View Full Version : Thinking of buying an Epilog Mini 24--potential safety or environmental issues?

Steve Lambert
03-26-2013, 11:05 AM
Hi all. I work for a public school district and we're exploring the idea of getting an Epilog Mini 24 for engraving all our schools' assets. Mainly we're concerned about keeping all the portable devices (iPads, netbooks and laptops mainly) from 'going missing'. Engraving a big logo and name on the case might act as a deterrent (we hope). We have priced having the engraving done by the manufacturers but over a few year's time it'll end up being quite a bit less expensive if we do it ourselves (plus we'd have more control over what we're putting on these units, such as sequential asset numbers or barcodes etc.)
Since I'm totally new to the whole world of lasers I was asked to do some research about this and make a recommendation...I was wondering if anyone had any input they'd be willing to give on a couple of points that have been raised by the bosses:
1) If we put this machine on a workbench or stand on our loading dock, will there be any problems having temperature changes while the machine's in operation? We don't ship or receive all that much freight but I'd say 5-10 times daily one or two of the dock doors will be open for a few minutes, and while the dock's heated and air conditioned we're wondering if sudden temp. or humidity changes might cause problems when these doors go up or down. Fogging optics? Or is a typical laser sensitive enough to the environment that it'll be damaged or stop working if the temp changes by 10-15 degrees fairly rapidly? We're located in the midwest and we have the classic four seasons here (too cold, too hot, one nice day in between going each way).
2) I understand that certain materials can cause flare-ups, especially when cutting. We don't foresee that we'll be using it for cutting very much if at all, but does anyone have any input about what level of fire danger there really is if we're engraving metals and plastics regularly?

I have asked the sales rep I'm dealing with the same questions and I expect he'll give me honest answers too but there's no substitute for advice from the 'front lines'. I'd appreciate any advice, suggestions or cautionary tales you can provide!
Thanks in advance,
Steve Lambert

Martin Boekers
03-26-2013, 11:45 AM
Welcome to the creek!

A few things,

Engraving PVC is a no no, it creats a cuastic and hazardous gas.

Lexan melts as opposed to engravaves, you may have issues with other plastics also.

Metal typically doesn't engraved unless painted or annodized, the the color is "bleached or vaporized"

I am assuming you will engrave a variety of substrates, we use a decal with a QR code that is easily scanable.
Don't know how feasible, but you code put RF chips in the pieces and have a reader by the doors, like a store has.

Rodne Gold
03-26-2013, 11:47 AM
Very sudden really big changes in temp might affect things , but I'm sure you can locate the machine in a sheltered place to minimise this.
Fire risk is virtually nil if you have 1) good air assist 2) A diligent operator that does not leave the machine unattended 3) A fire extinguisher nearby just on the remote off chance something happens
All of these lasers have a system that if you open the lid , the laser stops firing and stops its motion ..so if there is a slight flare up..just opening the lid normally stops it..air assist will also severely inhibit flaring.(acts like a very strong wind blowing out a match or candle)

Mike Null
03-26-2013, 1:56 PM
First, it seems to me just the kind of job for your local engraver. I seriously doubt you can do the job cheaper than he can. Secondly, don't even think about putting the engraving machine on the loading dock. That's no place for it. Put it in your lab with a filter or an exhaust hook up out a window.

Steve Lambert
03-26-2013, 3:20 PM
Thanks for your input so far.

Martin, if we end up going this route I'll need to make sure to check with every manufacturer to find out what material they're using to build these devices so we don't accidentally vaporize or melt something. I think I'll need to make sure sticking these devices into a laser engraver doesn't void the warranty too! I did check into the idea of putting chips into each unit and the problems we'd have doing that are that 1) many of these devices are being used by students and teachers and they're allowed to take them home at the end of the school day; 2) we'd have infrastructure costs to add the 'detectors' to the doors, and some of our larger schools have a heck of a lot of doors; and 3) I think the main thing is deterrent so they want a big visible 'property of' type of thing. We currently use sticker-type barcodes but they can be removed without a lot of trouble.

