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Best Machine Options for CNC Cutting & Drilling?

Mross506

Plastic
Joined
Oct 6, 2019
As some of you have seen from my previous posts, we are building a small fab shop within our manufacturing company for custom machine building. We are slowly growing into larger equipment and to this point have done everything manually with Saws, drill presses, and now an ironworker. I would like to learn more about what machine options are out there for cutting plates and drilling holes in the CNC world. Is there a single machine that is fairly universal or are we better off to use a plasma table for the plates and CNC mill for drill holes?

Most of our material is 1/8 - 1/2" thick. Plates can range from 2"x2" up to longer 10-12' pieces of angle or channel.(Most of which we can punch with the ironwoker so this machine would be geared toward making items like this smaller adapter plates.
 

memphisjed

Stainless
Joined
Jan 21, 2019
Location
Memphis
Flexdrill offers small material machines. You might fall into the ability of controlled Automation’s small angle line (channel not so much)- or their small drill line. Controlled machines always have errors after initial set up- but they support the machines for life- and they are bullet proof. These are machines when parts are in hundreds or thousands, measuring output in tons per day.
Depending on budget and numbers- if all small material like suggested the big dragon from 2020 might be the go to universal machine. It is a lot cheaper - by well more than a zero on the end - can do angle, channel, flat, tube, and pipe. A few hundred parts is a good shift on these machines. Plasma so slower than drill or saw, but it does the job. Simple machines, better software than machine- but so simple you can fix anything mechanical on it.
 

implmex

Titanium
Joined
Jun 23, 2002
Location
Vancouver BC Canada
Hi Mross506:
Unfortunately the question you're asking is a bit like asking "what boat should I get"...you need to be much more specific about what you hope to build, what resources you're prepared to spend, what you already have, where you intend to grow.

You've touched on some of them, but not in enough detail for anyone to give you a usable answer.

I can infer some things by what you've posted, but there's a lot missing and some of what you have posted is contradictory:
For example, you got yourself an Ironworker...that implies a low tolerance fab shop, and parts in a certain size range.
But your quoted stock sizes make me go" why an ironworker for a 2" by 2" x 1/8" thick plate?"
That's a really poor equipment choice if that's a typical size for what you're building, so it seems that's not really the size range you're into after all, but you don't really say.

You state you're building mostly a fabricating shop, not a machine shop.
So you need to cut stock to length and to shape, you need to make decently accurate holes in decently accurate locations, sometimes in parts big enough to need lifting tackle, you need to be able to stick bars and plates together reasonably accurately (tape measure tolerances).

For a shop of this kind, you need space and capacity, so open frame machines into which you can moose bigger bits, manual machines unless you're producing in volume, waterjet or plasma cutter tolerances for the most part, fixturing and welding tables and positioners, a good upright bandsaw like a Roll-In saw.

Do you need turning?
If so, and you are going to do repetitive work in volume, a machine like a Haas Toolroom Lathe is a versatile choice.
Otherwise any bigger manual lathe will do just fine.

Do you need milling?
If you need precision and the ability to produce in volume, you need decent capacity in an open frame machine, an unenclosed Haas Toolroom Mill is a workable choice there too.
Otherwise get a big manual radial drill, a big manual boring mill or a big manual horizontal/vertical knee mill.

Get a decent CNC waterjet cutter, get a goodish sized press brake, get a big hydraulic press, get good welders, get a biggish CNC plasma cutter; the list can go on and on.
If you do mostly plate work to boilermaker tolerances a big plasma cutter will get you there, if the tolerances are closer, a waterjet or laser cutter is a better choice and can make holes and 2D shapes as accurately as you're likely to need.

Migrate your post over to the the fabricating sub-forum and ask over there...you'll likely get more useful responses, if you're mostly fabbing.

Cheers

Marcus
Implant Mechanix • Design & Innovation > HOME
Vancouver Wire EDM -- Wire EDM Machining
 

Mross506

Plastic
Joined
Oct 6, 2019
Hi Mross506:
Unfortunately the question you're asking is a bit like asking "what boat should I get"...you need to be much more specific about what you hope to build, what resources you're prepared to spend, what you already have, where you intend to grow.

You've touched on some of them, but not in enough detail for anyone to give you a usable answer.

I can infer some things by what you've posted, but there's a lot missing and some of what you have posted is contradictory:
For example, you got yourself an Ironworker...that implies a low tolerance fab shop, and parts in a certain size range.
But your quoted stock sizes make me go" why an ironworker for a 2" by 2" x 1/8" thick plate?"
That's a really poor equipment choice if that's a typical size for what you're building, so it seems that's not really the size range you're into after all, but you don't really say.

