Trotec Speedy II

Copyright © 2004 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in August 2004, Volume 30, No. 2 of The Engravers Journal.
By Mike Fruciano
 

     Laser system technology continues to expand, and Trotec’s Speedy II laser system is the embodiment of many of the latest hardware and software designs available today. Designed and manufactured in Wels, Austria by Trotec, the Speedy II system completely integrates production software into the laser system operation for a complete production package.
    Not long ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Trotec factory in Wels, Austria and experienced first hand the quality and design that goes into each Trotec product. Their very modern facilities are packed with the latest CAD design technology and qualified engineering and development staff. Each person focused on the performance and reliability of the company’s products.
    All Trotec products have a very European feel that blends the ease of operation with simple design for a laser system concept like no other. While a laser engraving system doesn’t have much in common with a high end European automobile, I get the feeling that some of the same engineering and attention to detail went into the Trotec laser’s design and manufacture.
    Trotec’s Speedy II comes with a choice of laser wattage beginning with the 25-watt at $19,500 U.S. The most popular product sold in the U.S. is the 60-watt laser—the unit used in this review. The accompanying chart provides some of the system’s specifications and details.
The Company
    A leader in the rubber stamp industry worldwide, Trodat developed laser engraving systems under the Trotec name as early as 1994. Although little known in North America, Trotec has become a value-based leader by developing and manufacturing laser systems. The recent splash into the North American market with proven laser system design and technology has proven to be very successful. Based in Ypsilanti, MI, Trotec USA stocks parts and accessories as well as providing service and technical support to the full range of laser systems they manufacture. An extensive regional sales and support team of distributors provides local installation for Trotec owners.
    The Trotec commitment to customer support has been impressive and this company continues to introduce new and innovative products for laser processing such as their Galvanometer-based systems, tabletop systems and even a very large format, high-power system named the Professional. Trotec customers cover a wide range and include Mercedes Benz, BMW, high volume rubber stamp manufacturers and trophy and engraving shops worldwide.



Speedy II System Overview
    Imagine if design engineers stepped back to look at the complete sequence which encompasses the design and layout progression along with engraving and cutting. This is exactly what Trotec has done to create not just a well designed and built laser system, but an integrated laser production system.
    The integrated system concept includes using standard layout software like CorelDRAW to create a design for engraving and cutting. The completed job is then sent to and positioned in the Trotec Advanced Driver Logic software which stores it as a production job. The production job is then transferred to the laser system along with power, speed, resolution and quantity needed for the laser to complete the job. Here is where things get interesting. The AD-Logic software is a bidirectional interface.     This means the laser and host computers are constantly communicating, back and forth, during the whole process. In addition to actually being able to monitor the exact engraving or cutting operation in real time, the bidirectional interface allows for precise positioning of graphics for engraving using the laser pointer which provides X, Y coordinates instantly to the manager.
    This is a huge advancement. For the first time we can now have a "conversation" with our laser about where and how we want the job to run rather than just sending the job to the laser as if it were a printer. This technology provides a whole host of advantages as I will detail a little later.
    But the Speedy II is more than a software leap forward. Onboard the laser system is the latest in mechanical and laser design. A blindingly fast motion system combined with a high-speed laser tube make for an integrated design that is not only fast but produces sharp, crisp engraving.
    Durability and rigidity have long been Trotec features and the Speedy II is built to last. Rigid, welded steel construction of the cabinet and protected motion system components are a few of the points that make this laser system a long-term investment. One acid test of the machine’s rigidity showed up as I ran the machine at or near its top speed and the engraved detail was virtually perfect.
System Start Up
    The start of our test began when the crated laser was delivered to our door. This was a good-sized crate that required a fork lift. Opening the crate revealed the Speedy II nicely packaged and in one piece. Included in the shipping crate was the laser system with its stand disassembled, rotary attachment, cutting table, computer cables, software/manuals CD and a tool kit. When was the last time you ever saw a proper tool kit arrive with a piece of equipment? This attention to detail was going to be a common occurrence as I continued the testing of the Speedy II system.
    With the help of the tool kit and some clear instruction diagrams, I easily assembled the stand. The laser was hoisted on top of the stand and bolted together to create a very rigid-feeling system.
    The next step was hooking up the cables that came in the crate. This consisted of simply attaching a serial cable from my computer to the laser. Next, I installed the software, which involved placing the software CD in my computer’s CD drive and utilizing the install wizard to automatically guide the installation. During this operation ports were configured automatically and the bidirectional communication to the laser was confirmed.


