To old ears at Miller Toys and Models laser cutting still has the ring of science fiction, an echo of ray guns and such. This might seem a little quaint to young people who have seen laser cutting machines at school and who have grown up with lasers of many types at supermarket scanners, compact disk players, data transmission, printers, hair removal and so on. There is hardly any part of manufacturing that lasers haven’t penetrated and laser cutters are now essential in many industries.
Laser cutting dates from 1965 and it developed steadily in universities, the aero-space and a few other industries, by the beginning of the 21st Century the technology was widespread. As the machines became smaller and more affordable small makers such as Basically Wooden adopted them and began producing items that could not be manufactured in any other way. Design schools such as UWE Bower Ashton in Bristol adopted them and developed their courses around this and other technologies, such as 3D printing.
The laser cutters we use are flat bed machines which move a single cutting head along two axis and allow a powerful beam to cut out the design. All such machines are computer controlled and work from a digital drawing. These machines can usually handle a wide range of flat material including some wood, some plastics, leather, card and some metals.
The first of our models was the helicopter, designed for small batch laser-cut production using 3mm beech plywood for a more robust toy. Thin plywood kits of dinosaurs etc. have been around for a while but these are usually 2mm or less and are stamped out rather than laser-cut, in large-scale production, usually in China, quite nice but the low price reflects the quality of material used.
Laser cutting means fine tolerances, smooth edges, no splinters and engraved marking and patterns. Complex shapes can be achieved in materials such as plywood which would be impracticable or impossible in any other way. And waste can be kept to an absolute minimum.
You can see my Tugboat kit in more detail and order here: