Shopping for a New CNC

Think carefully about what capabilities you do and don't need, and take a close look at the vendor's tech support system. October 13, 2008

I have been looking at new CNC machines, with prices from 70K to 165K. My price range is at approximately 80K. This will be my first CNC. I will need to also purchase a new dust collector and bring in about 200 amps of power. Does anyone have any comments on any machines?

I have considered Onsrud, Multicam, Anderson, Weeke, and Morbidelli. Pricing on these machines varies quite a bit. Bells and whistles vary also.

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor A:
What do you plan on using for software? That can cost $20K.

From the original questioner:
I currently use cabinet vision and auto cad.

From contributor A:
Do you have the CNC version? If not, you better get the price on the upgrade and figure that in the budget. Have you considered Thermwood? They have a 4 x 8 machine for about $65K.

From contributor B:
I would focus on what you need first. If you are cutting cabinets, you don't need C-axis, digital touch-off, aluminum grid, a large drill head, mechanical offloading, etc. What you do need is a large vacuum pump, preferably an oil ring and not a graphite vane. At this price level, you also want to look for rack and pinion that has helical gears, not straight. You also want a rigid frame and a majority of parts that are non-proprietary (you can go to Grainger if you have to instead of paying for parts that can only be purchased from the manufacturer).

You also want to look at support. How broad is their base? How many technicians are available to serve the machines they have out there? What is the cost for support? Is there a person available 24/7, and is there an additional charge for after hours calls? There are three kinds of tech support: Mechanical/Technical, Software, and Application. Mechanical/technical guys use hand tools and multimeters. Software techs help you communicate with your machine. Application people help you solve problems when you need to cut something out of the ordinary. A good manufacturer will be well represented in all three areas, not some guys who can do all three. As a new router owner/operator I cannot stress how important support is.

When I bought my router, I considered how the machine was manufactured, the support, and finally the price. I realized that this is not a shaper or a bandsaw. This machine is capable of very precise machining, and is a long-term investment. I could easily save some money or overspend. Know that when companies lay out huge amounts of capital to manufacture these machines, there is a great deal of marketing and posturing that goes on. The Kias and Hyundais compare themselves to the Toyota and BMW. The Mercedes tack on more because of their name. And then there are those that are well made by engineering standards and premium parts, offer outstanding support technical, software, and application, and have a solid price both now and when it comes time for resale. You need to identify these solid values.

You can buy a car with 20" wheels, power accessories, and even GPS, but those things are not key elements of a good, solid car. When you shop for price, some salesmen will try to get you into a router buy cutting corners - small vacuum pump (if one at all), smaller spindles, features that you can add later, or a value-engineered machine that is compared to the solid buys. BEWARE. Money is only a small part when you invest in a router. The way that you operate it, construction methods, machining styles, and material handling will determine what kind of payback you get. These things over 5 years should put more than $60K in your pocket (an additional $1,000 per month in payments). Once you get a router, you will see how this thing pays, not costs you each month.

From contributor C:
I looked at Thermwood when I was looking to buy a CNC but after doing the math I was able to buy a 3000 MultiCam with KCDw and Enroute for less money. The software is much easier to use and learn than the free ecabinets plus with Enroute you can do other things with your router than just cabinets. Also buy the 5 x 10 model with a 20hp pump and you will be able to use other size sheets than 4 x 8 which will enable you to optimize jobs better.

From contributor D:
I totally agree with contributor C on table size. For any type of cabinet work I too would consider a 5 x 10 as a minimum size. We exceed a 4 x 8 area for at least 50% of what we do when you start playing the yield game. We just did some Paperstone countertops for a commercial job and the sheet sizes are only 30" and 60". With a 4 x 8 table we would have been screwed as the tops were 52" wide. If I had to buy a new machine I would go the 5 x 12 route as it gives you some cushion if working with solid surface and the extra table size is just steel etc. The machine doesn't really care.

From contributor E:
I agree with the above suggestions that you not consider anything but a 5 x 10 (or larger) table. The cost for the extra size is really small compared to not having it. Also, don't skimp on the vacuum setup. Too little vacuum is a big problem.

From contributor F:
Check out the tech support in your area. As a new operator or even an old one, if the machine stops running and you can't get it going yourself, you'll want a tech there now, not later.

From contributor G:
Great thread here, lots of good advice. Of all the machines you mentioned, only Anderson is ISO 9002 CERTIFIED. Omnitech is manufactured by Anderson, has several selections in your price range and is the only company that offers a 2 year warranty.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor H:
I am a CNC Dealer and for 15 years was a CNC owner and operator. I have used several different brands and styles of machines. One thing I can tell you right up front is that not all routers are created equal. With only one notable exception, the machines built in the far east are very problematic. Their quality is not where it needs to be, their tech support is lacking, and they tend to use lower quality components. All imports are suffering right now but the European machines are especially due to the exchange rate, so be aware that because of the disparity in the exchange rate between the Euro and the US Dollar, you are immediately taking a 30% hit in the actual value of the machine over a domestically built one. It stands to reason that a US manufacturer can either offer a machine that is comparable in spec for 30% less than a European manufacturer or offer you more machine for the same money. Make sure that you are always comparing apples to apples and don’t buy into the sales rhetoric.

Things to always consider: Industrial Numeric Control is superior in performance, durability, accuracy, and reliability. A PC based controller is cheaper - not better! Rigidity is the key to cut quality and speed. Moving table models are typically the most rigid, therefore they are faster and typically the longest lasting machines. Moving closed gantry is the next best followed by an open cantilevered gantry as a distant third.

Again, don’t buy into the sales rhetoric, open gantry is cheaper to build not better! Get at least a 5’X10’ table and make certain that you will have full coverage by all tools. I know of at least one manufacture who sells a 60” wide machine but you can only cut 54” wide. Ask the question and make them prove it! Open architecture is much better then proprietary design. Your design software will post code much better, with fewer problems and less setup on a standard open architecture machine.

Many proprietary machines require their own proprietary software. This is never good because you have much less control and flexibility. Parts availability - are replacement parts available through companies like Granger and McMaster Carr? Or do you have to purchase all of your replacement parts through the manufacturer? You may not think that is a big deal when you buy your machine but believe me, when you have to pay the manufactures 5000% markup for a simple solenoid switch, you’ll think different. How many technicians do they have? These machines are built by man and therefore, they break. How long are you going to be down when a breakdown occurs? Budget is one thing, but price should not be your primary deciding factor. The difference in hourly cost between a $75,000 machine and a $150,000 machine is insignificant when you consider the improved efficiency, longer usable life, higher quality components, better tech support, features, and etc. that come with the higher priced machines.