Buying Second-Hand CNC Equipment

People who have been there and done that describe the trouble they've been through with used CNC gear and the payoff. March 21, 2006

We are shopping for a CNC router (first time) and have been looking at some used machines as well as new. I was told by a rep that I need to be careful of abuse to a used machine. I know of wear and tear on moving parts, but what constitutes "abuse"?

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor B:
I have purchased used and new and both have their advantages and similarities. Whether purchasing used or new, you need to make sure you can get local support. As you know, these are complex machines and your ability to adjust and/or repair will be limited by your ability and time.

As to used specifically, I'd say the simpler the machine design and the greater your electrical/mechanical skills, the better off you will be. If you are looking at a higher end machine, you need to give greater consideration to having support available.

From contributor M:
I would not suggest buying a used router unless you have plenty of experience with CNC machines and are not afraid to do some serious electro/mechanical work when needed. As for abuse, it depends on who was driving it. I have seen machines that were in great shape after years of service and I have also seen machines that were in horrible shape after only a couple of years into it. Bad setup or programming and lack of regular, preventive maintenance can take years off the life of a machine. Buyer beware is in play here. Also, if a reseller can provide competent support for both mechanical and software issues, then buying used becomes a possibility. If there is no local support, then I'd stay away.

From contributor L:
I've bought both new and used. Either way, you want good support. I'm not convinced about the need for local support. Komo gives good support from the factory. Most dealers don't have the expertise that the factory techs have. Make sure on a used machine you can do an upgrade on the controller if necessary. Some of the first "PC based front ends" worked with Fanuc controllers that could not be upgraded. (Do you still want to be using Windows 95?) As for abuse: not lubed as required can be very expensive, and almost all routers will have had the spindle crashed into the table, which can damage the ceramic bearings and cause other misalignments. Even with all these possibilities, a used machine can be okay.

From contributor P:
It truly depends what your needs and goals are. I'd say if you are a production shop pumping hundred of cases a week, bite the bullet and buy new with the support and you can be running in no time. Time is money, particularly with a few 100 K of equipment on the shop floor. If you are like us, high end architectural millwork, with the need for short runs - a school, 10 hotel suites, etc - and you really don't want to be dependant on your equipment dealer, then used can be great. In a year and a half, we have gone from no CNC to both a router and a point to point, with a total cash investment of less than 40 K.

The key to a used machine is to consider you're buying something that will need lots of tweaking, and pay accordingly. Our first machine was a 1987 Thermwood C50 with 2 15 hp Perske and an ancient controller. The mechanics were in good shape, and we paid 2K for the machine and about as much to rig it. Luckily, all the mechanics were in great shape except for a paint job, cleaning, and a few small items. We ripped the controller out of it, and rewired a brand new controller with aftermarket software. We did have to replace an amplifier, but it was not too bad. It did take about $15,000 worth of my time, and the coding was hell. We retained an application engineer who consulted in the shop for a day and over the phone and net for about eight months. It was painful. However, the machine is great - solid, precise, we know it like the back of our hands, and repairs are a breeze. We now have a Thermwood hybrid with full hand held controller, full G code, M code, everything tailored to our needs, and can go from a dxf file to machining in minutes with the front end PC. Total cost about 18 K plus about 15 K of my time (at $ 30.00/hr).

We do not have a tool changer, but even added a desouter air drill, and can bore panels in the Z all day long. Frankly, even with my labor included, I don't think we could buy a 5x10 beast like that for the money, and we would still be at the mercy of the techs.

The second machine was a 1994 Rover 20 PTP with NC 410 controller. Purchase 12K, rigging 2K. About 2K of parts in it. Rover parts are outrageously priced. The experience on the first machine proved invaluable. We bought it early August, and we are running it daily. It's great. We did not change the controller and decided to deal with Biesse's horrible interface.

Total hard cash cost for both machines about 34 K and maybe 20 K of my time. I find it worth the investment. I'm the only guy in town with both flavors. The first one is already paid for, and no expensive tech to repair the machines. Bottom line, it can be dangerous and costly, but if you have time, I find it well worth it. The guy down the street has to run his Weeke nonstop to make his lease and tech support. I can run my machines a few hours a week and be ahead.

One tip, though - do not count on too much help from the manufacturer. You're on your own. Thermwood was okay, and considering we were not upgrading with their 91000 controller, can't complain. Wish we could have gotten machine blue print from them, though. Biesse, frankly terrible, despite about 2 K of replacement parts, as well as 4 K for a burnt amplifier (not counted in cost - it was an insurance claim due to electrical problem with the building). They did take our money, but were not very helpful.

From contributor C:
I bought a secondhand SCM Record and have spent a hell of a time getting it sorted out. All of the problems were as a direct result of lack of maintenance. I vacuumed about 10 Kg of dust from the electronics and as a result of this dust, some of the boards have failed. Support from the manufacturer SCM is nil. Their local agent is new and is not interested in old machines, only in selling new ones.

I honestly believe that it does not matter whether you buy a new machine. The backup service will be generally crap (unless you get it direct from the manufacturer), because the selling dealers don't know or don't care to know about how to fix the problems. So perhaps the way I have gone was of great value, as there is not much I don't know about this machine and so far have been able to fix all of the problems. Some decent manuals would have helped.

I think another lesson here is do not buy a second hand machine unless the seller can give you all of the original programming manuals and electrical /mechanical diagrams. I was lucky - I got a lot of information, but would have liked the rest.

It incidentally has a NUM control on it, and they have been fantastic in assisting from France and USA. Anyway, in closing, I now have a solid, high end machine that would set me back $170k if I were to have bought it new, and as the previous post said, it's paid for, so if it sits for some of the weeks, it really does not matter. I don't have the bank calling about the payments.

Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely. I would buy second hand. I will certainly know where to look for drama.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all who responded. I have a better understanding of the problems and what to look for. Could I get some response on two companies that I would classify as entry level machines - Techno and Shop Sabre? The price ranges seem right for us going in for the first time, but don't know about their track record.

From contributor T:
I would tend to agree with the above comment that used machines can be a great buy and meet a limited justification, say for a millwork application. It is pretty easy to get a burnt machine. I can think of several cases where this happened. However, I think you can buy smarter with a little help from an expert. If you can find an independent that knows about CNC, they can help greatly in the purchase decision. You may need help in fine tuning your application and matching it with available used equipment. I have seen people buy the wrong machine because it was a good deal, then be disappointed with their decision when it came time to making it fit into their business.

From contributor K:
When choosing between buying new or used, there are advantages and disadvantages to each. A new machine might cost a bit more, but you can design it to your specification and it comes with a warranty and support. A used machine might come at a discount, but you generally have to be more careful about checking up on the condition and maintenance history of it. Generally, this method requires a bit more diligence on the part of the buyer. It is important to be aware that routers more than 10 years old may require control system upgrades, which could be costly.

In the best case scenario, you could find a late model used machine with very low hours for close to half the price of a new one. On a 100k machine, that savings is significant. As for service, the high end companies like Thermwood and Komo will service their used machines on the same priority that they take care of the new ones.