 

Figure 1: The rear and side panels (removed) provide easy access and servicing of the Speedy II.

    Before going too much further, I wanted to browse the manual to get acquainted with some of the features. Two manuals are included on the software CD. One is for the laser system and the other covers the software. These were not wimpy little manuals. The software manual is 52 pages and the system manual is 82 pages. More impressive was the fact that the information in the manual was in clear English with photos and diagrams. Even basic wiring diagrams with troubleshooting tips were included for that inevitable time when something may not work as designed by the Trotec engineers. Kudos to Trotec for taking the time to produce such useful manuals. The manuals are in PDF format and therefore can be easily printed to create a hard copy manual.
A Look at the Hardware
    The first thing you notice about the Speedy II is that the laser system actually looks like a modern office product. The sculpted top door opens easily and offers full access to the large engraving area. Mechanical components are noticeably absent in the engraving area. Motors, belts and gears are out of harm’s way as designed by Trotec’s Austrian engineers. Lightweight alloy components are designed for durability and low-weight for high speed engraving.
    The control panel (Fig. 2) is on the right side and features large, easy-to-read buttons. One difference between this and other systems is that there is no display panel for the job buffer. This is a great user convenience because all of the print queuing and job control issues are handled by the Manager Software on the host PC so the display on the panel is not needed. This makes for a very simple and uncluttered control panel that’s easy to operate by large-fingered people like me.
    All the necessary controls are available on the panel for start, pause, repeat, focus, exhaust fan, lights in the engraving table, system standby and manual position of the engraving head for using of the red positioning pointer. Display LED’s are available for indication that the laser tube is firing, a job is available and ready to run and for the safety switches on the top and front door.
    The two halogen lamps inside the engraving compartment are a nifty feature that are very much appreciated. It’s amazing how much easier exact positioning becomes when you can see what’s going on inside the laser cabinet! Cleaning the laser also becomes easier and all around eye strain is reduced as well. At first this seemed like a wiz bang feature but having these lights made a big difference!
    In addition to the top door, the front door folds down and offers easy loading of the engraving table. An open front door also makes for easy installation of the accessories such as the cutting table. With the front door open, the lack of drive components makes the area look simple and clean. The gears, motors and drive shafts are safely hidden on the sides of the system. These drive components are pretty beefy to work this substantial engraving table up and down so fast and so smoothly.
    Designed for durability and flatness, the engraving table has a sandwich design with a plastic center core and stainless steel top and bottom covering. The entire unit is glued together using a granite block for optimum flatness. The table is driven by three lead screws and is capable of handling up to the rated 45 pounds of weight.
    Opening the side panels requires a tool from the tool kit (I love tools!) and the steel panels are easily removed. Access to this area is not normally required so the fact that a tool is required may actually keep staff from fiddling around with the wires and components in this area. With the side panels off, the precision-watch-like design of the mechanical and electronic components is revealed. Everything is wide open and easy to see, making servicing a breeze. The size of many of the motors seemed a bit of overkill but they provide a lot of "oomph" and will definitely be around a long time. Wiring is neatly and professionally labeled and harnessed, adding to the clean and uncluttered design of the system. I am told that about 50% of the components used in the Speedy II are made in the U.S.A. including the steel reinforced drive belts. Why steel reinforced? Virtually no belt stretching means virtually no adjustment over the life of the system.
    The attention to detail in the design and manufacture of the Speedy II is very evident. The simple and durable engineering creates an engraving platform built for production. The combination of electronics, mechanics and laser source make for a very capable system that can be called industrial strength in all ways.
Getting to Know the Software
    If you agree "change is good," then the Trotec software is great. No doubt it’s different from other machines and seems unusual at first glance. In many ways, how we control the laser has not changed in ten or more years—that is not until now. Over time the perceived complexity of the Advanced Driver Logic Software goes away and the usefulness of its many features becomes evident.
    The core of the Trotec software is the AD-Logic Job Control which controls the laser beam position and the unit’s laser operating controls. The other portion of the software is the AD-Logic Driver which applies the power, speed and resolution values to each job.


Figure 2: The control panel features large, easy-to-read buttons. Figure 3: The Speedy II has a top speed of 140 inches (355 cm) per second.

    This split control concept allows many jobs to be created in one operation and position and cutting details to be sent to the laser in another operation. This is essentially a batch process concept that has been proven in industrial manufacturing for many years. Need a job run in a hurry and you want to bypass the batch process controls? No problem! The print driver software has a Quick Print mode that shoots the job directly to the laser in a more common method of laser engraving and cutting. However, it’s great to be able to choose how and when to enter, download and run a variety of jobs—either one at a time using the Quick Print mode or using the systems sophisticated batching capabilities.
    Let’s run through the process and start by creating an engraving and cutting layout in CorelDRAW or similar program. Upon completion of the layout we print the job using the AD-Logic Printer Driver. The driver assigns a job number and the job is entered into the Job Queue. The Job Queue is a staging area for jobs ready to be positioned and sent to the laser.
Using the Job Control, one or several jobs can be combined and accurately sequenced before sending them to the laser. Now that we have the basic workflow concept, let’s go into the many capabilities of each of these software modules.
Print Driver
    If you like controls and fine tuning abilities, this driver software is for you. Buttons and settings are easily readable making correct settings one less thing to worry about. The Material Templates area is where speeds, power, material thickness, pulse rate, number of passes and air assist settings can be preset for each material. The Size Templates area of the driver is where size templates for commonly used formats can be stored.
    With these two basic items preprogrammed, you can simply pick the material and "page size" from the drop down menus in the main driver screen. The main drive screen also has settings for the rotary attachment, rubber stamp mode and halftoning options for photos and resolutions. Setting up a complex cutting and engraving job has never been easier.
Job Control
    The Job Control software provides many functions including operating all of the laser’s major functions, like starting a job or turning on the exhaust fan. The main function of Job Control is to designate export position information to the printing queue. Positioning the job can be done by clicking and dragging it around the page or by entering the X and Y position values into the menu bar. The third way to position the job is to use the Red Dot Pointer.
    The bidirectional interface of the Job Control which, as mentioned earlier, allows ongoing two-way communication between the computer and the laser, makes this task easy and accurate. With your part in the laser, use the arrow keys on the control panel to move the red dot to the position where the engraving should begin. As the head in the laser system is moving, so is a cross on the layout page in the Job Control software. When the exact position is found, a "marker" can be added to the layout page for alignment of the job. In this way Trotec engineers have created a simple method to transfer the position of the Red Dot Pointer to the engraving layout.
    One of the best features of the Job Control software is the ability to save a job including all of the settings. Many times we have to rerun a job and duplicate the setup and settings just like the first job. The Job Control software can archive the complete set of job parameters, allowing you to recall and rerun the job anytime in the future, using the exact running parameters.
    Do you think I covered all the features of the Job Control Software and Print Driver Software? No, nor could I in this article. Not that the software is complicated. Trotec engineers designed the software for your future needs. Many features you may not need for some time. But when you need to sequence vectors manually or have different focus points on a job, these software products can handle it.


 

 

 

Figure 4: This laser even has nifty touches like the two lamps illuminating the engraving area.