Rodne, thanks for the safety info I'll pass that along...sounds like the fire hazard is minimal as long as we pay attention, and I would be making sure whoever operates this is thoroughly briefed about the need to stay with the machine whenever it's being operated.

Mike, I thought having someone do this for us made sense too, but (unfortunately maybe ?) I'm not a decision-maker I was just tasked to research the idea. I think the 'front office' people are concerned with having an outside vendor handle this because at times we get hundreds of units in at a time and we'd need to deliver them all to a local vendor to have them do the engraving...and they may end up having us engrave unique identifiers on each unit or that type of thing which they want to control. As far as the dock, this isn't the usual industrial type dock it's barely used and is mostly just storage. The doors are open just a few times a day and usually only for a couple of minutes...there are no people that normally work on the dock, no forklifts etc, nothing really that would be any more detrimental than any regular office space other than the doors being sometimes open. I hope it won't be a problem because I think my bosses want to keep this thing in the building but as far away from all the Ph.Ds upstairs as possible!

Thanks again for all your responses...any more comments, suggestions or what-ifs are welcome! I feel a little like I've been put out on a limb and that they higher ups are almost determined to do this, so these types of warnings are valuable info for me to pass along.

Rodne Gold
03-26-2013, 3:42 PM
Maybe a far cheaper system will be a portable pin type marker. Can mark quite a big a code on multiple places on most items and it can't be erased, much cheaper than a laser , no expertise needed and no fire hazard...
google "portable pin marker"

Walt Langhans
03-26-2013, 3:47 PM
Why not just get a dremel with an engraving tool and engrave on the school property? Granted it's could be a fair amount of work, and the results won't be as nice looking as a laser, but it's a cheep option and you can keep everything on the premises. Besides the kids in detention need something to do don't they ;)

Martin Boekers
03-26-2013, 4:10 PM
The easiest solution is paint them a bright ugly color...... :D

Seriously though have you though about a stencil cutter? You could cut text and letter stencils then paint or ink it.

Steve Lambert
03-26-2013, 5:26 PM
These are all good ideas. I know they are looking for something that stands out, that can't be removed without a lot of work, and that would make the computer not as desireable to take. I don't think they're worried so much about kids taking stuff although that may happen from time to time, but they are worried about break-ins at schools (it's happening more and more often). If we can make them unsellable in any normal way (pawnshop, craigslist etc) due to the big ugly logo it may not be worthwhile for somebody to try this. Maybe uglier is better in this case! I'll do some looking into these other methods you have mentioned and pass these options along...usually cheaper solutions win most debates so we'll see what happens.

Walt, maybe we can call it shop class!

Thanks again!

Richard Rumancik
03-26-2013, 7:13 PM
I don't think a laser engraver is the way that I would go if I was in charge . . .

There are various label technologies that can be used to identify assets. Some of these have really good adhesives. Others are constructed that will cause the label to separate if removal is attempted and it can be very difficult to remove the residue. You can also get them serial numbered if needed. You might need a few types depending on the nature of the item.

You can also use invisible UV identification that will show up in black light - then have a label that says it is marked with invisible identification to discourage people from taking it. You could also have hidden ID in case it ended up at a pawn shop and you needed to positively identify it.

If you wanted to "deface" it in some way, a simple stencil and a spray can to put a paint logo on it in some location (as Martin suggested) would help - it would discourage theft as they would know it would be hard to remove the logo or cover it, and yet it wouldn't be so bad on the eyes. If someone really does take equipment off the premises chances are you won't see it again, regardless of the label and ID.

Dan Hintz
03-27-2013, 7:40 AM
I would think painting "Property of XXX" in orange letters using a pretty permanent paint (graffiti proof?) would do the trick. Very cheap, and all you need is a stencil.

If computers are big, people will open them and steal what's inside (because that's what is worth real money, noth the case). If computers are small, they put them in their bag and repaint them when they're home. Trying to prevent stuff from walking out of the door can be a losing battle. Except for the most drastic steps, labeling is like DRM... it makes the bean counters feel good, but does little to curb the actual problem.

