The purchase of a CNC machine is no small investment, and the variety of available options can befuddle just about anyone who's not an expert. To help you narrow your options and hone in on the right CNC machine for your shop, we've identified five variables you should consider:
1. Duty cycle: Do you plan to use the machine for occasional hobby projects or for more sustained production purposes?
2. Capacity: How big do you anticipate these projects will be? For example, do you expect to make large outdoor signs or small wall plaques? While software allows smaller machines to work on larger projects in "tiles," a machine with a larger "working envelope" might be worth it because of the setup time and effort it will save you.
3. Durability: Is the machine robust enough to maintain its accuracy over time? For how long? Lighter-duty machines often do not hold their tolerances as well as more rigidly built machines.
4. Power: What type of motor or spindle will the machine have (or require), and what's the horsepower capability? Power determines speed and quality of the cut. Some CNC machines are designed to fit a compact router motor; some can accommodate larger router motors; some come with water-cooled spindles; and some have spindles that use other liquid coolants. In general, spindles make less noise and are built specifically to run for extended periods of time. So a more serious user probably will want a liquid-cooled spindle, while a casual user might be happy with a router motor or water-cooled spindle.
5. Value: Are all of the important components included in the price, or are they considered add-ons that must be purchased in addition to the machine? Some machines include such items as design software and a touch plate or puck for easy setup, while others sell every item as an accessory. Additionally, some require the user to have a computer attached to the CNC machine at all times, while others have a handheld controller onto which files can be loaded via a USB port.
If you have any questions, associates at your nearest Rockler Retail Store would be happy to talk with you, or you can call our Technical Services department at 800-260-9663 (7 a.m.-6 p.m. M-F).