You state you're building mostly a fabricating shop, not a machine shop.
So you need to cut stock to length and to shape, you need to make decently accurate holes in decently accurate locations, sometimes in parts big enough to need lifting tackle, you need to be able to stick bars and plates together reasonably accurately (tape measure tolerances.





For a shop of this kind, you need space and capacity, so open frame machines into which you can moose bigger bits, manual machines unless you're producing in volume, waterjet or plasma cutter tolerances for the most part, fixturing and welding tables and positioners, a good upright bandsaw like a Roll-In saw.

Good point on not providing enough context. We are neither preparing to be a machine shop or fab shop. We are setting up to be both but only because our mission is to bring all capability in house that would be necessary to build a machine from scratch and cut out the middle-man custom machine building companies that we currently use. The desire to do so it driven by being uphappy with the quality and timelines from these shops along with really large grow in the organization that will have us spending the next few years building $5-10mil in custom machines. (I was not intending on referring to the Ironworker as a tool that we would use to perform the scope of work intended for a CNC XYZ. I was just explaining the equipment we have in our shop. It actually speaks to the transition we are in as we move from doing the fab work in house and contracting all of the machine work.

In order for us to be successful we need to be able to both fabricate the equipment frames, work tables, hand rail, etc that you would find in a normal fab shop. However, our equipment also contain a good amount of machined pieces that are primarily steel and aluminum. We have a manual Bridgeport and small lathe that we currently use but it is really slow. Since we do all of our own machine design, we already have the CAD needed to dump the print into a CNC and let it do the work. My problem is that I know absolutely nothing about that world.

The best way I can describe our current scope would be a machine that can do as much as possible for as cheap as possible. :D Yea yea. I know. I am officially that guy! What I mean is that since our work pieces are such a broad type and we have so little equipment currently, I am looking for a good place to start. Something that is pretty versatile at milling (If I had to prioritize a CNC mill vs a CNC lathe, the mill would be more valuable to start. I would rather give up size for capability. If it had a bed able to fit a 36" plate that would be able to do a large portion of our work load. It is common for parts to need holes indexed and drilled, tapped, slots cut, chamfers applied, etc. It is alot of adapter plates, mounting blocks, etc so it does not need moving component precision but it needs to accurate enough that multiple pieces can be aligned, bolted together, etc.

Since we are not a traditional machine shop, this will not be a high volume machine. This machine just allows us to be more capable and process 20 parts a week on a good week. It's main benefit is allowing us to use our already existing drawings to allow a tech to make an adapter without spending a large amount of time manually entering data into a bridgeport controller.

Let me know what other info would be helpful or what questions you have. I have looked at used CNC mills online but have no idea what one is from the other. Ideally, we would buy a used machine for $20-30k? I honestly don't even know what I could get for that money.
 

implmex

Titanium
Joined
Jun 23, 2002
Location
Vancouver BC Canada
Hi again Mross506:
OK, now we have a much better idea of what you hope to accomplish and it all makes much better sense.

If you want to make big things and use the CNC mill to do it, you need something big enough to hump in a large piece, even if it's just a lightweight weldment you need to put some details on, that you can't do any other way.
Something Haas VF10 sized or bigger if it's going to be an enclosed machine.
Something you could park a small car on.
A VF10 can take a workpiece 10 feet long but will set you back a quarter million dollars if you buy a brand new one.
If it is an open machine, it can be a lot smaller and often still be made to work with some ingenuity.

If your machined parts are all much smaller, then a Haas VF2 or VF 3 sized machine is very popular.
The VF3 is 40" x 20" x 25" capacity so it's already a decent size and for a CNC mill of that capacity, it's pretty cheap at 75 grand. (especially if you can score one used and pay half of that).

If all you're ever going to do on it is drill some holes in some frames you can get away with a lot less...a good radial drill will make an awful lot of holes in a week too.

I'm going on about Haas machines, not because they're super top of the line toys, but because they are everywhere, they are easy to run, they are pretty cheap and they are decent to have serviced, so they're a pretty safe bet for a shop that doesn't make it's money doing balls-to-wall production.

Similarly for turning, a Haas toolroom lathe is not a powerhouse like an Okuma is, but for low volume work on a variety of stuff, they're a versatile choice.
They're cheap machines too (35 grand for a TL2), but can get you into the game in a way you will never be able to do with manual equipment.
So if you need to cut threads, turn the odd goofy shape, run low volume production, bore sprockets and sheaves...typical machine maker type stuff, then they can do all that , just not as well as that super beefy monster you can buy from Japan.

You can put a Multifix manual toolpost on one, you can put a manual 4 jaw chuck on one, you can set up a gang setup or cheap aftermarket turret on one, you can hump in a biggish workpiece, all in a way that's much harder to do on a fully enclosed production machine.

