Machinery Dilemma: CNC or Beam Saw?

Which machine is right for a given shop? The answer depends on both the volume and the variability of the work.

What would you recommend... Versatility of a CNC 2/3 axis router for circles and nesting (drawback is more involved programming)? Or a beam saw (less/easier programming)? Or a Striebig Control panel saw (way easier programming)?

The equipment will be on the shop floor for some employees (10) to use. So I need a very easy to program/robust machine. The majority will be straight cuts for manufacturing boxes, crates, and some cabinets, cutting various plastics, fiberglass, and laminates. Maybe running from 1-4 hours a day average (Striebig compact panel saw and rip saw). Also please recommend good manufacturers and customer/tech support for the machines. We will need it.

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor D:
It sounds as if the majority of what you are cutting is square, with little machining? If that is the case you will gain the most velocity in your shop with a panel saw. If your volume or required cutting time justifies it, a beam saw would be the way to go. With 10 on the shop floor it sounds as if you would need it to feed the work. I could also make a case that the programming is easier on a beam saw than a vertical panel saw (less math on the operator's part). Holzma will give you the heft and support you are looking for.

From contributor M:
If you are doing large quantity rollouts of the same or similar sized units, you would be better off with a beam saw. You can blank out sheets much faster with book heights of 3 to 6 sheets. That way secondary operations such as banding can take place simultaneously while other parts are being machined. If you do a lot of one-offs, it's pretty much the opposite. You would be better off with the router.

From contributor R:
A NC beam saw is a great way to save shop time. A beam saw will typically increase yield 30-40% over a sliding table saw and reduce waste by 4-6%. If you are using a table saw for 32 man hours or more per week, it is time to step up to a beam saw. Mayer & Casadei saws are very user friendly and anyone in the shop can be taught how to use one. Their price ranges from $70,000 to $110,000. A CNC machining center will offer you more versatility in the long run, depending on your future needs, depending if you buy a pod and rail or nesting.

From contributor B:
Don't let the programming software deter you from either machine. Both are easy to learn. If you need to do multiple operations on the panels, a router can often produce a finished part with less material handling. The CNC can perform operations to make assembly quicker and more accurate with less skilled labor. Talk to a salesman who offers both types of machines.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the replies. Any favorite manufacturers for those of you who have been using these machines?

From contributor J:
Personally, we like Giben for beam saws. We're on our second one - great saw, terrific support from Giben (key factor). CNC pod and rail is Busellato - just a workhorse machining center with terrific support, parts and tech. We honestly couldn't live without either here.

It depends what you do the most of, along with possible footprint considerations, but we are able to produce both production and custom with this setup. I think software has also been key in enabling us to get this stuff to the machines in a fluid manner and with the ability to run multiple production and custom projects at once.

So many different ways to skin this cat and everyone's posts here are valid. This is the place to find out and decide what's best for you. It has been for me.

From contributor T:
I'd offer up two things to consider when comparing a beam saw vs. CNC router. First is quantity. How many of the same part do you make at a time? A beam saw will run circles around a CNC router for big quantities of the same size parts. But you lose advantages as quantities go down. Most people will say the crossover is somewhere between 20 and 100 of the same part. Conversely, a router will outproduce a beam saw for small quantities of different size parts.

Second is the total amount of machining needed to make a finished part. One of your requirements is cabinets, which will likely need secondary drilling, dado (if your construction requires), and maybe toe kicks. A saw is a one trick pony, a CNC router will produce finished parts, cut to size, drilled, with dados. Lots of other things too, like carvings and engravings.

You may also want to consider if you would use the same construction method if a CNC router were used. Blind dado construction is labor intensive by hand, but made simple using a CNC router. Same with box building, dado construction or even dovetail construction is simple and straight forward using a CNC router.

From contributor L:
Software is a key element here. You referenced the different types of machines and asked about programming. With the right software, the programming takes care of itself. First there's optimization - getting the most parts out of the machine - either saw or router - and cutting those parts in the least amount of time. With software, you can manage most of what happens on the production floor in the office, with the person most knowledgeable about the products to be made in control. Generating code to run the machinery - again either saw and point-to-point, or router, or all three, should be straightforward, fast and simple with the right software, that's also flexible enough to allow you to change equipment and methods without having to relearn or replace the core program.

There's a lot of used equipment out there to be had at bargain prices - an unfortunate side-effect of the recession. There's no reason not to choose from the best options and then control them with a central control program.