Whether to Invest in a Small CNC Machine

Even a small CNC machine can be highly productive. But a small shop has to think through whether it will suit their volume, workflow, and schedule. July 11, 2007

Are any of you using the new Shopbot Alpha? I am considering getting into using CNC technology to step up production. I've been mostly doing high end custom jobs and want to dabble in custom garage and closet packs. Am I kidding myself that a Shopbot could cut out and machine parts efficiently enough to be worthwhile? We are a small 3 man shop. I'm not sure I do the kind of volume to make the mortgage for one of the big boy CNC's.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor C:
You will cut more parts than 3 guys can assemble. The CNC will speed up the cutting, but you are going to bottleneck at assembly. You will have parts stacked up all over your shop waiting to go together. What about edgebanding? Do you install and finish? 3 guys can only do so much. You make money with a CNC only when it is running.

From contributor A:
We have an edgebander. Sometimes we do the finish, and do the installs as well. I'm thinking of hiring an installer, but I must be able to keep him busy.

From contributor G:
Just want to point out another potential bottleneck... programming. If you're doing that, plus selling jobs, plus managing, etc., your guys could easily be waiting around for you to program. Then the parts will be waiting around. Try to program frequently, and in small batches (1 job at a time maybe).

From contributor M:
I run my Shopbot by night and a large CNC by day. My bot can cut just about anything the big machine can. I would not worry about the durability of the bot. Lots of people run them all day everyday. It may not be as efficient, mostly because you won't have a huge vacuum system or a tool changer. But to get into CNC, it is a great machine to get your feet wet with, and for what I paid for it, I don't have to keep it running constantly to make the payment, unlike the big machine. It's there when I need it and if it doesn't run for a week it won't kill me.