invisible, high intensity light. The laser tube itself is fixed within the frame of the laser cutter and the beam is directed to the work surface by two extremely high quality optical mirrors attached to an “X-Y” carriage driven by extremely fast stepping motors. One mirror is attached to the side of the carriage frame and always aligned 90 degrees to the laser. The frame moves (looking down on the work surface,) horizontally (Y-axis) relative to the drawing shown on your computer screen. The second mirror and a industrial grade lens, travels back and forth (left and right relative to your drawing,) on the traverse (X-axis) beam which rides on rails attached to the frame. Together this X-Y motion allows any size and shape object to be cut that will fit within the 12×24-inch dimensions of the work table surface.
The table itself also can be moved up and down (the Z-axis,) to properly focus the laser beam. This is required because of the various thicknesses of materials being cut. The max vertical travel of the table is seven inches, so very large objects can be loaded into the laser cutter. There is a front loading door in the laser’s cabinet for easy replacement of large items.
Check out the Laser Beam Focusing Video here:
The table itself is made from thick aluminum and rides up and down with four corner jackscrews. When doing vector cutting, you install the vector grid which raises your material up off the table to dramatically reduce backside burning. This grid is actually a box with the thin aluminum grid on the top. There are three vacuum holes that align with the ventilation holes in the back of the case. In use, the grid allows lose waste parts and debris to fall away from the material being cut. Using common sheets paper to seal off the open grids around your work piece help the vacuum hold thin parts flat onto the grid.
(Above) Here the Verctor Cutting Grid is in place on top of the Work Table Surface.
It is very important to always use the ventilation system and the air Assist feature to keep the laser’s optics clean and to remove debris produced by the laser beam cutting the material away. Of course, as you are actually cutting material with a high power laser beam, there’s always a chance of a fire, and you should always keep the work surface clean and never operate the laser cutter while it is unattended.
The popup window that allows you to setup your laser and adjust the laser cutter for your job is called the Dashboard and it is here, that everything is made extremely user-friendly and fun. It is your interface where you control everything from speed and power settings, to job page size and the type of laser job be it engraving or cutting. For the RC modeler, most of your work will be done in vector format (line cutting). But you can also import an image to engrave onto a plaque or award and produce it by selecting the Raster format.
The “Dashboard” is part of the Driver program you install in the PC so it will recognize the Laser Cutter machine. Think of it as installing a new Printer. Just slide the CD into your computer and follow the prompts from the installation Wizard. Again, if you have the skills to run and use a graphic drawing program and install a new printer, you have all the knowhow necessary to run the Zing 24 or any other Epilog Laser cutting/engraving machine. Should you run into any difficulties setting up either the laser cutter or installing the driver program that comes with the unit, Epilog Laser’s customer and Tech support services are very helpful.
Ok here’s where the rubber meets the road. For the Zing 24 test unit we are reviewing, I used my Dell laptop PC running Windows 7. The Zing 24 is equipped with USB and Ethernet connections for printing as well as a serial connection for tech support. You can use Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Windows 7 with either the USB port or Ethernet ports. The USB connection is dependant on the settings within your computer, especially when using a laptop. The USB connection can go to sleep when your laptop goes into its screensaver mode, and depending on your settings may require a reboot before printing another job. However, these setting are easy to adjust and Epilog’s tech support can help you with the proper USB parameters. For my laptop I conneced to the laser cutter with the ethernet cross-over cable and assigned a new IP/address and Sub-net mask to allow the computer and laser cutter to communicate.
(Above) Connection Ports
The basic setup of getting the Zing 24 to communicate with your PC is the important link you must first establish before anything can be done. Basically you set up the Zing 24 as if it were a new printer. With my initial attempt to set up everything I found that Epilog’s Tech Support people very knowledgeable and extremely responsive. Of course, the Epilog Owner’s manual is also very helpful and it provides step-by-step instructions for both USB and Ethernet connections making the laser-to-computer setup very easy. You do have to know how to use and adjust your own CAD program but from the Laser cutter to your PC connection you’ll up and running in minutes.
