Computer Numerical Control cutting, otherwise known as CNC cutting for short, was one of the key developments in 20th-century industrial technology once the first C was added with the advent of computers. Advancements in modern technology have continued to drive the CNC industry in the opening decades of the 21st century and it remains at the forefront of manufacturing development and technological innovation.
- 1 Why any CNC Machine Increases Efficiency
- 2 Small Budget/Scale Machines That Cost Under 10,000 $
- 3 Medium Scale Commercial Operations – 10,000 $ – 100,000 $ Range
- 4 Large Scale Commercial and Industrial Operations – Price Above 100,000 $
- 5 Things to Consider Before Buying
- 6 Final Thoughts
Why any CNC Machine Increases Efficiency
One of the main benefits of CNC processing is in its subtractive operation format. The required piece or product can be created to incorporate increased strength and durability alongside generating minimal waste products in comparison to conventional addition based manufacturing methods, thus reducing costs and improving manufacturing output and efficiency. The huge wealth of potential applications and uses of this CNC method have made it a quickly expanding and changing technological field that should interest everyone from the amateur hobbyist in his or her home machine shop, right through to the successful industrial company CEO considering their next commercial project or business expansion.
Depending on their specification and use, CNC machines can vary in cost from just a few hundred dollars for small home use applications right through to multi-million dollar industrial projects. This wide range of available products and commercial applications can make for a bewildering market place whether this is your first time buying or you’re a veteran machinist, so here we will attempt to walk through a few of the common applications in a variety of budgets, in order to help people navigate their next CNC machine purchase, however big or small.
Is a CNC Machine Right for Me?
Especially for those with a limited budget, taking advantage of these ever-advancing developments in industrial technology can at first seem to be difficult. The first task should be to understand how a CNC machine could be useful for your requirements. For the home hobbyist, such as arts and crafts fans looking to create their own jewelry or the mechanic crafting a one-off replacement part for his hobby project car, CNC machine technology could actually prove to be more affordable and advantageous than you might expect.
Almost any material you can think of can be machined with some form of CNC device, so from a commercial perspective, there’s almost certainly a way you could increase efficiency or improve product quality in your manufacturing process using the correct machine for you. Although the investment cost of a small machine plus the CAD software required to operate it could be as much several thousand dollars, the improvements in product quality and advancements in efficiency driven by the introduction of a CNC machine would be sure to help offset this initial cost fairly quickly.
Smaller, conventional CNC machines usually operate in 3 axes for machining, the X, Y, and Z, as most tasks can be accomplished using a programmed combination of these planes, which helps keep overall tooling costs down, especially on longer manufacturing runs. The more advanced end of the CNC machine spectrum, however, can often operate in several axes and to a much greater degree of precision, which is required in technical industries such as aerospace engineering but also increases the costs associated with their purchase and operation greatly.
So let’s take a look at several CNC machine price brackets to help make sense of this wide-ranging market.
Small Budget/Scale Machines That Cost Under 10,000 $
Let’s see some basic facts about some machines for hobbyists or small commercial applications.
Machines For Amateurs for Under 1,500 $
For the home hobbyist and commercial operations on a smaller budget, there’s sure to be a CNC machine on the market to suit you. A good place to start is by making a list of your specification needs, such as the required work area size and the materials you often work with, which you can then use to compare the available machines within your budget in order to find the correct machine for you. These machines cover an area of less than 9 square feet and their maximum length doesn’t exceed 3 feet. It’s pretty much obvious that there are restrictions on the size of the material.
Most of those machines perform milling and drilling operations but you will probably come across a few lathes. There are several popular leaders at the cutting edge of amateur, home use, and small scale CNC technology. There are a large number of machines available for only a few hundred dollars that are primarily for use cutting and engraving materials such as wood, plastics, and lightweight metals.
The compact size and affordable price of such offerings can make them an ideal machine for a hobbyist making furniture or wood carvings at home, or an artist seeking to create small scale bespoke acrylic products quickly, for example, as well as the small run machining workshop looking to invest in a new device. Aimed at the amateur market, they generally feature easy to use integrated software for programming and are compatible with most common computer operating systems. Whilst they often feature lightweight router-based design and plastic parts that may prevent the machine from tackling heavier duty metalworking, their ease of use and assembly is sure to make them popular in this market area, often only taking a few hours to set up and learn to use.
