Two CNCs, or One CNC Paired with a Beam Saw?

Your machinery choice depends on what you're making. Here are some thoughts about the options. March 22, 2013

If you were to start a new shop, would you have a CNC and a beam saw, or would you have two CNCs? Why?

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor F:
What kind of shop? Sign, cabinet, furniture, or POP work?

From the original questioner:
It would be a cabinet shop specializing in commercial work and fixture work for retail. Basically a job shop that will build anything, but pays the bills with cabinet work.

From contributor F:
For cabinets I would get a beam saw and CNC.

From contributor J:
I have a slider and a CNC. I've yet to work with (or need) a beam saw.

From contributor P:
Two CNC what? Two flat table machining centers vs. a beam saw and point to point? If you're making cabinets and going through 1-2 skids of sheet goods a day, the flat table router is a good but pricey option with a steep learning curve. Unless you're making lots of irregular shaped pieces, having two of them would be a pretty expensive way of increasing production. Assuming you're doing general cabinet work and you're cutting 2+ skids of material a day, you'll want a beam saw and a point to point machine.

From contributor L:
I'm in the same business. No residential cabinets. My panel processing area has: Schelling 430, Komo 5x10, 8' CNC bore and insert with 3 drill motors (one for dowels, one for other horizontal drilling and one vertical drilling), IDM bander, all connected with conveyors and transfer cars feeding to the assembly stations. The simple boxes are assembled and case clamped next to the doweling machine (set up as a work cell). Other work is mostly Confirmats on 4 hydraulic 4x10 benches.

We are near capacity on the router and have considered a second. No way go the PTP and saw. Double handling! Even for just cutting rectangles the router is at least as fast as the beam saw, if single sheet cutting.

If I were to start from scratch: a 5x12 router with auto loading and push-off while cleaning the bed. Unless you are going to be stack cutting rectangles that won't be face detailed, I'd go for a second router. Having a second router gives you a backup. As we are now, if our router were to go down, things would almost stop.

I'd definitely use conveyors rather than carts. They have been a big improvement here. Less labor, forced organization. One of the next additions here will be a gantry crane and floor conveyors to hold units of the most commonly used materials within reach for loading both the saw and router. Should save the time of using the forklift to store and retrieve every change of materials. Our solid wood processing area uses carts. It may be possible to use conveyors there, but the long lengths could be an issue depending on shop layout.

We still use our slider for odd and end things. Still have a 12/14" saw and feed, a SawStop, SL rip, assorted shapers (several just left setup for one use) Weinig molder, grinder, widebelt, etc. Given the number of "etc." there are, I'd leave plenty of room for adding more of them. We have too many almost obsolete tools that don't get much use. Our final assembly area/shipping can hold up to two semi loads of finished work, but not function well at that level.

It sure would be nice to start from scratch, and really expensive too. This shop has been built up over 24 years.

From contributor D:
Unless you are cutting multiple parts that allow stack cutting on a beam saw and don't require secondary machining, a flat table router is the only way to go.

I previously ran a beam saw and ptp and converted to nested base about 9 months ago. Before I made the change, I did time studies on things to see the difference. For example, on our beam saw, to load and just cut a 4x8 sheet on all 4 sides would take approximately 5 minutes. The other day I ran an 8 sheet job and tracked the time to machine and unload on the CNC. Average time to run parts was 6 minutes per sheet with all machining complete. Time to mark, unload, clean table and load next sheet was 4-6 minutes.

If I was starting from scratch today, I would buy a nested base machine with fully automated loader and a ride along bar code printer. This setup would have the machine running the next sheet in 1/3 the time of manual offloading.

The other thing with the CNC is you can add things that you wouldn't normally do to help ease assembly and install. For example, our garage cabinet backs have shelf holes in them and a top. Many times the top hadn't been marked and a lazy employee wouldn't pay attention and the back ended up installed upside down. We now place a 5mm hole at the top of the cut line to denote the top. In 2 seconds we removed the possibility of human error in that step.

From contributor F:
Where I work we have a beam saw, a pod CNC, and a flat table CNC. We can cut 3 sheets at a time on the beam saw.

From contributor M:
I prefer a beam saw and a machine center. Do you have an idea of how many panels you will process in a shift? This is the biggest factor. I would also look at scaling up your capacity to match your volume of work. Unless you are sitting on a mountain of cash and have a very solid team of sales, office and operations people waiting for you to start on day one, buying that much machinery to start a new shop will be a huge waste of capitol. Keep the money in the bank and start with a machine center and a slider. Then you will more easily be able to answer your question about adding a second CNC or a beam saw.

From contributor D:
Just cleaning up the shop today and came upon another reason to go nested base instead of PTP. Pods! When we switched our machine over I put all the pods in a box and just opened it today. I have 40 of them on my desk right now and they all are damaged, some usable, some not. At about $100 bucks a pop, you do the math. With a 1" spoil board that we surface a 1/4mm at a time costing under $50 dollars, it's a huge savings in operational cost.

From contributor M:
That is interesting. I found spoil boards to be a major operating cost for my nested setup before. Now we are using a pod machine. So far, aside from gaskets, I have not had any issues with my pods. But we are not in production with this machine yet. Do you guys make a lot of mistakes in setting up the pods? How is the damage occurring?

From contributor D:
I can't say that I never hit one, but employees don't seem to put as much effort into the setup to make sure they are clear of operations. It always made for a happy day to see a brand new one with a route right down the edge of it the first day it went on the machine.

Contributor M, please tell me why you went through so many spoil boards that they are considered a major expense? We regularly run 20 sheets a day, 5 days a week and just put our 4th one on in the last nine months.

From contributor L:
We probably average 40 sheets a day and don't go through all that many spoil boards to consider it a major expense. My main machine operator is good at setups and if anything, doesn't route into the spoil board as much as he should. Router bits are a bigger expense by far. After several different manufacturers and sharpening services, I've come to the conclusion that resharpened router bits aren't worth it. This is probably another thread.

We are running a 40hp pump so hold is relatively good even with a dinged up board.

From contributor M:
Like you, I would replace the spoil board monthly. I should not have used the word "major" to describe the expense; it would be second to sharpening services. Like I said, I am new to using a pod machine, so I am curious about the issue with pod damage. It sounds like I should order some replacements before we put the machine to work.

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

Comment from contributor A:
For the last 11 years our shop has been using a PTP router in a combination at first with a vertical panel saw, and then seven years ago replaced it with a beam saw. Now I have the beam saw PTP combo and have recently brought in a nested base router so I have personal experience with all combos. If I was starting out I would definitely get a nested base with at least a push off device.

Having the BS-PTP combo and doing 40 percent of our business being commercial and the rest high-end residential I am finding that my nested 5x12 with a push off device can still beat my BS-PTP time in almost all instances. When cutting three sheets high, which is not typical for us in most cases, we cut one sheet 70% of the time, two sheets 22%, and three sheets 8 % of time.

It also seems that acquiring a good beam saw and point to point is going to be more expensive than purchasing a good nested-base. With all options it is actually less expensive. One thing to keep in mind is that it would be best to have software. Maybe you already have that, but either way you go software on machines is a good idea.