Choosing a CNC Router

      This long and detailed thread covers a lot of subjects relating to the pros and cons of various CNC characteristics and capabilities. October 19, 2014

I am looking to add a router soon. I have looked at this on and off for years. I am running out of room and this would increase our cutting, machining and assembling efficiency by quite a bit. We do not make kitchen cabinets but we do make products from a standard catalog that we allow size customization. I do not need to draw things to sell them. We do draw in 2D today with Autocad LT when that is needed.

Our construction is dowel. I need the machine to size parts, cut rabbets and drill dowel holes. It addition I need it to size doors. Because of the repetitive nature of the product I am leaning towards CadCode. I am also leaning towards an Onsrud Mate 4x8 without a drill block. We have a dowel and insert machine and a Martin Slider (which I intend to keep).

Our job creation needs to be parametric, we know what dimensions change and the relationship between all the dimensions. We do make one off components and will need to make custom parts on the machine. I am told a DXF can be brought in and used in Quickcam. I have not gotten the details on that yet.

Are there any Quickcam Cadcode users that can give me the pros and cons of the software? Are there any Onsrud customers that can comment on their support? I am interested in parts availability and phone support as well as the ease of use and reliability. We are looking at the B&R controller. We have NC controlled machines but this is a little beyond my knowledge, in input and insight is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor L:
I would get the drill block for sure! "L' shaped blocks allow sides to be turned either way. Does this machine have a tool changer? Itís very desirable but not a substitute for a drill block. Our first CNC was a flat table but only 4x8, we weren't running nested at the time. For our work we could get better yield from a larger table Ė we got a deal on a 5x10 Komo with 500 hours on the meter. It was much better utilization of material but wish it had been a 5x12. We recently added an IMA310 and can run parts up to 1.2 x 4 meters. Has many more drill spindles which helps a lot on some products.

From the original questioner:
The machine does have a 10 tool rack changer. We will be cutting veneered, veneer core plywood which I am not able to find from a reliable source in larger sizes. If that is the case I don't think the increased footprint is worth it. I also am thinking a drill block is overkill because the machine will be nowhere near capacity. A drill block will give me increased speed but I am not sure I need the speed. My operator will be edgebanding, horizontal boring inserting and maybe sanding the panels while the machine is running. A drill block on this machine is 10K. If it was 2K it is a no brainer but at 10K it needs to have a payback. We do not bore shelf holes only dowel holes.

From Contributor E

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As an Onsrud owner I can tell you that their technical support is first-rate. That said I have only really needed "right now" support one time, and that was a freak accident that destroyed one of the proximity sensors on the router's gantry. Of course, this happened at 4 p.m. on the West Coast - why do machines always break outside of normal business hours? Anyway, a quick call to the on-call tech got the problem diagnosed within 20 minutes. It was a remarkable support experience in that the tech I called was at home - I could hear his kids playing in the background! The fact that he could walk me through the diagnostic steps over the phone is a testament to how well they know their product. A trip to Grainger in the morning to buy a new sensor and we were up and running again in a couple of hours. We have the B&R controller on our machine for the exact reasons you stated - ease of use and reliability. It's a simple system, and I have never wished we had anything more sophisticated (as in complicated).

From contributor D:
Let me add a few things. When I added a CNC to my shop I tried to get it to do everything the way we had always done it. Only when I adapted what I did to the best way for the CNC to do it did I maximize and revolutionize my production. Buy the drill block. See above, I have a 12 spindle and wish it had more. I have several bits in the tool changer. It will pay for itself in no time. My machine was originally a ptp and we put a table on it. I ended up with 4x10. On the West Coast most all our material is 4x8 and if that's all I had I would be fine. Put every operation you can on the CNC.

From contributor C:
I took Contributor L's advice and got the drilling block in the "L" on my nested router. I also have a ptp and so I was used to a drill block, so I wasn't going to go back. I 'm glad I got it - I have a 5x12. The size allows for a lot more efficient cutting. I run both 5x8 melamine and 4x8 laid up panels, 30x12' corian, etc. You will go from the thought of, "I only nest x and that's all I do, to "what else can I throw at this thing ? I can see so much revenue generated, don't let it sit idle." The controller will eventually be nil, especially if you are generating code form the office and I have a very powerful controller. I can nest, bore single parts, cut single parts, all kinds of crap, and I send all the info from the office and the operator just pulls a file and cuts. You will not care about this feature very long and you will only need to access the tool tables when you calibrate a tool improperly.

