One of the quickest ways to destroy a CO2 laser tube is to let it overheat. My laser has a very simple system – just a plastic breakfast cereal container of water with a small aquarium pump. It works well enough, but is easy to forget.
My first modification was to power the pump from the laser so that it’s running when the laser is switched on at the mains. That gets around the “oops, I forgot” problem, but doesn’t cover a pipe coming loose or the temperature creeping up. I really wanted to actually check cold(ish) water was flowing through the glass laser tube.To check the flow, I started with a LM35DZ temperature sensor and a cheap water flow sensor from eBay. For neatness I carefully milled the flow sensor to embed the temperature sensor in it. This was then attached to the output of the laser. I intend to check that enough water is coming out and that it’s below a temperature threshold.
I etched a board with a MSP430G2533 microcontroller that counted the pulses from the flow sensor over a fixed timer period and used the onboard ADC to read the temperature. I set the threshold at 40C and 75% of the normal flow.My initial attempt used a MOSFET to pull the last signal down to GND if things were awry. Unfortunately this fired rather than disabled the laser! This was replaced with a 74LSxxx AND gate so I could force it to 5V and disable the active low signal. Some connectors to match the controller board meant I could drop it in with no rewiring. So far it has been working well. (I actually finished this months ago but didn’t document it.) It’s not actually been needed to save my tube yet, but it’s nice to know it’s there. I might later and another sensor on the input and also flag if the difference between the two is too high. I could also add a cheap LCD display but that seems a little over the top. As it’s a single sided board with some through hole pin headers, when it’s in place you only see the “boring” side of it with not tracks or components. Oh well – there’s no need for it to look pretty. Here it is in place. It’s a drop-in addition on the 6 pin cable to the controller board. It’s powered from the existing 5V line and simply forces the signal to fire the laser high (as it’s active low) when it senses trouble. From teh top you can see:
- The connector to the sensor
- A debugging / programming header
- A currently unused connector for a screen
- The connectors to patch into existing power and signals
If anyone wants a copy of the PCB layout or code, just ask.