Keith Outten
03-27-2013, 9:24 AM

I used to run the sign shop at Christopher Newport University, believe me I understand your situation probably better than most here because I know your customers very well. Engraving property for an educational institution is a unique task unlike any other situation that I have experienced, the people you must serve and the range of products you will be asked to engrave are both a challenge.

The loading dock is a bad idea, its just not the place for a delicate machine that has an operating temperature range that will cause you nothing but aggravation in the wrong location. Not to mention how uncomfortable the operator might be with temperature shifts. Although the loading dock seems to be the best place to access all of the products as they arrive you would also soon find out that engraving will take longer than you expect and your loading dock will quickly become congested with products getting in the way.

It gets worse! You will fight constant battles if you need to order materials as some vendors will not sell products to any educational facility. The engraving industry does not want an educational facility to own a laser, they want you to use the services of a local company. You have to take a very close look at the savings involved against the cost of ownership the same as any other organization and then you must look beyond the obvious as you have an almost unlimited number of customers and your services will grow beyond anything you can imagine. Faculty, Staff and Students will come out of the woodwork and the services that you never planned to offer will increase quickly as your Admin Managers look for ways to lower the cost of ownership and labor costs.

The local economy will not suffer because a public institution purchases their own laser engraver. When you don't own one of these machines the work you outsource is minimal. However when you purchase a laser the engraving services will grow rapidly as people find out that they can get items created or marked for free. Take away the laser and the demand will drop to the basement overnight because budgets are tighter than a clams rectum which is watertight.

Now, I can tell you that any college or university that doesn't have their own sign shop is missing the boat in a big way. Even a small sign shop with a rotary and a laser engraver will pay for itself quickly and make serious money in the bookstore rather than add to the facility overhead as most would expect. I believe these same issues will be the same at a public school, there isn't any reason to believe it won't.

Been there, done that and recently retired :)

Keith Outten
03-27-2013, 9:28 AM
Forget about orange paint and making anything ugly, it ain't gonna happen at a college and this will most likely be the case in a public school district.

Mark Ross
03-27-2013, 9:39 AM
Our Epilogs, 36EXT's won't fire first thing Monday morning during the winter. And yes, right now they are near a door. Once they "warm up" they run fine. I think the lower end of the operating range on these is something like 60F, so a loading dock might not be a good thing. Keep in mind these also won't fire if they are too hot, they have a protection circuit in them so again, a loading dock during the summer probably ain't a good thing either.

Steve Lambert
03-27-2013, 10:32 AM
Thanks once again to you all...this has been great input and I will definitely pass along a summary of the advice to the boss and see what they decide.

Keith, it's good to see an opinion from someone who's been in an educational environment...I'm sure you understand the conflicting priorities that go along with the job. I spent most of my working life in manufacturing, mostly in commercial printing and it was a whole different mindset than I experience here. Not complaining at all because the benefits are there too but so many of the educators and administrators have never held a production type job, having gone from being in school to working in schools and on to running schools. Also, because we have an ongoing tech budget that'll be a couple of million a year for purchasing devices they probably figure 15k for an engraver is not a huge investment.

I think there's a bit of a panic because there seems to be a rash of break-ins at school districts around the country...people know schools have lots of iPads, laptops etc and school security is not really air-tight so entire labs of computers turn up missing (one case in San Diego was a lab of Macbooks which I know are at least $1800 each, times 30 and you see why they are worried.)

I hope the quotes they were getting from tech manufacturers aren't inflated but I suspect maybe they are...if a computer maker says they'll engrave something for $10 they may be paying someone else to do the work and just marking it up to cover their handling. At that price we'd spend the $15k the engraver wouild cost in the first year.

I'll suggest some of the things that have been mentioned and see if any of them satisfy what they're looking for.

Another good result is that I had no idea this forum existed until I started looking into this idea for the district...I have a 25x30 shop in my back yard with a table saw, lathe, router table etc, and have been starting to get back into building stuff recently. You will probably see me around the forums for a while judging by the great responses and good community feel here!

