New Prototyping Set-Up. Advice Needed
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  1. #1
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    Default New Prototyping Set-Up. Advice Needed

    Dear PM Forum,

    I've lurked here for a long time, first time poster.

    I'm changing a store room at my office into a prototyping room, and I am planning on buying our first CNC milling machine as the centerpiece of our new in-house prototyping workspace.

    I have 4 main question, and it would be great to get some advice from people with first hand knowledge. I'll also take theoretical knowledge- all I ask is that you please identify "theoretical" knowledge as such.

    First, we need a compact mill and tooling. Despite a low ceiling (108") the room is ideal with both 3-phase 480, and a heavy duty air compressor already in place

    I Looked carefully at the Haas Mini-mill, but the clear working space need is 124" (depth) and that size is a deal breaker for the width/size of the room.

    I have read plenty in this forum (and elsewhere) about the problems associated (and general opinion) of Tormach mills, so I haven't seriously considering them despite their compact size, and low price. Even though we are really just prototyping I'd like the mill we choose to have a tool changer, a minimum of 4000 rpm, and be sufficiently strong enough to mill 316 on occasion.

    Because of our limited space considerations I've been seriously considering a Trak Machine Tools VCM2. It will fit in the space (about have the required depth of the Haas), and the specs all seem beyond what we need. Base configuration is about $37K. That's a pricey option for our small company, but we can swing it with financing. Although truthfully, it's probably about 2x what we hoped to spend.

    Second, for whatever CMC mill we choose, we want to drive it using Fusion 360 as our CAM. Anyone have any experience with this they can share?

    We just switched from other software, and we are yet to try Fusion to actually machine anything born/exported from Fusion. Any potential pitfalls (major or minor) to be aware of? Particularly if we pair it with the Trak VCM2?

    Third, we need to own basic tooling. There is fairly wide range of brands/quality and I'd like some recommendations on brands/lines of tooling that will work well and offers high value per dollar spent. I'm trying to avoid highest price, and also lowest quality; really "bang for buck" is key.

    And finally, fourth- what am I forgetting?

    Last thing I want is to fall on my face and miss some major. Really want to avoid the head-smackingly obvious (or even non-obvious) detail of starting up our prototyping room. I know we'll need coolant, and place to dump our chips. What am I missing, anything else?

    Despite some experience in manufacturing, I'm paranoid about being out of my depth and buy/building this room with expensive equipment and without ever having put something like this together before.

    Thanks in advance and best wishes!

    Cirqueoc

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    Quote Originally Posted by cirqueoc View Post
    Base configuration is about $37K. That's a pricey option for our small company, but we can swing it with financing. Although truthfully, it's probably about 2x what we hoped to spend.
    Save up until you can afford one, or hope to get really lucky on a good used one for $16k.

    Edit:
    On second thought, you're nowhere near ready if more than $16k is too much.
    Last edited by Mtndew; 09-15-2021 at 11:15 AM.

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    Hi cirqueoc:
    This topic has been beat to death over the years, and there is a consensus that has emerged (sort of...opinions do vary)

    A couple of things: first you need to have clear in your head what you hope to achieve with your new prototyping facility.
    If your intent is to prototype complex devices to a high standard of workmanship, you will benefit immensely from the best toys you can get your mitts on, and you will spend correspondingly.
    There are guys on here who will advocate dropping hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on very fine equipment, and they can fully justify their position, given what they have to do for a living.

    I do a lot of prototyping...it's my core business, and one thing I've seen over and over again, is a reasonable idea so poorly executed that the designer can't tell if the design is the problem or the crappy execution is the problem.
    The quality of the toys will determine to a large extent, what a beginner can achieve when the experience is missing to accommodate the shortcomings of the gear, and for some demands, even the most skilled person can't do it without top line or specialized equipment.
    (Forgive me if I'm pre-judging you, but the nature of your question implies you have not spent a lot of time making things in a machine shop, so I'm assuming you're a beginner.)

    So a basic set of low end manual equipment is not going to be of much help and a crappy, hobby level CNC mill won't be of much help either, unless the stuff you're making is truly not very demanding.
    Ask yourself how good your prototypes really need to be in order for you to learn anything useful from them.

    Another point that springs to mind; if your space cannot accommodate a Minimill, it's got to be tiny.
    Do you believe you can work efficiently, or the guy you hire can work efficiently in a glorified closet?

    I have about 1100 square feet and it's tight...machine shops need space to be efficient...even prototyping shops, especially if they are going to hire.
    I could easily fill half again as much as I have with just the toys I've already accumulated, and it wouldn't feel spacious.
    BTW, I specialize in small stuff..."put it in your pocket" stuff, and "drop it on the floor and never see it again" stuff and I'm still tight for space at 1100 square feet.

    Third, you need to define who is actually going to run all this gear...will it be you?
    Will you hire?
    Do you already have a guy (or gal)?

    If you intend to hire someone like me with lots of experience in the field, you will benefit greatly from their input.
    Don't give them free rein to demand whatever they want, but listen respectfully to their opinion and try to objectively consider their justification for any given purchase.
    If it makes sense to you, do what they advise...trust me it'll be far less painful than having the wrong gear for what you intend to make.

    This goes for everything...a lot of beginners make the mistake of getting the machine tool and then populating it with crappy tooling and wondering why they can't make anything decent.
    A garbage tap is a garbage tap, even on a million dollar machining center...so resist the temptation to shop at the import store for tooling...your life will be a lot harder than it needs to be and you won't even know why, until you first see a guy effortlessly spin a quality tap into a thousand holes without even breaking a sweat.
    The 50 bucks for that OSG tap will suddenly seem so cheap, after you've spent countless hours scrapping parts because of ten dollar Harbour Fright shit quality taps, broken off in your projects.

