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Universal Laser Systems CO2 laser cutters for architects Print E-mail

Universal Laser Systems makes a diverse range of laser cutters, laser engravers, and laser markers. Our university has a several-year old Universal laser engraver/cutter that the architecture students use to cut materials to create their architectural models. Since many in the Hellmuth family are architects I dutifully studied architecture at Harvard. My older brother studied architecture at Yale. My younger brother studied architecture at Georgia Tech and then at the prestigious technical Swiss university in Zurich, ETH. So I have an inherent interest in any digital method to assist architects create their models. Indeed I am also working with 3D rapid prototyper projects in Europe, which create architectural models in 3-dimensions. But it’s a lot easier to start with a CO2 laser cutter, especially for architectural students and to have in-house at an architectural firm.

So architecture is in my background, indeed my grandfather was an architect as was a great uncle. HOK is why I studied architecture, Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (my father George, an older brother (another George Hellmuth) and a cousin, Bill Hellmuth). My brother Daniel has his own firm, Hellmuth & Bicknese Architects, in St Louis. I have studied pre-Columbian Mayan architecture of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador for decades (, which is why the main FLAAR office is still in Guatemala ( During the periods that I have affiliated with a university, it is often in the same department or area as the architects on that same campus. I still lecture on pre-Columbian architecture and do architectural photography with both BetterLight and with medium format cameras such as Leaf, Imacon-Hasselblad, Phase One P25, P30, and P45. I currently use a Phase One P25+ to photograph architecture around the world.

So I am interested in all digitally oriented technology that can assist with making architectural models: CO2 laser cutters are one. The Universal Laser Systems CO2 machine has held up for years to being used by students. But they keep asking for a larger one and one that can cut a wider range of materials.

Universal CO2 laser

Universal Laser Systems CO2 at PMA 2007

CO2 laser cutters are another form of art

CO2 lasers can also engrave photographs and art onto Plexiglas (acrylic), anodized aluminum, wood, plastic, and glass. Think of this as another form of décor. So there are many aspects of CO2 lasers that appeal to me.

Exhaust and ventilation systems for CO2 lasers.

An exhaust and ventilation feature is the most important part of any CO2 laser cutting and engraving system. We had students going to the university infirmary whenever other students were cutting Plexiglas or some other plastics on a CO2 laser cutter. That’s because the ventilation was inadequate in our building. First, it vented only half the incinerated plastic; the part it ventilated went outside the building until it reached the exterior air intake! Then it was sucked back into the entire building. So even people on upper floors got the stink.

The other 50% of the noxious Plexiglas fumes never left the room.

But when we installed a second brand, that second brand had it’s own purification unit alongside. This charcoal filter was so successful that I never complained because there was no more objectionable odor. But the previous system emitted an unbearable odor when certain plastics were being cut. Even when cutting wood or cardboard, the odor of burning materials was unpleasant to anyone working in the same room.

In other words, it is definitely worth the cost to buy a system with the extra self-enclosed ventilation equipment. This is more effective than you trying to jerry-rig some ventilation yourself.

But still, it always helps if you have an extra room air purifier such as Island Clean Air (ICA).

Other CO2 laser cutters, CO2 laser engravers, CO2 laser marking equipment.

The three brands of CO2 laser cutters I know the best are GCC, Trotec, and Universal. I know Universal since our university has had a Universal laser cutter for years. I know GCC since I spent about a week at their world headquarters in Taiwan as their guest, to learn about their company and their GCC LaserPro products. Trotec CO2 laser cutters I know about because they provided one for evaluation. Unfortunately they sent a demo model; it was out of adjustment and never really was satisfactory. There were software issues, and it would not engrave materials other than a few limited kinds.

When you go to a Chinese trade show in China you will see entire halls, aisle after aisle, row after row, booth after booth of Chinese CO2 laser cutters. There are so many brands that we don’t even try to keep track. We had enough trouble with the Trotec laser cutter that was made in Austria, that I would not even fathom what it would be like to deal with tech support, spare parts, or any assistance from Mainland China!

The CO2 laser engraver/cutter from Universal Laser Systems held up better than the Trotec one, but we believe the problem with the Trotec was that it was a demo version, that was probably out of alignment because of being shipped back and forth between so many trade shows. We had the same problem with a demo version of a $7,000 Sinar 4x5 camera. It was worn out from all the transport. When Cambo sent us a 4x5 camera for evaluation, they were clever enough to send a brand new one. It was in perfect condition, and still is now after seven years of use in the FLAAR evaluation facilities.


Edited March 9, 2009.
First posted March 24, 2008.

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