Speaking to the Zing 24
In the setup process, use the computer’s control panel and these local network adaptor settings as follows:
- Use Internet Protocol Version 4 (TPC/IPv4)
- IP/address: 192.168.3.3
- Sub-net mask 255.255.255.0
Once this is done, your connection will work and the laser cutter is ready to receive jobs sent to it.
Speed & Power
The Speed settings determine the laser’s travel carriage speed in the Vector cutting mode. This is adjustable in 1% increments from 1 to 100%. The slower the travel speed is (laser dwell,) the deeper the cut. Most cutting applications require relatively slow speed settings, and the speed is heavily dependent on the hardness and the thickness of the material being cut. Slower speed settings will also produce better edge quality.
The Power setting determines the amount of laser energy used to cut the piece out and it is also adjustable from 1 to 100%. The higher the power setting is the deeper the cut. The amount of power needed to cut completely through a given material is also dependent on the properties of the material being cut. There is a Speed & Power recommendations section in the Zing 24 instruction manual but this is really only a basic guide. To properly set up any laser cutter you have to run test cuts to determine the best setting for the material you want to cut. An example of this would be the softness and hardness of the balsa select. If you set up the laser to cut relatively soft (contest grade) balsa, you may have to tweak the power (increase) or speed (decrease) for the parts to be cut cleanly through the first time. I ran a whole bunch of test batches for common RC hobby related material and came up with the following “Speed & Power” Settings Chart.
Power and Speed Settings Chart
Test cuts made to identify the fastest speed with the higest power setting to produce a clean cut with a minium of charring
around the edges—
Material Travel Speed/Power setting
1/32” Balsa 100/10
1/16” Balsa 100/16
3/32” Balsa 100/18
1/8” Balsa 100/20
3/16” Balsa 100/25
1/4” Balsa 100/30
(Above) Laser cut balsa parts.
See a video of the Epilol Zing 24 Laser cutting balsa here: http://blogs-modelairplanenews.com/profile_blogs/Gerry_Yarrish/&action=view&id=5654
1/8” Lite-ply 30/30
1/4” Lite-ply 50/60
1/32” plywood 30/100 *
1/16” plywood 20/60 *
* (slight surface charring)
Wood supplied by Revell (towerhobby.com)
(Above) Lite ply and Birch plywood parts.
To see a video of the Epilog Zing 24 cutting Lite Ply go here: http://blogs-modelairplanenews.com/profile_blogs/Gerry_Yarrish/&action=view&id=5656
Plastic (standard window replacement material from Home Depot)
.093 Acrylic 20/80
.125 Acrylic 20/100
.200 Acrylic 10/100
(Supplied by Tower Hobbies, Towerhobbies.com)
G-10 Fiberglass (supplied by FTE, Franktiano.com)
.010 70 60
.015 60 60
.020 50 60
.030 50 70
(Above) G-10 Fiberglass parts cut with the Zing 24.
Blue Fan-Fold ¼” 80/10
White Cel-Foam** 100/15
** Midwest Products (midwestproducts.com)
Wood and Acrylic scribing/engraving 100/4 or 100/5
Above) This acrylic trophy was cut from common plastic ”Storm door” replacement window material available from Home Depot.
But Wait! There’s More!
Up until now, I’ve discussed Vector Laser Line Cutting, for producing parts needed to build an RC model airplane or Boat. The Zing 24 also has the capability to do extremely fine and detailed (photo quality) engraving on all sorts of materials besides balsa and plywood. The uses for this function are endless, from engraving your name in your radio case, or producing wood and acrylic trophies and plaques, to engraving glass and certain metals, the Zing 24 is amazingly easy to setup and use.
With the Dashboard interface, you can adjust the laser cutter to do cutting or engraving or both. When set to Vector, the laser cutter knows it should follow a line from one mathematical point to another within a CAD drawing program. To engrave an image, the “Raster” setting tells it to follow the image in a back and forth sweeping motion much like a dot-matrix printer. Every where there is a black or dark point in the line of resolution the laser fires, where there is white or no point, the laser shuts off.
(Above) Raster engraving on Oak plywood.
Again, the Dashboard allows you to adjust the power and speed of the engraving process as well as the resolution (fineness of the cut.)
