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Boxford BGL460. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly; an honest review.

At Kent Lasers we take safety very seriously. It is unacceptable to put users at unnecessary risk when using a tool ,such as a laser cutter which have become commonplace in schools colleges and the workplace.

 

Below we discuss the various issues and shortcomings we have found whilst servicing this style of Chinese import laser cutting system. From appalling build quality, absence of safety features, and one of the strangest machines we have seen; the results may shock you! To begin we have listed the most relevant sections of the machinery directive (a piece of legislation designed to keep users safe) as below:

The Machinery Directive; An overview:

The Machinery Directive (2006/42/EC) is a piece of legislation covering industrial devices and products which are sold in the UK and the European Union. You may be forgiven for thinking this document is just another piece of "red tape" legislation, however it states some very important safety rules for industrial equipment, specifically to safeguard consumers from dangerous products and equipment. In principle this directive states:

  • Equipment must be designed as such that operation and servicing does not put users at risk.

  • Guards and covers must prevent access to hazardous areas, and give a stop command if removed, preventing dangerous machine functions, whilst users are in a "danger zone".

  • Manufacturers must design equipment to be inherently safe, including reasonable foresight for user error and abuse.

  • Equipment fitted with laser devices must be correctly classified. No exposure to direct or reflected radiation should be possible.

  • Equipment powered by electricity should not pose any electrical hazard.

  • A stop device should be fitted, which is within reach of the user, and stops all dangerous functions.

Equipment should therefore be designed in such a way as to incorporate all of the features listed above. This is crucial with the optical hazards present with laser devices, as the eyes and skin are very sensitive to exposure from CO2 laser light even at low intensity for very short durations.

Boxford BGL460 Main Safety Concerns.

"That hole should have a cover on it - must be an isolated incident"

This machine seemed to have a very deliberate hole in the lower panel, which apparently is cut into the metal during manufacture in China to facilitate cleaning. On this particular machine (our engineer was called to service this system in a primary school) there was no cover, which we were advised is usually supplied when the machine is new, to block the laser, and cutting fumes escaping from the cabinet. On questioning of staff it was clear that the machine had been installed without this cover being supplied. Of particular concern is the absence of any interlocking device which should be present on any panel which is removable and gives the user access to hazardous areas and situations. We had noticed burn marks in the area of flooring where the machine had been installed. This was caused by the laser moving over this hole when materials were being cut. This is by far the worst safety failing we have ever seen. Even our engineer was surprised, as the Boxford machines are usually one of the "safer" Chinese variants.

Razor-sharp metal edges, loose components and bodged-up brackets.

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The general overall build quality on the Boxford BGL460 is nothing short of horrendous. From razor sharp metal edges, which seem to have a serrated texture to them, making even slight contact with skin a painful experience, to the poor quality of welds which have been ground down to nothing - making them extremely weak - we are fairly certain that the paint finish is actually holding some of the metalwork together; this is clearly visible on the image above. The lack of quality control doesn't stop there either, we found mounting brackets that have been cut/modified with pliers to facilitate fitting; not a major issue in itself, but this mentality is found throughout this entire machine, with manually drilled holes (to correct mistakes), rough sawn edges and fixings/components which look like they've been pulled from the reject bin.

It makes us wonder how long this machinery will last, and how much additional spending will be required during its life-time to correct the manufacturers mistakes and facilitate repairs from failed poor quality components.

Although the laser tube itself was securely held down on this particular BLG460 (a common problem on Chinese machines is for the laser tube mountings to be very loose resulting in poor cutting consistency) the same cannot be said for the mirror mounts. Please consider, that the mirrors require very fine adjustment in order to steer the laser beam from the tube, and into the cutting-head through the lens. (Where the laser light is focussed in order to facilitate the cutting process)  This very fine adjustment is critical for safety (the beam MUST be controlled safely towards the workpiece) as well as achieving a good quality and reliable cut. Any slack in the mirror mounts will allow the beam to become mis-aligned. This is usually noticeable when materials suddenly will not cut using the setting supplied by the machine manufacturer, or materials have distorted edges that require "breaking out" or post-cutting clean-up. The mounting devices inside an industrial-grade machine should never be spring-loaded, as the constant tension placed on adjusters backs them out of position over time (and with vibration from the motion and cutting process of the machine). This is not only a poorly quality set-up, but also very poorly implemented. 

The BGL460 has safety switches and interolcks - so its safe correct?...

Having switches and sensors in place which stop dangerous machine functions, should a user create a hazardous situation, such as opening the machines lid when processing a job (or removing a safety panel) is a fundamental feature that protects users from hazards. The BGL460 did have an interlock on the lid, and in this instance, it was adjusted correctly - however, this device was sensing the presence of a metal surface when the lid is closed. Our engineer found that by placing tools (or a set of keys) in close proximity to this sensor, it was possible to start the machine, and no cut-out for the laser was initiated.

This is a shortcoming that should be avoided; machinery (especially laser equipment) that is capable of causing personal injury should be designed as "inherently safe" meaning that all foreseeable  situations (including user error, or abuse by the user) should be a consideration when designing equipment. In this case, a more appropriate choice of sensor (and something less easily defeated) could be the difference between a compliant (and safe) piece of machinery and something that would fail a safety inspection. 

It is also worthy of note, that the Boxford BGL460 laser cutter has no less than 6 removable panels, which can be removed by the user without any "special" tools. Only one of these panels is interlocked, meaning that should safety guards and panels be removed, the machine can still be made to run and the laser can still be made to fire. This is also a considerable safety flaw, as the laser beam should be contained within the machines enclosure at all times - with no possibility of contact or exposure to the user.  Furthermore all these panels should feature "labyrinth" seals; this prevents direct viewing (line of sight) into the cutting area. This is usually achieved by a series of internal panels or baffles, which allow air-flow into the machine but no direct viewing through these openings.

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I've heard that glass laser tubes use high voltage, is this dangerous?

DC Driven "glass tube" CO2 lasers do not pose any electrical safety hazards if implemented correctly. This means their high-tension connectors and cables (similar to the ignition leads in your car) are required to be made from durable materials, have the correct insulating properties and are solidly terminated/connected to their respective components. Furthermore any metal casing that houses these devices must be grounded (protective earth) to ensure that should an electrical fault occur, all hazardous currents are drawn safely to earth, and away from the user.

Unfortunately we have found that on various Boxford laser curtter machines panels and metal parts which are in reach of the user are not grounded. This poses a serious safety hazard as if an internal electrical fault were to occur, the user may not be fully protected. Safety Verdict: FAIL

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If you are looking for service and repair of your Boxford BGL460, we would be happy to give advice and costs for service including any re-work that would be required. Please contact us to speak with one of our experienced technicians. Furthermore, if you are looking for a safe and reliable laser cutting solution for your classroom, or business we offer our own range of systems, designed and manufactured in the UK, with the latest features and technologies. Our range can be found here. At the very least, please be aware of the above issues before buying  a Chinese laser cutter machine from an importer or dealer.