Why are wood cnc machines so cheesy?
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  1. #1
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    Default Why are wood cnc machines so cheesy?

    I'm looking to get a CNC router, some for wood but mostly to do polycarbonate and large parts for enclosures.

    I don't need to run it all the time, and I'm not a cabinet shop, so I need accuracy more than I need blazing speed. I just can't seem to find find a medium-duty 5x10 machine with ATC that works reliably without being cheesy. I want the woodworking equivalent of a Haas VF3.

    From what I can tell, the tiers are as follows:

    Chinese: really poor quality, possibly passible iron, pirated or handheld controls. Cheesy.

    Domestic low end: shopsabre, camaster, shopbot etc. Windows based controls, questionable build decisions, no accuracy specs. These seem to be overgrown hobby machines. I can't tell if they don't have actual engineers designing the machines, or if their target audience doesn't care. No guarding of the motion components, no lube systems, aluminum parts everywhere and perplexing design decicions. Cheesy.

    Domestic mid-range: This is really where I'd like to be, but I can't find anyone without significant downsides. DMT look promising but their ball screws are very undersized and they drive the long axis from the center, which doesn't seem very rigid. CNT Motion have electrical issues and are still wincnc. They're close to me and spec acceptable accuracy, but the only stories about them online have them losing milimeters of travel. AXYZ just don't seem interested in talking to me. Multicam have a reputation for bad support (and still WinCNC).

    Domestic high end: Onsrud, thermwood, etc. These are machines I am sure I'd be happy with using, but they're huge and really production-oriented.

    I need something that will reliably hold +-.005 position accuracy across the envelope, in a climate controlled space. Assuming I want to stay under 90k to with a C axis and an aggregate head, is there someone I've overlooked?

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    I have spent most of the last 20 years on cnc routers and I have my own, so I have some of my own opinions that come from my experience with these machines. The machines that I have actually ran personally are multiple Komo's from the 90's, a pair of CR ONsruds, a 2005 and a 2007 and a pair of Busellato's from app 2000. Other wood cnc's thrown in there too, but those are the routers.

    I have taken some time to investigate others, but have not ran them myself. Some, I have talked to operators and owners of them, so more info than just online hearsay.

    Anyway, when I went to buy my own for my shop, I went with the old Komo as it was the best value for me, it has a Fanuc control and in my experience was extremely reliable. I ran one for 7 years and never had a problem other than some bulbs on the control panel went out and we wore out the keypad membrane. Never had a cough or hiccup the whole time.

    I then sold that machine because I was doing more mold work and 3D surfacing etc and I was getting more jobs that needed over 8ft length, so I got a CR ONsrud new in 07, it was the fixed bridge, 5x12 with 2 tables, one at 8 ft one at 4, C axis NEMI table. It had a powered nut on the bridge. It had the OSAI control on window xp. Loved the machine, but the windows based control was not reliable. Very powerful and huge improvement user wise over a Fanuc OM, but the control panel/monitor had failures multiple times. I see since then they have started offering Fanuc controlled machines. The other CR Onsrud was a 5 axis, same thing, worked awesome til the control panel went out...
    The Busellatos were also windows based control and when running were great, but they had glitches regularly and it would cause downtime. Usually something we could fix or figure out, but I got to where I just built in an extra hour or two on a job when using them. Because of those two and one other Italian cnc, I can't bring myself to buy anything Italian, even a shotgun...

    All of these machines at the old job were bought brand new.

    When I was looking for my own, I did some research, but this was in 2012, so I am not as up to date as I could be on the newer offerings. Based on my experience with all the windows based controls, I had no interest in any of those no matter the cost. Just too flaky. So that left me with a short list and I was also looking at used. I was not concerned with size or weight of the machine other than I wanted a table big enough. I also needed to be able to cut solid wood and some aluminum if needed without whittling. My list was Komo, Shoda, Northwood, CR Onsrud, Heian and that was about it. CR Onsrud was out due to resale value was much higher. Thermwoods in my opinion are too lightly built, I know lots of people like them, but they didn't do it for me, so they aren't on My list..

    Now most of those that were in my price range aren't going to work for you as none of the older ones had C.

    My thoughts right now without spending a bunch of time researching again, you may have a tough time getting a machine without a windows control with C axis and an aggregate head on the floor for under 90k. The cheapest agg head is a few thousand and the better ones are pushing 10k on their own. The accuracy requirement I think might be easier to hit than some of the other things.

    Did you want a vac pump? Don't let anyone talk you into a regenerative blower 'pump'. They are not worth it, extremely loud and won't pull as much vac ultimately as a liquid ring or vane pump.

    Look at the NEMI grid table, they make setups and change overs really nice. You can section off unused parts of the table easily, the slots are great for stops and locators. Lots of things that make it quick and easy to use compared to a full table spoil board, or flip cups or other things people have com up with. You don't have to buy one, but consider making a top like it, you'll be glad you did.

    A friend of mine here local has a pair of DMS 5 axis routers and he is happy with them. He bought them new. He had some Multi Masters before that and upgraded to the DMS'. I think the Multi Masters were light weight as well, but most of these were designed for plastics industry and trimming thermoformed parts doesn't take much compared to 4.5" thick white oak.

    Another friend has a 5x12 MultiCam from mid 2000's, I don't recall the control on it, he has been pleased with it. I think he said he got one that was their top of the line pro model, IDK if they make that version anymore, but it was bigger/heavier built than the other ones I saw at IWF that year.
    Northwood is in my mind direct competition to Komo and CR Onsrud, they have heavy built machines with a real control on them. My old boss had one at his previous job and it was solid and as reliable as the Komo. What I have seen in person on them confirms that thought.

