LASER TECH

 

Having done visuals for over 10 years, and having made holograms and a simple audio driven lasershow in high school, I've always wanted to add a laser to my equipment.  I was able to add several small red lasers in the mid 90's (pix on left), and in approx 1998 was able to acquire a small air-cooled argon laser.  We have since graduated to larger systems, making us more into a lasershow company than I ever thought possible.  Lasers are truly spectacular, and if you can afford to make the leap, I highly recommend adding a laser to your gig arsenal!  More into on lasershows can be found in our laser section of the toolshack.

    This was my original semi-pro main laser, which was once part of a Xerox laser copier, believe it or not! It is a 60X head, and puts out in the neighbourhood of 150mw of green-blue Argon light. It is a air-cooled ion laser, which draws about 10 amps from standard 110 VAC. I geared it up on an aluminum railing, which housed the laser and it's fan, the scanhead, and the power supply. It could be hung from the ceiling or sit on an elevated platform, and the beams directed just about anywhere, controlled by computer.  A laser like this can be purchased used on ebay for about $1,200 USD, then you need to add the other parts.

This is a shot of the scanhead amplifier. It interfaces to the computer controller, and drives the X/Y/B scanhead.  A scanhead and amp costs about $500 to $3,000 USD depending on scan angle, scan speed, and quality.

This is a shot of the scanhead. This particular one is rated for 18K, although I also have a set of Cambridge 6800's that are rated for 30K. What that means, is that each axis mirror can move back and forth via computer control, up to 30,000 times per second! - wow, that's fast, so fast they don't even look like they're really moving at all! The scanhead is comprised of two galvanometers, which are essentially high-precision stepper motors with mirrors attached, and setup in an X/Y configuration, so that when the laser is directed at them, they can scan rapid sequential coordinated generated by the computer, thus creating animations, titles, and psychedelic galactic warp tunnels grooving to the beat.

This is actually a crummy pix of my 6800 amplifier and power supply which I built into an old lunch box.  I am really freaked out, as I seemed to have misplaced this and my 6800 scanhead....gee there goes $2,200 USD!

We all know what a fog machine does. This is a hazer, which instead of a heavy fog, which can be too dense for laser shows, and doesn't really fill the room properly, creates a sub-micron "haze" which is similar to the room filling up with cigarette smoke, only easier to breathe. The tiny haze particles allow you to see the laser beam and accentuate the viewing experience to create a dazzling show!
This picture was taken with my old argon 60X laser, which is actually no longer functioning, due to a promoter telling me the socket I was plugged into was on it's own circuit and mine alone.  Actually it was on the same circuit as the dimmer packs for the mirror ball par-cans, so when they dimmed those, they reduced the overall power available to my laser, thus frying in the process.  A little example of why insurance is good to have as your visual/laser hobby transitions from just that into a business, be it supplementary or primary.  I have a ton more of wicked pictures, but since I am just gearing up with my new laser system, I will put these online in the near future. 

     In the summer of 2000, we purchased a whitlelight laser.  It's a twin tubed Coherent I-90 (Argon/Krypton) with PCAOM and
Pangolin software, total output 10 watts, over 32 TRILLION possible colours, real-time raster/vector video translation & more.  I managed to get some investment money, and took on a (mostly silent) partner for the laser business, so we had a fair bit of money to spend at the time.  Looking back, I think we got a little swept up in the notion of having the biggest and the best, and although I'm fairly technically inclined, I didn't fully realize all the complexities of owning a large frame laser.  If you choose to go this route, unless you absolutely need high power, full colour, might I suggest looking at a DPSS (Diode Pumped Solid State) air cooled laser.  It will only be green, but a lot more manageable. 

Anyway, here are some pictures of various components of our beast.     

    It took a month or so to figure out all the plumbing related details for our laser, as it requires about 8 gallons of cold water per minute to cool.  With the help of a friend, we gradually purchased and assembled various hoses, pipe fittings, filters, pressure regulators and such, eventually coming up with our finished waterworks.  

    This is our pressure tank, which provides ample cold water to cool down the laser in an emergency, should we loose our water supply.

 Our preliminary filtration system.  Will be mounted to a board at some point.

The next thing to tackle, was the power.  Our laser requires 208 VAC, 3 Phase, 100 amps, which doesn't give any second chances.  It took a while to locate the camlocks, to insure proper compatibility with larger generators, concert and theatrical sources, and to plan out the layout of our breaker box.  We eventually hired an electrician to put it all together for us.   

On the left, is a pix of the back of our two power supplies (one for each laser tube), in rackmount road cases.  The power cables are connected, but water is only going into one of the supplies in this photo.  On the right is a front shot of one of the power supplies with the top off, so you can see inside it.

The top unit is the PCAOM controller, and the bottom unit is the scanhead controller.  Unfortunately these can't be rackmounted in my main cases, a short cable length has to be maintained to the components on the laser beam table.

This is an early photo of the top of the laser, on the beam table.  The combined red (krypton) and blue/green (argon) beams come up through a hole in the upper right corner, hit a 90 degree mirror, pass through the PCAOM (colour control), hit a couple more mirrors, before entering the scanhead.  I am in the process of integrating fibre optics, to allow for remote scanners for beamshows, with the scanhead on the beamtable for rear projected graphics.

 On the horizon: Thinking back, I feel that even though I might not have been able to achieve full colour, DPSS lasers seem like the next generation of things.  Tiny & light, air cooled, and runs off standard 110/220 VAC power.  This shot is of a 70 mw 532nm DPSS laser (green), mounted haphazardly on a piece of wood, behind the innards of a black widow laser that does patterns to music.  Perfect for a small club.  In the future, I plan to expand our DPSS arsenal, adding red & blue units, to create full colour.  A little bit expensive right now, but almost within reach!

   

Just in case you're wondering how much this our main whitelight laser cost, (all in USD not including various taxes and customs fees)

Base laser
Waterworks
Electrical
PCAOM
2 Scanheads
Controller Board
Computer
Optics 
Misc

$ 20,000
1,000
3,000
3,000
 2,500
2,000
1,000
500
1,000









=  $ 34,000 USD = $ 50,000+ Canadian $$ - no small potatoes!



 There is a bit more info/pix on laser stuff at our commercial laser site: www.laserguy.com 

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