I dabble in pretty much every bit of tech out there, but there are two bits of tech that really interest me and I’ve never yet got involved with. The first is 3D printing (I still haven’t gone there, but I feel the time is coming) and the second is laser engraving and cutting. I’m not sure what the fascination is with the latter for me (maybe it’s the ‘freaking laser!’ factor), I’m not particularly craft or artistic, but I’ve always just thought the ability to engrave artwork onto stuff is fascinating.
With this in mind, when I was asked if I wanted to review the Flux beamo, a new Kickstarter project looking to democratise laser engraving and cutting, I just couldn’t say no!
It’s probably worth starting with a few words on Flux themselves. Of course, when backing a Kickstarter project, the first concern is often ‘am I going to see the product I’m backing’? Thankfully, Flux has a solid pedigree in this regard so for once this is a Kickstarter you can enter with confidence. Taiwan based Flux was founded in 2014 with the goal of making 3D printing accessible to all. $1.6m of Kickstarter funding later saw the release of the critically acclaimed Flux Delta, a modular 3D printer that combined laser engraving and drawing.
So what is the beamo?
The beamo laser cutter and engraver packs a powerful 30W CO2 laser into an impressively small footprint that’s barely bigger than 4 sheets of A4 paper. It weighs in at 22Kg and it’ll fit in nicely with the most compact of homes or offices, not least because of its smart industrial design. Utilising the classic Flux approach, the design blends cutting-edge technology (pun intended) with impressive approachability, quality and functionality. While it might look like a well thought out consumer product, Beamo actually includes features only normally found in industrial-grade laser cutters including closed-loop, maintenance free water-cooling, a 1,000 DPI laser that is smaller than the width of a human hair with 0.05mm layer depth, an optional rotary add-on for engraving curved objects and even an optional diode laser and CO2 laser for improved cutting speed and efficiency.
But what’s it like?
By far the best way for me to review the beamo is to talk about my experience as a complete engraving / cutting / 3D printing novice. Honestly, it couldn’t have been any more straightforward.
The machine comes well packed in a huge box with everything you need to get started included. Take the beamo out of the box, plug in the Wi-Fi adaptor if required, affix the extraction hose to the back with a jubilee clip (it’s just like a tumble dryer hose), plug it into the mains and turn it on. It really is as simple as that to set up.
At this point the huge display on the right of the device (which looks to be Raspberry Pi powered by the way!) springs into life and you’ll quickly arrive at a straightforward touchscreen UI for controlling the machine. From here you can configure Wi-Fi details or view the Ethernet connection details, which will provide you with an IP address you’ll use to connect from your PC.
On your PC or Mac you’ll need to download the Beam Studio application which connects to the beamo using the IP address displayed on your machine. A standard sample print is included (together with a small piece of wood in the box, a lovely touch!) to let you quickly and easily see the machine in action. It’s rather impressive!
The sample project loads up and has a beamo logo set to engrave and a circle around it set to cut. When kicking it off for the first time and seeing the engraving in action, it’s incredibly cool and exciting, but when it cuts – wow, that’s when it really gets taken to the next level. This thing is AWESOME!
After trying the demo project, setting up your own is incredibly easy. The Beam Studio app can import all types of files (including bitmaps, not just vectors), it can convert to monochrome or grayscale and it includes a wide range of presets for different types of materials. After starting the job, the display on the machine itself helps you keep track of progress and there’s a handy ‘abort’ option on the touchscreen display should things go awry. The beamo can engrave and cut cardboard, wood, bamboo, leather and acrylic and engrave fabric, rubber, cement (!), glass, stone, anode metal or stainless steel (with the diode laser). I’ve been a bit of a maniac and shoved all sorts of things in the machine from phone cases to Moleskine diaries to wallets and its handled everything with aplomb. It’s so easy to use and fun, you won’t be able to help yourself.
By far my favourite beamo feature is its built in camera. This allows you to take a picture of the bed with your material in place to allow you to perfectly align your image and ensure that things get engraved or cut in the correctly place. The only other action that needs to be completed before kicking off the job is focusing the laser, which is as simple as raising / lowering the laser unit against an acrylic guide (an autofocus mod is available for an additional cost).
The reviewers guide for beamo suggested keeping a fire extinguisher nearby was a good idea, which makes sense, but on the whole beamo is designed to be as safe as possible. All fumes are vented out the back by a powerful fan and the machine pauses immediately if the lid is opened.
Should I buy a beamo?
The $849 cost of entry for beamo is no small chunk of change, but my word, what a machine you get for your money. You’ll quickly find yourself inundated with requests from friends to engrave things and you’ll find yourself looking at everything in a new way with a ‘does it engrave’ thought in your mind.
Flux have done an astonishingly good job of making laser tooling available to everyone and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend adding the beamo to your arsenal.
Head on across to Kickstarter to back the campaign!
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