Tips on what to look for when buying your first CNC router

Q. What are the key factors for a small shop to consider when planning to purchase its first, entry-level CNC router?

Michael Cassell, North American CNC Product Manager, Holz-Her US: There are a number of factors to consider prior to the purchase of the CNC router, but some of the less-obvious ones are:

  • What are the expectations for the router? Decide what you hope to accomplish with this investment and be sure it is capable of achieving your expectations.
  • What type of components are you planning to produce with the router? While versatile, the router does have limitations. It may not be the best machine for these applications, may require additional options or workholding, etc.
  • Can you afford the investment and how will you pay for it? Generally most non-CNC customers are already paying for the CNC in labor, time or efficiency. Improvements in any of these areas can more than compensate for the additional cost of the machine. Leasing also is an option to consider, and there are many leasing programs available. Ramp-up or skip-payment features are usually available, based on credit worthiness.

    A. Torben Helshoj, President, Laguna Tools Inc.: As with almost all machinery, mass and weight is a major factor. The heavier a machine is, the better. These machines are all very precise, capable of precision far beyond what woodworkers need. This is why all better-built machines use a one-piece welded frame. Also, make sure the frame structure is strong, so it does not deflect when vacuum is applied to the table.

    Another really big point when purchasing a CNC machine is the software. Most customers decide which design software they want to use first, which we think makes a lot of sense. When you shop for machinery, make sure that the operating software is compatible with the design software you like and that the machine operating software (post processor) is industrial-quality.

    A. Paul Cullen, Vice President, CNT Motion Systems: First-time users should determine how many sheets per week they currently process. They should then triple that number and select a machine capable of yielding that amount.

    Since our machines are software-based, they need a CAD/CAM or parametric software program to generate G-code-based part files for the machine to run. While some basic CAD/CAM packages are quite affordable, if they need to produce complex parts, a specialized software package might be required. This can ruin a budget, if they don't realize in advance that they need it.

    Since CNC machines are so versatile, users should anticipate future applications beyond their initial needs. This could require future software investments, but the cost can be offset easily by the gains in expanded capabilities and production. CNC technology can pay for itself very quickly.

    A. Phil Polston, Weeke Sales Manager, Stiles Machinery Inc.: When purchasing your first CNC router, it is a must to have qualified trainers outside of the shop and on-site. Make sure you deal with a supplier who provides more than a day or two of training and installation, combined with a fully trained technician.

    Also, look for the most up-to-date components available today, such as HSK 63 tool holders and a quality router motor, and find out the vector speed and the maximum rpm of the router motor. You want a machine that can handle routing through multiple materials for true flexibility and having an undersized router will limit your production capabilities.

    In addition, check out the basic machine construction to ensure that the manufacturer didn't take shortcuts. Also, review the machine's base for heavy-duty steel to ensure the machine's rigidity.

    Lastly, I caution against purchasing inexpensive tooling, as this is an area where you get what you pay for. Your knowledge of using the correct tooling at the proper routing speeds directly impacts your experience with a new router. This brings us back to making sure you have the maximum availability of training and support when selecting your machine.

    A. John Harris, Director of Sales & Marketing, MultiCam Inc.: First, look at your applications and get a machine that is configured to handle your workload. Then, put together a realistic budget to get the machine you need. There is a wide variety of quality on the market, and you should not just purchase on price.

    CNC routers are sophisticated machines, and a shop will need local training, service and support on the machine and the CNC programming software. So purchase from a reputable company with a good track record. CNC routers can pay for themselves many times in a year or less, but they will only do that if they are working for you day-in and day-out.

    A. Roy Valentine, Sales Manager, Techno Inc.: When a small to mid-size shop makes the decision to automate by purchasing a CNC router, it is important to buy a machine which includes high-end features. The last thing they want to do is buy a piece of equipment that requires continuous attention. Machines should include precision-drive components, such as ball screws on all axes, closed loop servo controls, and they should arrive completely assembled. In addition, service, support and company longevity are very important. This new piece of equipment will require company support, therefore it is important to look at the company as a whole.

    Note: The August Tech Trends incorrectly attributed Adwood Corp.'s comments to Joe DeCotiis. They were actually provided by Adam Lopuk. We regret the error.

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