From contributor L:
"We do make one off components and will need to make custom parts on the machine." Most likely custom components will end up needing face boring (drill block)!

"I also am thinking a drill block is overkill because the machine will be nowhere near capacity." (Today! Next year?) "A drill block will give me increased speed but I am not sure I need the speed." (Less wasted time - it takes less than a second for the machine to change to drilling many different sized holes. Each time the machine has to return to the end and do a tool change to drill a hole wastes time.) None of the above is convincing me that a router should not have a drill box! It's true my CNCs are used for different things than you contemplate. Nothing in my business is static, yours? Not trying to hassle you but, perhaps, save an expensive mistake. Other production shops - would you buy a router w/o a drill block?

From contributor C:
I would also highly advise on the 5x10 or 5x12 bed. I was going to get a 4x10, but the deal, luckily fell through. So, I ended up with a 5x12, and so now that we are into closets 14" sides are four to a sheet or 18" sides are three to a sheet. Believe me, we run a hellacious amount of 5x8 material and it saves a tremendous amount of waste.

From the original questioner
We run veneered, veneer core which is not readily available in sizes larger than 4x8 and if you can find it or in my case have it laid up the price jumps exponentially. I am at a 4x10 table at this point. I think I am going to get the 7x5 drill head also. I have discovered Busalleto has parametric software that comes on their machine. It can be driven by spreadsheets. It is powerful, maybe not as powerful as Cadcode but it can do what I need it to do. That is a substantial savings and one company is responsible for the whole solution that can't be a bad thing. I am working on shop layout as this substantially changes our operation. I am planning on moving everything around and changing our dust collection we currently are running three collectors and I don't want to add a fourth. The final piece will be a panel vacuum lifter to make moving material easier and it will have range from the router to the sliding table saw. This will be a big change and the more I get into the nitty gritty the more I see how positive a change it will be. I probably should have done it years ago.

From the original questioner
As far as a work cell I want the operator to run the bander and bore insert machine when the panel is cycling. Is it realistic to think that parts can be banded and bored in the cycle time of a sheet? The exterior parts only get one edge banded and one edge bored/inserted?

From contributor L:
Regarding shop layout: This is real tricky because you always want to see the future which is a difficult trick. Over the years we've been through lots of changes, not all could have been predicted. I moved in as a two man shop in 4000' and thought it was big. I soon had four employees, expanded to 8,000', added equipment, lots more work, and more employees. I added 7,000', a few more employees and then added 10,000', two loading docks, more equipment and employees. Material handling became an issue. We had over 100 carts and they wasted a lot of time. I rearranged almost all of the panel equipment to fit a flow pattern on roller conveyors and designed the conveyor system to allow multiple paths using transfer cars on three sets of rails. The system allows parts to be sorted and moved to the short sections of conveyor that serve the assembly benches. Itís probably the best equipment investment I've made. It was resisted by nearly everyone in the shop and office. No one would go back to carts now. Adding an 8' CNC bore and insert was easy, a second CNC took some figuring and fitting and a few more changes, a second bander required modifying the conveyor flow a bit. New equipment made a bigger collector necessary and we removed two smaller ones. Pretty much maxed out on space now.

We are planning to move the offices to get some smaller equipment more space and add another assembly bench. Over time there has been an accumulation of stuff that really isn't being used or at least isn't necessary. Most of that will have to go to make a bit more office space. If you figure what each square foot of space costs: building, utilities, taxes, lost labor youíll find that storing items is expensive.

From contributor D:
To the original questioner: It is very realistic to have an operator doing other things while the machine is running. Our cycle time is four-six minutes a sheet with about two-three to label and unload and load next sheet. I wish we could unload quicker. Donít skimp on dust collection go big on it. You will create triple the dust over a saw. On the software don't just look at how much it costs to purchase, look at the time to get what you need done. Labor is the most expensive cost. Just opening a file and changing the size and saving it again can add up to a lot of hours vs. different software doing something automatically. I have already been down that road. You are on the right track though and you will be amazed.