Small Scale Machines 1,500 $ – 10,000 $
For those needing to work with heavier metal and PVC materials, there are also a number of affordable machines that feature strong spindle based cutting motors with high speeds and more durable construction methods for extended use time. Even if you’re working with robust materials such as plexiglass or cement board, there are a number of CNC machines available at this entry-level to suit your cost.
Companies such as Mysweety, Zen Tools and BobsCNC are market leaders in the small scale CNC field, offering widely regarded products at prices suitable to the hobbyist and small business market.
So really there’s never been a better time to try your hand at CNC cutting or engraving; whether you’re considering starting up a new small machining business venture, or just thinking of designing and crafting a new coffee table for fun in your spare time, a modest investment in a CNC machine could really revolutionize the way you create your products.
Medium Scale Commercial Operations – 10,000 $ – 100,000 $ Range
For those seeking a slightly larger, more commercially suited application, there are also a number of options available. Typically these may be for use in heavier-duty manufacturing and fabrication environments associated with more extended, rigorous use and tougher materials and generally feature large cooling systems designed to cope with the stresses associated with this. They are usually operated by industry-standard control software from a small number of recognized suppliers.
These aspects of the CNC machines design means they can be associated with costs more in the tens of thousands of dollar regions, making them generally only suited to more long term commercial operations with bigger investment budgets. This increased specialization means they often require detailed training to operate and program them, which is also a cost consideration. A model that is designed explicitly towards long term heavy-duty steel cutting may have a purchase price of around $10,000 excluding further start-up installation, and staff training costs, for example.
Best Brands For Medium Scale Operations
There are a large number of specialist suppliers all over the world who offer a range of industrial CNC engraving, cutting and milling machines suitable for commercial applications thanks to their heavyweight, durable designs and a large array of possible configurations. The Japanese have long been considered market leaders in the CNC machining field, with a number of specialist machining companies being active in the developing market place for over a hundred years.
Brands like Okuma and Yamazaki Mazak’s wealth of experience and technical know-how make them fierce competitors right through the commercial CNC market, although it is often recognized that their inherent specialization and brand unique custom control software can make them more expensive to purchase and start-up than other competitors such as Haas or Doosan – depending on specs, these machines may start at a few thousand dollars, ranging all the way up to hundreds of thousands for the most advanced machinery, as we will see later.
There are a variety of other CNC manufacturers in this competitive field, however, so as always it pays to do your homework before buying. There are a number of US-based companies internationally recognized for the strong quality of their machines in both a small hobbyist and industrial professional format.
While South Korean and Chinese competitors offer cheaper, value machines which could be good for industrial operations needing to work to tight profit margins. For example a US or European made model may be several thousand dollars more expensive than a comparable Chinese produced machine, but each machine has its own unique strengths and limitations. So it’s certainly wise to shop around extensively and seek the opinions of people who are extensively familiar with using any machine you are considering purchasing.
At this level, a CNC machine will be sure to be a major component of your operation so its difficult to overstate the importance of carefully researching the manufacturers in your budget range to find the ideal one for your needs.
Medium Scale Machine Characteristics
In this price range, you will come across various types of CNC lathes. The more simple machines with smaller size cost below 30,000$. However, you can easily find 2-axis lathes around that price. There is a great correlation between the price and the size of the machine. The cost of large scale CNC lathes exceeds 100,000$.
CNC Mills, Routers & Other Types
When it comes to mills and routers size affects the price tag. Also, the ability to move in many different axes increases the price. You can find a 3-axis vertical machine for 80,000$ for medium scale production.
Large Scale Commercial and Industrial Operations – Price Above 100,000 $
Once we start to look at the larger end of the commercial and industrial CNC machine spectrum, the sky really is the limit as far as the cost of these advanced, precision cutting machines go. They can frequently be as large as a small room and usually feature advanced technical features required for their specific application, such as the ability to machine in up to 5 axes and to a much more precise margin of error, both of which greatly increase the technical capability of the machine.
