Laser cutter Z Axis controller replacement

Better control of the Z axis for my laser cutter, while keeping the existing control system for X and Y

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The Z axis control on my laser cutter is a little bit awkward. You have to be in the right place in the menu system to activate it and pressing 'esc' does not exit the Z mode. You also can't adjust the height while the program is paused so if you make a mistake you have to stop the program, adjust the height and then start the cut all over again double cutting the start of the file.

I decided to connect my own controller directly to the Z axis driver which gives me much more flexibility of what it can do an when. There are 2 buttons for each direction allowing fast and slow adjustments, pressing both together will cause the Z to run to the end stop so the axis can be sent to the top or bottom of the travel quickly.

A video of the controller in action can be found here

The Z axis control on the Lasercut system has some features I don't really like.

  • It's slow when you're trying to go large distances.
  • You have to be right at the top menu before you can enter Z mode, but the top menu and the one below it are both identical so you end up pressing escape before hand just to make sure.
  • Once in Z mode pressing escape does not get you out of Z mode, only pressing Z again does.
  • Holding the Up/Down button for 3 seconds switches to a faster speed but this typically occurs once you reach the exact spot you wanted to be in and the Z zooms out of the desired position.
  • You can't adjust the Z axis while the program is paused, meaning you have to stop, adjust and restart whereby you double cut a series of lines.
  • If you don't datum the Z axis, which it doesn't do automatically, the Z doesn't even run continuously. Check the end of the video to see what I mean.

So with all of these little niggles I thought it was time to replace the controller with my own controller. I picked the Arduino Pro mini as the controller for the job because you get the full use of the Arduino libraries and you can pick them up for <£2 a time meaning you can plug them in and forget about them. I wanted a few features from my new control system.

  • Fast and Slow adjustment in either direction from separate buttons
  • End stop detection, so I don't case any damage to the Z axis.
  • Zero Datum (run to end stop) in both top and bottom directions

  • 1 × Arduino Pro Mini

  • 1
    Step 1

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