From the original questioner
I went to a Quickcam/Cadcode demonstration this morning with a closet manufacturer. It is definitely powerful software. The Busellato software will allow you to create parts with variables. With a spreadsheet you can than create products consisting of different parts that are custom to a degree. So after the spreadsheets are created going from screen to machine is pretty easy. I was told that the optimizing done by the machine makers software is not as efficient at CV or Cad code. He did think my plan was not bad because I would learn the machine in the process and could always escalate to more significant software. One thing that was brought up was that you could not do a quality job of edgebanding plywood straight off the router. The edgebander would need to pre-mill the material. I had not heard that before. What is the general consensus on that thought?

From contributor C:
This is mine: I fully expect the CNC router operator to run the bander and/or the construction borer at the same time as the router is running. We have some nests that are 32 minutes long, because we onion skin the drawer parts. I am buying the bore and dowel to skip the step of drill and hammer dowels. It saves us more time.

Onion skinning small parts: We have a 40hp vacuum, parts move even on a fresh flycut, small parts move. Yes, we block off unused nest area.

Software: This is the truth - the files should be sent from the shop on a network and paper files to see what they are running for what job sent to the floor. The operator should not be distracted from the task at hand. You will reap loads from a software like CV (I do) and bypass the manufacturers software. Why? Because the process of approved drawings for the client to examine and approve, after correction for field verification, to go to code is where the money is and solves the double entry dilemma. You draw it, send it code and it is cut. So you are combing the power of the manufacturing software and the single processing of the router, for as much work to be done in one place as possible, for a fantastic ROI.

Plywood in the Bander: I onion skin a lot of the veneer core plywood to avoid the dressing needed from a pre-mill unit. Or, we spec MDF core.

Dust Collection: Don't be fooled on the dust collection. You need some velocity at the shoe for pickup. I have a 15hp dedicated on 12" pipe and hose for our router. The head has 12" port. Make sure you take this into consideration.

Vacuum Lift: Good move. You won't regret it.

From Contributor L:
It seems like for your use the CNC operator could be banding or running the bore and insert, not sure about both. Both if there are times the CNC is not running. The chain on the bander is going to spend a fair amount of time not loaded. Our cycle times are much like Contributor C's. Our router is a moving table so most of the labeling is done by the time the machine stops. Since you seem to be at a production level where a cell consisting of the router, bander and bore and insert machine makes sense, group them to minimize footsteps. Put a vacuum lift where it can service both the router and the panel saw and where it can pick from several different units of board without having to bring more with the forklift during production.

My router operator also sorts parts by next destination, usually one of the banders. I'll admit he has some short under underutilized times, but not nearly enough to run the bander. The bander is being fed by the router, the panel saw and the Pod and Rail machine. The operator is busier than a cat on a hot tin roof. When things are cooking the Pod and Rail operator is pendulum processing, loading one end while the other end is processing. The bore and insert operator is also running the case clamp. The second bander normally runs just one customers work, most of which is repetitive in materials and processed on the Pod and Rail. The mix of work varies a lot so some days it's a well-oiled machine, others, not so lubed. If you work picks up to say double or triple what it is, will your layout accommodate it?

From Contributor Z:
If you have not already purchased your CNC I would strongly suggest you contact a few machine sales specialists. Each of them have a different perspective and can provide you ideas that you may not realize yourself. It also keeps your primary machine supplier honest knowing you have had a couple of his competitors in making suggestions. As the drill block I completely agree with all the other cohorts that you should get one. Owning a CNC will allow you more creativity and opportunity than you realize. It will also help with re-sale value down the road.

From the original questioner
I looked at several machines and committed to a Busellato Jet Star. It has a drill head and a offload device. My selection was based mostly on the quality of Busellato, the local service capability and the Gensis Evolution software. I believe I am going to be able to use the Gensis evolution software with spreadsheets of my creation to run parametric programs to create my products. It will not be as elegant as CadCode but it will educate me about the machine and programming so if I ever wanted to implement CadCode I would be in a much better position to set it up correctly.

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