But the "real" machine can run rings around a Haas for ripping off cubic inches of metal per minute and can do it for hours at a time with tenths precision for a quarter million dollars.

So for better or worse, that's where I see you making the best gains for your buck, given what you've told us.
Others will have different opinions, but I'd bet I could make a pretty productive shop with these, for the kind of stuff you've been describing.

Cheers

Marcus
Implant Mechanix • Design & Innovation > HOME
Vancouver Wire EDM -- Wire EDM Machining

On edit: Oh yeah, I forgot...you don't get to just "we already have the CAD needed to dump the print into a CNC and let it do the work."

Sadly there's a lot more to it as you will very quickly discover.
MC
 

memphisjed

Stainless
Joined
Jan 21, 2019
Location
Memphis
Doing it all on the cheap is unicorn. Having a plate plasma/drill/mill (hgg, controlled auto, blm, hornet maybe, Connectix... just a few) is a big difference from a drill for flat, angle, and channel.

The Drill lines that can do that (flexdrill, controlled, pedinghaus) are some- 36 inch width is doable- but these machines make a vf10 look affordable. Not just cost but footprint too.

Handrails do not even touch these machines. Handrails and stairs are fitter and processor (cut list/cope/drawing check) team event. Equipment is relatively minimal.

Of course if you do stair pans then you either buy out or add in laser/shear and a press brake.

Primary processing is a big dog game, the capital needed is eye watering, inventory and material handling is huge portion of what you need. Best to leave this with them (I work for a shop like this). Spending racks for 20 parts a week is not going to save you money.

A good vertical saw (hem or hydmech v18) with a tiger stop (maybe, again part count/cost), a mid size flex arm, a prosumer plasma table, a radial arm drill (a pretty blue one for sale in the for sale forum), clamps, grinders, iron worker, mag drill will do a whole lot, and a good large format plotter (oce) for semi precise layout. Your part count does not warrant going to cnc fabrication equipment.

If you find a used water jet for good price that might be better than a plasma for your work- water cost a lot to buy out while plasma is almost free if you buy a plate worth of parts- and turn around is days not weeks. Water cuts anything, with clean square edges. You can also farm out the water to other shops to help pay the light bill.
 

Mross506

Plastic
Joined
Oct 6, 2019
I will do an audit to get a decent understanding of the size and scope of the type of parts I am referring to. I can see us using a plasma table on the large stuff and getting a smaller CNC for the more precise requirements.
 

DDoug

Diamond
Joined
Oct 18, 2005
Location
NW Pa
As some of you have seen from my previous posts, we are building a small fab shop within our manufacturing company for custom machine building. We are slowly growing into larger equipment and to this point have done everything manually with Saws, drill presses, and now an ironworker. I would like to learn more about what machine options are out there for cutting plates and drilling holes in the CNC world. Is there a single machine that is fairly universal or are we better off to use a plasma table for the plates and CNC mill for drill holes?

Most of our material is 1/8 - 1/2" thick. Plates can range from 2"x2" up to longer 10-12' pieces of angle or channel.(Most of which we can punch with the ironwoker so this machine would be geared toward making items like this smaller adapter plates.

How are going to program the machine ?
 

surplusjohn

Diamond
Joined
Apr 11, 2002
Location
Syracuse, NY USA
We have a 2000 watt amada fiber laser. This is primarily for production of course but for when we build fixtures we have become pretty good at using the laser to build up structures that are more than precise enought for our use. Think flat ss plates with tabs and slots that can be dry assembled then tig welded. The easy precision goes a long ways. When a heavier structure is needed we can easily build up a webbed structure.
 

memphisjed

Stainless
Joined
Jan 21, 2019
Location
Memphis
What do you mean by primary processing?

The first operation on stock. Cut to length, mitered, coped, burn table cut outs, holes.. just processed- no clean up, no welding, no grinding. Just raw parts.
Tube laser and water jet also count.
A lot of mid size and small size shops do not touch full size plates, large angles, or beams. Processors have big toys so that the smaller shops can make money on fit up, welding, painting- high tolerance areas, tapping, etc. also frees up space and material handling capabilities for them.
Even a processing shop does not have all the toys, we work with other shops that have different abilities. Plate drill/mill (I hope we get one once the boss men decide we can retire our burn table), tube lasers (I think they are neat- no idea how they make money given their life span), small angles (we are having a new used angle line being installed currently just for this), and the list goes on.
 

Kingbob

Hot Rolled
Joined
Dec 1, 2009
Location
Louisiana
A great place to start would be to visit the shops currently doing your work. Ask to see how one of your project is typically processed. Take note of the number of pieces of equipment and the number of skilled hands your project passes through. The logistical challenges are as much of the puzzle as the manufacturing equipment.
 








 
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