    So to go back to what to buy; spend some quality time looking back through past posts on here...there's a mountain of information.
    Don't get too hung up on the brand of machine unless your stuff is very demanding...guys make good stuff on Robodrills, Brothers, Minimills, and Hermles.
    I run a cheapo Minimill from 2001 and although I feel its limitations at times, I've still put several million dollars through it over twenty years with never a hiccup.
    But I've been in this trade since 1974, so I can compensate for a lot

    Cheers

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

    Oh yeah, while I'm thinking of it...do yourself a favour and get an enclosed machine.
    The chips and coolant an open VMC throws around will fill up your closet in a heartbeat, and you'll spend most of your time cleaning up after yourself.
    MC

    A second "Oh Yeah" about tolerances:
    90% of the stuff I mill I can make with standard cutters running in standard collets milling to the dimensions the mill is capable of and I can put it together just fine.
    I can assume it will be good enough just off the mill without even putting a mike on it.
    My Minimill can interpolate a round hole within 0.0005" (a good basic machine performance test) if I run it slowly, and that's good enough for the vast majority of what I make.
    I can compensate a hole to size in 0.0001" radial increments and I can go from a tight fit, to a sliding fit to a floppy fit on a dowel pin using that strategy in a straightforward way.
    But it won't be a true cylinder...it'll be some weird blobby shape that I don't have to give a shit about unless it's something truly special.

    A half million dollar Hermle can interpolate the same hole within 0.0001" and it can put it in the same place at the end of the day within a micron as it did at the beginning of the day when the machine had just been warmed up.
    But my machine cost 39 Grand brand spanking new in 2001.

    If I need a better hole even than that, I can try to do it on the wire EDM.
    Better than that I have to hand work it and it's now a thousand dollar hole instead of a ten dollar hole.
    MC

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    What he said. For us to give you relevant advice, we need to know what you intend to make. Is it a flat plate with a couple holes, or something much more complex and demanding? +/- .005", or +/- .0001"?

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    Just so you know, when getting the mills into our space we had to rip out the entire facade to our building and facility in order to do it, so if doing something like that is an option it might be worth it! It added about $12K of carpentry work...

    One of the reasons we didnt get Haas is because they took up way too much space for the machine capacity. An equivalent Hurco mill (30x16) is like 30% less floor space - it is a very compact machine. Except it costs about $75K so it might be out of your budget.

    IF you are serious about this prototyping venture, you WILL NOT buy a Tormach or a similarly spec'ed pro-sumer machine. They masquerade as professional machines but they are far from a pro level machine.

    As far as ProtoTrak is concerned, they are nice machines. We have a couple DPM2 mills. THey work great but they are limited machines. 5K spindle doesn't go very far in aluminum.

    Have a look at a HurcoVM10i - good value IMO and a good all around general purpose mill. Control makes it easy to write conversational programs if you need. The conversational is actually quite powerful all things considered. I'd still rather use CAM but I use it sometimes. For prototyping, Hurco is a pretty good fit.

    EDIT: I see your space prob won't accomodate the Hurco. Get a bigger space! No, seriously, get a bigger space. If you can't do that, then you should consider something like a RoboDrill or a Brother Speedio.

    I'll tack onto what Marcus said, just in general machining is an expensive habit to maintain. I just bought $1500 worth of tooling and I got a handful of endmills and an indexable cutter. And I'm not buying top end stuff either. Nor is it super cheap - its middle of the road stuff.

    But the math doesn't lie - one 1" indexable face mill $275 one screw on CAT40 adapter is $165 and each insert is $14...so you can easily spend $10K on tooling and workholding without even batting an eye. Oh, collets? Each collet will be $30 easily. But you need a full set!

    There was a company I interviewed for and they asked me if I have my own inspection equipment. As in, they expected me to have a full set of gauge pins, granite plate, thread gages, mics, etc. Uhhh no sir, a shop should provide such items for quality control, especially when you're a supposedly ANSI/ISO-approved facility. So anyhow, those items are spendy. And yes you need them in a shop. Gauge pins could be $500 for a set. All the setup toys, those are spendy too!

    My point to this rant is that people buying new machines, especially non-machinists tend to overlook the level of support equipment that is necessary to actually make good use of the machine. A reasonable person should add on an extra 10-20% of the total machine cost in tooling and workholding. A $100K machine needs at least $10K worth of crap to make it worth anything.

    For 2 milling centers we have probably $40,000ish worth of fixtures and tooling alone.

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    What is the driver behind wanting to do your own prototypes? IMHO, you would likely be better off to develop a good relationship with a shop that likes prototype work.

    If you do set this up, I think you’re going to find that it takes far more time than you ever estimated making your prototypes. If you factor in the cost of equipping your prototype shop (far more money than just the cost of the machine) and one’s time, I expect you would find the cost to buy your prototypes from a supplier will be lower.

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    Don't forget the whole rest of the shop. A CNC mill needs support plus there will be other things you need to make for prototypes. You need some kind of lathe. You need some way to deal with stock, plus a place to put a stock rack. You need a saw. You might want a small surface grinder. You need a surface plate and tools to measure what you make. You need a workbench or two unless you want to hold everything in your hands. You'll set up your tooling there too. You need a roll-around toolbox for all the cutters and crap every shop needs. If your stuff is small, you might need a toolmakers microscope or vision system. Probably need a drill press. Don't forget the bench grinder. I can't imagine making anything without about that amount of stuff. How's that room looking now?

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    I would recommend looking at the Haas tooling. So far it's been good for us, and it's actually fairly cheap as they are trying to build their line I guess. Just bought 2 3" shell mills, 2 mounting arbors for them (cat40) and 2 boxes of polished aluminum inserts for $700.


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