Dan Hintz
03-27-2013, 11:32 AM
I think there's a bit of a panic because there seems to be a rash of break-ins at school districts around the country...people know schools have lots of iPads, laptops etc and school security is not really air-tight so entire labs of computers turn up missing (one case in San Diego was a lab of Macbooks which I know are at least $1800 each, times 30 and you see why they are worried.)

As I said, marking the item is not going to change the level of stealing. The use of orange paint wasn't to make them ugly (though it surely accomplishes that), it was to make it more obvious if a student was slipping one in his bag. Marks, no matter how permanent, are simply not effective against theft. If a student wants an iPad, they'll steal it and scrape away the permanent markings. It's not a useful theft prevention tool.

At the community college where I used to live in Florida, the computer labs were "broken into" more than once. They didn't steal the entire computer (they were heavily marked and locked down to the tables with metal cables!), they opened the cases and took out the processors and memory. Easy to steal, easy to sell. The police believed it was the cleaning staff that did it, an inside job, but couldn't prove it.

Steve Lambert
03-27-2013, 11:57 AM
Dan, I think they are less worried about student theft than they are about traditional breaking-and-entering wholesale theft, such as a lab. Many of our iPads and laptops are contained in rollling carts so that they can be moved into classrooms when needed. It wouldn't take much to roll one of these carts right out the door with 30 iPads or laptops and all the charging cables inside. Even our elementary schools are in the range of 300+ computers in the building. I think the hope is that by permanently marking these devices they'll be less desireable to take in any large numbers. The individual who might take a device for use at home is probably going to prove difficult to stop, you're right about that. If they're not easily sellable to a pawnshop or on craigslist maybe the 'traditional' criminal element won't find them worth their time and risk to haul out of the schools.

This may be just an over-reaction to stories that are out there (for example Memphis which lost almost 1/4 of their portable computers in 4 months to theft). These devices keep getting smaller and more portable and I think there's a fear that we can't protect this investment unless we get serious about security. One of my responsibilities is to manage the inventory of IT assets and in our case we have over 26,000 items to track, including over 9000 'CPU's if you count iPads, mini iPads, laptops and desktops. I'd estimate less than half of these are desktops that can really be secured to the building somehow.

I do think that marking in some way is part of the equation but won't by itself prevent all theft. I also think that NOT marking them in some way, as permanently as we can mark them, isn't going to be acceptable. Not only is it public money we're protecting but potentially student or teacher personal information that might be accessible on these devices if they were to be taken by your standard thief and pawned or sold somewhere. I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is how far do we go? Maybe marking them + school's management practices + whatever else we can think of.

I really appreciate your comments...it's great to see so many people take the time to give suggestions and advice!

Dan Hintz
03-27-2013, 2:11 PM
Dan, I think they are less worried about student theft than they are about traditional breaking-and-entering wholesale theft, such as a lab.

Sure... but the question still remains of "What do they hope to achieve by marking the items?" As you said, it won't prevent theft... if they want it, they'll take it. It won't prevent sale of the item after the fact any more than "Property of XXX" scratched into the surface by hand. And hand-scratched will be a lot cheaper for the district than a laser.

I'm not trying to be a hardnose, I just honestly do not see the perceived problem being solved with the suggested methods. I see people feeling better because they did "something", but that's about it. Sometimes telling your boss "the current desire is inappropriate for the problem at hand, maybe we should look at other methods" is the more useful suggestion. I would think providing a heavier-duty cage that padlocks to the floor of a locked closet when not in use is a more cost-effective theft deterrent measure than labeling individual devices.

Cindy Rhoades
03-27-2013, 5:01 PM
If you are concerned about the break ins I would really be concerned about losing an expensive piece of equipment to theft or vandalism because the lid is glass. I agree with the others on keeping it out of the loading dock because of temperature changes and radical humidity changes when the doors are open. This is far to nice of a mchine to put in that environment. You can always get a cheaper machine that will proabably do what you want but I wouldn't put it on the dock either. My eplilog does stop firing when the lid is opened but the motion soes not stop because I can do a "dry" run to check times with the lid open.