Some months ago we proposed a list of things you could do with your now-expired ancient personal 3D printers. We said you could upgrade them; use them for simple prints; donate them; toss them out; or make them into a museum piece. At the time we considered museuming as the best option for our now-four year old machines.
But there may be a better option: convert them into a laser engraver.
There is a kit that can convert a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic into a laser cutter / engraver. J Tech Photonics Labs provides a set of parts including a 455nm laser, driver board and cabling to mount into the Thing-o-Matic.
Once installed, the X and Y axes move the laser to and fro, while the Z axis is ignored – since laser cutting is a 2D activity. You need only mount your cutting material on the former print bed.
We wondered how software could drive this hybrid machine, and the answer turns out to be quite simple. The Lab suggests using Inkscape, an open source drawing program, with a GCODE plugin. The plugin converts your drawings into code that turns on the laser and moves the X and Y axis appropriately to execute the laser cuts and engravings.
The kit sells for USD$224.99, but as of this writing there are very few left. We suspect there could be several thousand idle Thing-o-Matics left in the world – and each one could become a 1.7W laser engraver if more are offered.