The first “General” dashboard Screen allows the adjustment of the Resolution 100 to 1000DPI (dots per inch) as well as the options for job type (Raster, Vector, Combination), The piece dimensions (page size) both vertically and horizontally, Engrave direction, Image dithering, vector sorting, the frequency settings, and the speed and power settings of the laser for either vector or raster modes. The Center-Engrave option is here also and this is very useful for precisely placement (with the use of the Red Dot Pointer,) of your engraving image anywhere within the job window/page.
The second or “Advanced” settings page allows adjustment for Raster Type (Basic 3D or Stamp), language selection, and Firmware updating. You can also load and save various job configurations and have them show up in list form so you don’t have to constantly manually set the laser setting when you change from one job material to another; i.e. switching from one thickness of balsa or type of plywood to another etc.
The third driver page is for “Color Mapping” which is the process of assigning various speeds and power settings to various colors you can use in your job drawings. It uses an RGB (Red, Green Blue) color management so you can produce various custom colors should you want to. The default colors available to you are: red, green, blue, yellow, purple and cyan. All of these colors are the same default colors for my CAD program so I did not create any custom colors and add them the mapping menu.
To use Color Mapping, first you click the Color Mapping option box. Then you highlight the color you want to adjust, and use the slider controls for Speed, Power, Frequency and Focus. You can also assign the Raster or Vector (or Both) function to the color. When you are done, you hit the transfer arrow to load the settings to the color you’ve selected. For all of my jobs, I used green for vector cut, cyan for vector engrave, and blue for raster engrave using the power and speed settings in my chart.
Once all these settings are input you are ready to go. You place your image/job anywhere within the page in your graphics program and the laser cuts and/or engraves in exactly that place within the dimensions of the cutting table surface. And that’s when your fun part begins.
The Zing 24 laser cutter from Epilog is perhaps the most amazing tool you’ll ever use. It is high quality, industrial grade, super easy to setup and extremely user-friendly. Whether you are looking for a great addition to your workshop or you’re on the verge of starting your own kit-cutting company, this quality, industrial-grade, reasonably-priced laser cutter is now well within you grasp. If I were to start a new kit cutting business, I think it would be a smart move to build it around an Epilog Laser!
(Above) Balsa tail surfaces and aileron tips cut from 1/8 inch sheet stock.
Wing trailing edge material cut from 1/16-inch balsa. Also engraved with rib location lines.
- Industrial Grade
- Compatible any Windows-based Graphic Drawing Program
- Easy to setup and use
- Intuitive “Dashboard” user interface
- Red-Dot Pointer make engraving position easy
selage sides cut from 3/32-inch sheet balsa. Front portion has interlocking seam because the part was longer than 24 inches.
Manufacturer/Distributor: Epilog Laser (www.epiloglaser.com)
Model: Zing 24
Laser: Digitally controlled, air-cooled CO2 laser tubes
Max job material thickness: 7.5 in.
Wattage 30, 40, 50, or 60 watts available
Work Area: 24″ x 12″
Memory Buffer: Unlimited file storage, up to 64 MB
Operating Modes: Optimized raster, vector or combined modes
Cabinet Dimension: 38″ x 27.25″ x 15″
Weight: 140 lbs.
Electrical requirements: Auto-switching power supply for 110 to 240 volts, 50 or 60 Hz, single phase,15amp AC
Ventilation System: Requires external exhaust. (Comes equipped with one 4-inch in diameter output port.)
Price: The smaller 30Watt Zing 16 starts at $8000. The 40Watt Zing 24 (reviewed here) starts at $11,995. Other prices vary with laser wattage output.)
(Above) Even photo realistic engraving is a piece of cake!
Air Assist, Motorized Table, 2-inch focus lens, Movable Home Position, Laser Dashboard, Radiance Optics, Drop-down front loading door, on-board job memory.
Come back often. I will be reposting to this review with more photos and projects cut with the Zing 24 Laser Cutter From Epilog.
(Above) These heavy duty extended servo arms are cut from 0.030-inch G10 Fiberglass sheet material
from FTE. (Franktiano.com)
(Above) to test engraving I also cut this instrument panel from G-10.
(Above) Things like scale panels like these for a Fokker D-VII are an easy way to improve the looks of any sport model.
(Above) Things like club and organization “Special Recognition” Plaques and awards are easy to do.