When you first get into the world of CNC you often find overwhelming information that can be challenging to navigate. Contrasting each manufacturer and product is akin to comparing apples and oranges. Each product line, manufacturer, and model falls into different places on the CNC spectrum.
In this article we will breakdown the 3 primary categories of CNC Routers: Hobby, Prosumer, and Professional. Each has a set of metrics that can do a lot of the initial heavy lifting when researching a machine that is optimal for your specific needs and budget. Lets dive into the many factors that determine a machine category such as size, cost, production capabilities, options, and breakdown the pros and cons for each.
Hobby – CNC Kits
Hobbyist kits are the least expensive type but require the most amount of experience, time, and patience. These router kits have to be assembled and calibrated and getting one up and running is a whole project by itself. Hobby CNC machine kits are best for non-commercial use and can be hit or miss when using in a production model. Understanding of electronics, mechanics, computers, and software is a must to have an efficient running machine for the desired utility. Hobby machines are not nearly as rigid or reliable as other CNC types.
For the hobbyist who has time to fidget, troubleshoot, and hack away – it can be a fun activity with rewarding outcomes. Other hobbyists who lack in-depth knowledge of the mechanical, software, or both sides to a CNC machine often find kits to be frustrating and time-consuming and would opt for a more turnkey, ready to run machine. Inventables and Shapoko are a couple of brands that are popular in the hobbyist market. These kits often use cheaper components belts that can stretch and wear more than the alternative lead screw systems. The cheap plastic wheels for the linear drive mechanism in hobbyist CNCs is a disadvantage in both precision and replacement.
Prosumer lines of CNC machines run off of inexpensive PC based controls. They should have professional drive systems to include linear rails using ACME or ball screws. These machines are more rigid, precise, and reliable. Prosumer class CNC machines are a perfect option for small business and startups. The cost of entry is lower but you can still do high quality production work.
Prosumer CNC machines also have a plethora of options the consumer can choose to customize the machine to their needs. You can often choose any spindle or router and explore additions like 4th axis, handheld jog pendants, touch-off plates, engraving lasers, CAM software, threaded inserts, and more -which is rare in the hobby or commercial/pro class CNC machines. PROBOTIX fully assembled GX machines fall in the prosumer CNC category and are used for a multitude of applications from hobby woodworking, educational and university teaching, light industrial applications, and even commercial mass production.
This class of CNC machine is the most expensive and best for larger application and companies with the capital and need to run high capacity heavy-duty industrial work. These machines run on proprietary control systems and require a higher learning curve to master the control systems. HAAS is the largest manufacturer of this class of cnc machine but bear in mind replacement parts are expensive. If your business depends on your machine running at high capacity or you can’t afford downtime when a problem occurs, you can get service calls on site but they are very expensive. Navigating the typical dealer network these class machines use can be a hassle. Typically a commercial machine requires a high dollar machinist and high level of technical skill to operate.
PROBOTIX™ is a leader in digital machining and a domestic manufacturer of fully assembled, tested, and turnkey CNC solutions – right here in the United States. Call us today at 866.492.9262 or email email@example.com to chat with an applications specialist to help find the right machine for your needs.
Top factors to know for buying a CNC router. PROBOTIX is the leader in digital manufacturing and has sold thousands of high precision CNC machines for the educational, industrial, healthcare, and hobbyist markets. In this article we will explore the top 5 factors to consider when buying a new router
Construction, Capabilities, Company, and
The actual cost of the router regardless of the category they choose the accessories for instance for a 50000 HAAS it’s a 2k option upgrade to turn on rigid tapping function even though the software already knows how to do it. Prosumer market accessories run between 500-5000 additional to machine cost for CAM, dust collection, sensors and probes, hobbyist market options run an additional 100-2k depending.
In order to narrow down your search for a router and estimate how much you will need, size matters. Manufacturers vary in their table sizes from 12 x 12 tabletop cnc routers to large scale 5×9 machines. Expect to pay between $2000 and $4000 for a small bench-top router and $9000-$30000 for a large table that can cut full sheets of plywood.
Price is also driven by the manufacturer. Expect to pay a premium when buying from an established brand in the industry especially the 800lb gorillas like Shopbot, Shapeoko, Haas, or XYVZ.
Options options options. When factoring the price of a CNC machine, you will need to factor in what accessories you need to include. Most machines have a list of accessories or upgraded features that will add dollars to your total machine price.
Typically you will pay a premium for superior craftsmanship which encompasses the quality of raw materials, machining, assembly, and aesthetics. Prosumer market routers run 3-20k, and Professional run 20k+, hobbyist 1-3k.
Customer service and support is critical to gain full utilization and peak operating capacity of your machine. In the CNC industry, look for suppliers that have a phone number for sales, tech support, and customer service preferably to the manufacturing facility itself where you can speak with the mechanics engineers designers or owners of the company you buy from. This is rare in the industry, and even more so when you are able to call the source directly and domestically. Look for manufacturers that have a developed help desk, online wiki, forum, phone and support email .
The CAM software you choose depends upon the types of parts you want to make. There are three basic types of operations that you can do with a CNC router:
Bitmap relief carving
The first and simplest type of operation is bitmap relief carving. This is for working with photographs… jpeg and bitmap images. The software converts the image to grayscale. Then you define the maximum and minimum depth of cut, and the software creates the tool paths to carve a 3D relief carving of the images. The 3D lithophane is an example of this type of carving. Vectric’s PhotoVCarve works very well for this. (Other Examples)
The second type of operation is called 2.5D – pocketing, profiling, drilling, and text engraving. These are basically flat features in flat parts. With this type of operation, you can make ribs for your model airplane wings, coasters, Christmas ornaments, wooden clocks, parts for your quadcopters, signs, and plaques, and so on. At only $150, Vectric’sCut2D is the easiest way to get started with these types of parts.
The third type of operation is a 3D carving. This is for more organic shapes with curved surfaces. To do this type of operation, you use a ball end mill. The amount of detail that you get is determined by how small a tool that you use on the finish pass. There are limitations to this type of carving because the tool is always perpendicular to the table. Most 3D carving software will allow you to do 2-sided machining, and also to slice your model into manageable pieces that you can glue together to make objects that are much larger than you CNC router’s work envelope. MeshCam and Cut3D are both great 3D carving programs.
All three of these types of software programs will export g-code that can be run on any CNC router.
PROBOTIX™ is the leader in digital manufacturing with fully assembled precision CNC routers. Contact us today at 844-472-9262 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and speak with an Applications Engineer to determine the best CAM software and CNC accessories for your business needs.