Iím a small one man cabinet shop that knows nothing about - but wants to get started in - CNC. Since all I have is 220 volt and have heard bad things about phase converters, Iíve been looking at Techno's 220 volt machines and vacuum pumps. Iím looking at their LC 4896 with a twin 10hp rotary vane vacuum pump, 346 cfm and 25Ē Hg. Am I on the right track?
From contributor S:
What price range are you trying to stay in? What are the materials you are trying to cut? Shop Bot is one that comes to mind. Entry level machines, fairly inexpensive, 110V - 220V. You would, however, sacrifice things like tool changers and higher end drives. Most in that price range are stepper motors. Once you get one, you will wonder how you ever survived without one!
I chose a used 4x8 Camaster to "soften" the learning curve. Within one month I ordered a 5x10 with an automatic tool changer from them, and have helped set up several machines for other buyers in my area. CNC machine builders are as limited in their work day as we are, and it is unrealistic to think one is just going to integrate us to CNC on the operating end at the mid size shop/machine/price range. I went with these guys for the other machine owners support. There is a machine 20 miles from me, and I had open access to his shop and he gave his experience with a welcoming attitude. I speak daily with one of eleven guys in my area who have my machine. Yesterday a fellow in NC needed to cut some parts for a customer while waiting on his machine to be fabricated (his second). He will come to my shop, cut his parts, and I will get access to another owner who helps me with learning software! I think it is unrealistic to expect a CNC machine builder to teach me CNC operations. Yes, they can get you going, but at the end of the day, you have to learn to run the thing.
What I was told about CNC:
Do not have a job waiting on a first CNC.
Have a working understanding of Microsoft Windows and computers.
Have high speed internet.
I am happy with my machine, the price, the integration of CNC in my shop, and all the other Camaster owners I communicate with.
To get the type of components a Techno has in a bigger, faster machine, you are looking at 100-150K. The top end cutting speed will not be as fast as most other machines, and while I don't think that will be a bottleneck in a one man shop, the high feed rates and cutting speed tips you might read here are not necessarily going to apply on a Techno.
I have been involved in the purchase of about 3 CNCs in the last 7 years. Make sure you ask a few important questions:
1. Will the machine do true arcs? Meaning will the arc be smooth, or bumpy? Some machines interpret arcs as small line segments. That sucks! More sanding.
2. Support. Will they help you with your problems? Don't expect to get it and whip jobs out in 10 minutes right out of the box. It could take a few months to really feel comfortable and get cruising.
3. Are parts readily available? I would guess most equipment in this price range you could get parts at Grainger, McMaster Carr, etc.
4. Can you use other CAD/CAM software? Most likely yes, but check. I would definitely recommend going with a CAD/CAM package like AlphaCAM, MasterCAM or the like. You have powerful tools like pocketing, nesting, milling (roughing and finishing passes), drilling, etc. Not only that, with a post processor your G-code for the machine is written with a push of a button.
5. Get some references. If they are a good company they will supply some people you can talk to, and if they're local, you may get to see the machine in action.
My first CNC was the Digital Tool back in 1993. It served well for about a year. It wasn't a "show off" machine but it took away the repetitive work we did. I upgraded to a top of the line Digital Tool and again it served well for another year or two before going into the heavy iron. I still have that Digital Tool (pretty much taking up floor space) and 3 other heavy iron machines.
If you're really ready to get into the CNC business, buy as much as you can afford and make sure your software and support people are easy to get a hold of. They will be a bigger asset than your actual machine in your first year.