Large scale manufacturers of products such as automotive parts or mass-produced furniture, for example, may run several of these huge machines simultaneously in round the clock operations, while a successful engineering or precision design firm may utilize a single machine like this to produce prototype designs and large scale components.
The high initial costs associated with the purchase, tooling, maintenance and continued operation of these kinds of CNC machines can be eye-watering to the casual observer, especially in comparison with the smaller machines we have already looked at thus far. As always, the required degree of precision can greatly affect the retail value and further costs of the machines use; a manufacturer of surgical tools would generally require a much higher level of precision cutting than one producing bed frame, for example.
Although the large scale costs associated with them can be prohibitive, operating at this size can allow manufacturers to achieve significant cost reduction benefits and other competitive advantages over commercial rivals. Manufacturers of both mass-produced and bespoke or short-run products with advanced and complex designs that require several tooling changes can be sure to benefit from this kind of advanced CNC machine features.
Investing in CNC machine technology at this advanced level can yield significant cost reductions and efficiency increases for your business, for those with the required budget, but a significant level of consultation and research must be undertaken to ensure the correct specification and price machine is selected.
Finding the correct machine for your businesses needs could potentially be worth millions of dollars in gained revenue, so it really is very difficult to overestimate both the need for careful consideration of your businesses requirements before making any commitments and also the host of possible opportunities that these developments in CNC machine technology can represent for your business.
Best Large Scale Brands
Many of the manufacturers found throughout the CNC machine market are still prevalent at this highest level of both cost and development, including ones we’ve already touched on earlier. Other well-known names in professional industrial CNC machines on this large scale include companies such as Hermle and Grob, both based in Germany. CNC machines at this advanced level of output and precision, such as the Grob T series models, can retail anywhere between fifty thousand to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars depending on specification, rendering them well beyond the reach of all but the biggest budget manufacturers.
Things to Consider Before Buying
Now that we have examined several example price brackets, the next stage is to look carefully at the available purchasing options, once you’ve chosen your designated manufacturer and model. Much the same as several other industries, shopping around for the best value in the marketplace is a reliable tactic for obtaining a good deal that meets all or the majority of your key requirements. For a first time or amateur machinist, a few minutes with a pad and paper and their internet browser could be all that’s necessary to source a good value machine. However, for more advanced and expensive machines, this can be substantially more difficult to achieve.
Often other commercial and business concerns can make it difficult to have the time to conduct the necessary levels of research to make what feels like an informed decision on what can be a major and expensive purchase. All major CNC manufacturers employ sales representatives who will be more than happy to demonstrate the positive features of their products, along with a variety of different options on maintenance and after-sales support, so it would be highly recommended to speak to several whom you can view comparatively before making any agreements with one individual brand.
The relatively high residual price of used CNC machines on the second-hand marketplace also speaks to their inherent business and commercial value in contrast with other forms of used manufacturing machinery. To this end, there are many companies in the CNC machine marketplace who offer to act as brokers and finders between customers and the machine manufacturers, promising to source machines to specification at the best possible prices thanks to their superior buying power when compared to individuals and a large inventory of existing machine stocks.
Although the solution of consulting 3rd party assistance might not be ideal for many smaller businesses looking to save, it’s certainly worth exploring for companies at the more expensive end of the CNC machine spectrum when seeking to get the best bang for their buck. As we have seen already, taking the plunge and purchasing your next or even first CNC machine, is in fact the easiest and last part of the complex process of identifying the correct machine for your needs!
So whether you’re a first-time hobbyist looking to spend a modest amount on a new, small do-it-yourself CNC mill for their garage, a small business technician looking for a way to improve efficiency with a new manufacturing process designed around incorporating a CNC lathe, or a construction production planner looking to cost your next project using a state of the art $100,000 CNC machine.
The world of CNC machinery surely has a product able to deliver substantial benefits to key areas of your manufacturing process if you invest just a short amount of time in reviewing your production process and discovering which one is right for your needs.
For business owners, especially in this uncertain economic climate, there’s never been a better time to examine fundamental aspects of your business operation. Manufacturing, supply chain and identifying key areas for reducing cost while maximizing output and efficiency are important. CNC is one of a number of interesting and exciting technologies poised to deliver these benefits for those willing to explore.
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