Real Life Production
    Enough of the technical details, it’s time to focus on making the system perform for us. Let’s look at engraving some real life jobs using the Speedy II laser system. Our first job is to engrave three plaques. We started by designing three different plaques in DRAW. Each one had similar clip art with different names on them. Two of the jobs required a Walnut plaque, the other Red Alder.
    Each singular plaque layout was printed to the Job Control by using the Print Driver. In the Print Driver we selected the "Walnut" setting for the two jobs and then selected the "Alder" setting for the third.
    The final step was to open the Job Manager software and select the three jobs from the Job Queue. Each job was positioned by highlighting the job, then typing in the X and Y position in the Job Position Bar. Each plaque was placed in the laser against the top ruler and spaced an inch apart. We’re ready to start the engraving job by selecting the start button in the Job Manager. The auto-focus system works quickly and quietly to focus the laser beam and then the exhaust turns on automatically. The engraving leaps into max speed and the fun begins. The unique characteristic of this job is that there are three items to be engraved in one machine set-up using two entirely different laser power settings.
    Well, as it turned out after reviewing the engraved results, one of the plaques was made of wood that was denser and needed a second pass at a lower power setting. Without moving any of the plaques in the laser, I was able to handle this situation thanks to the Job Manager software. To do this, you need to select the plaque to receive the second pass and then manually override the power settings. When you do this, just the selected job is sent to the laser and the plaque is engraved at the new, lower settings. The result is a better matched product and the potential scrapping of a plaque is eliminated.
    Our next job is to engrave on a special hand tool from a customer. This job is the perfect place for using CerMark. The stainless steel tool is sprayed with CerMark and allowed to dry. The text that needs to be engraved is 6 points and is created in DRAW. The text is printed to the Job Queue using the Print Driver software. In the Print Driver software we selected the CerMark power settings from the drop down menu.
    Now the tricky part will be to get the text in the exact right spot on the tool. First the tool is placed in the laser and the focus is set manually due to the unique shape of the tool. Using the Red Dot Pointer, locate the left starting position of the text by using the arrow keys on the Control Panel of the laser. Using the Marker to Laser feature in the Job Control software the position of the Red Dot Pointer is marked on the page by a cross hair. The engraving text is pulled from the Job Queue menu and it snaps right up to the cross hair.
    The job is started by a button in the Job Control software and the exhaust comes on just moments before the engraving starts. In a flash the job is completely engraved and the tool is washed with water to remove the chemical coating. The result is solid black engraving that’s bonded to the stainless steel and the customer will surely be pleased.
Performance Results
    Using maximum power to engrave the very small CerMark letters can be tricky for some laser systems. The Speedy II gets 5 stars in this area with crisp, detailed text including the thin serifs. The peak power from the Synrad laser tube proved to be excellent for bonding the black coating to the stainless steel. Using the Red Dot Pointer was simple due to the bidirectional communication and was a very useful feature.
    Top honors also went to the Speedy II for the plaque engraving job. The setup went fast using the AD-Logic software and the engraving results were excellent. Again, the peak power from the Synrad Firestar laser tube achieved a deep and dark burn on the wood with clarity even at maximum speed.
    The combination of the pulse control of the software and the laser tube also contributed to clean cutting on all of the materials. I tested 3/8" thick acrylic and got a smooth look without the common sawtooth edges sometimes found in laser cutting.
    The overall excellent cutting and engraving, as well as the layout and print controls are proof that the Trotec Speedy II laser is a true high performance laser system. I was expecting to find a really good laser and was pleased to find quite a bit more in all departments.
Engineered for Performance
    No doubt the Speedy II is a little different tack than most laser systems, but if performance and durability are what you are looking for in a laser, then certainly this laser is a good find. I was impressed with the attention paid to so many little details of the Speedy II. The machine itself is rigid and built tough. The speed is fast and the engraving quality is excellent even at high speeds. The software works great and has so many features to cover the most basic to the most advanced engraving applications. This laser even has nifty touches like the lamps illuminating the engraving area. All in all, the Trotec Speedy II is a capable system designed for years of performance.

 

 

 

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