    I had my hands on a couple AXYS machine, they seem to be cheesy to me so haven't given them any thought. I also think they are in Canada if it matters..

    I am not sure if that helps, I have never spent any time in the lower level machines as they just didn't seem like they would do what I wanted to do reliably.

    Patternmaker on here has a router as well and I think he just bought a new one from DMS, the Patriot line machine. Have to ask him for sure.

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    Camaster is another you might look at in the mid-range. I don't know them well enough to tell you the pros and cons.

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    I can't really tell you much about other CNC routers, but when I worked briefly for Multicam, their service department was pretty pathetic. And yea, I worked with a couple of Chinese CNC lasers and they were every bit as badly made and poorly thought out as you would expect. The owner bought all his machines from China, and everything was garbage. Nothing ever worked without a significant amount of repair straight out of the box, and it was painfully obvious that they really knew nothing about modern automation. They just made them look like the other machines on the market, and cobbled on parts until it barely worked. Our new custom built $200k fiber laser didn't work right the entire 9 months I ran it until I quit, there was no service or support whatsoever.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Comatose View Post
    I can't tell if they don't have actual engineers designing the machines..
    I think that's a no.

    I have plenty of gripes with the build quality of my domestic pro-sumer router. E-stop is reported to function as self destruct button for motor drives and lots of mechanical things. That said, it's done lots of good work for me. The stepper versions won't hold .005 very well or at least for very long. Servo versions might do better.

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    CosmoK what machine do you have?

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    If I recall correctly,there is a guy on WoodWeb that has a few Camasters and seems to be happy with them. I know at least one has a 4th axis on it like a lathe attachment, not a C on the spindle. Name is James McGrew, shouldn't be hard to find some of his posts there and he has a website I think.

    Something else I just thought of, at one time CR Onsrud was doing a few refurbs of their older machines and were only using the basic frame and replacing all the wire and components with current stuff. Might be something to ask about if you found a used one the size you like and cheap enough.

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    I Have a Techno Isel machine that I bought in the 1990's, it operated on the DOS system. Techno Isel upgraded this machine to operate on Windows after 2000. All axes are controlled by servo motors with feedback which controls accurate positioning. I have since purchased a ATRUMP B3EC with Centroid control (2008), which allows me to run programs of unlimited length generated with Mastercam. My Techno Isel cnc router can run the same exact programs without editing. Only thing that I do not like is the noisy 3 1/4 HP Porter Cable router that I use as a spindle on the cnc router. I have to wear ear protection when running this machine. I realize that I could replace this router motor with a quieter spindle, but I do not wish to invest the money. I consider the money invested in the Techno Isel cnc router one of the wisest investments I have spent over the years.

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    Cheesey? We consider cheese to be a positive descriptor in Wisconsin!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Nelson View Post
    Cheesey? We consider cheese to be a positive descriptor in Wisconsin!
    With or without "Holes" ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by digger doug View Post
    With or without "Holes" ?

    Any way you like!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce Nelson View Post
    Any way you like!
    From an aerosol can....

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    Quote Originally Posted by digger doug View Post
    From an aerosol can....
    Nicht so gut fur kinder, aerosol ish da!

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    I have not looked at the router market so I have nothing to contribute there. Further, my router is not what you want, OTOH it may provide some useful information for your search. My router uses ISO20 tools, has a 15 tool wine rack changer, 24k 3hp spindle, 66"x67"x9" xyz, 4hp of vacuum and is shop built. The interesting point is that it uses servo motor rack and pinion drive for x and y. To my great surprise, it holds tolerances better than your spec. I don't know if there are commercial routers that are rack an pinion, but if so, I would consider them. I am a fan. Very simple, cheap and easy to maintain or replace. Quite fast - though that is not one of your requirements.

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    Yeah, the temptation to just build something is strong, but I'm resisting. I figure if I do enough engineering work to make a shop built one that's better than the commercial equivalent, then I might as well go into making CNC routers.I don't want to do that. Counting the time and opportunity cost, for a one-off I'd be better just dropping the hundred and fifty grand on an Onsrud.

    Nothing wrong with rack and pinion for these, other than it requires tighter tolerances everywhere than a ball screw (which has some flex if it's just fixed at the ends.)

    For your shop built, how did you calibrate it, especially for squareness?

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    Squareness was very easy. I have a pair of 24" vernier calipers. I just laid out a program for a 24" diagonal square with 1/4" holes at each corner. I drilled holes at those points in a test piece and stuck steel dowels in the holes.. I then measured the diagonals and the sides with the caliper. Easy to check square and overall scale factor from that measurement. The gantry uses two motors - one on each end. When you home the machine the servos drive gently against the stops and move out a fixed number of steps. So if the measurement is off, you adjust the stops. The servos resquare the machine each time it is homed. The x and y scale factors are in software. Rinse and repeat until happy. Takes about 3 iterations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Comatose View Post
    Yeah, the temptation to just build something is strong, but I'm resisting. I figure if I do enough engineering work to make a shop built one that's better than the commercial equivalent, then I might as well go into making CNC routers.I don't want to do that. Counting the time and opportunity cost, for a one-off I'd be better just dropping the hundred and fifty grand on an Onsrud.

    Nothing wrong with rack and pinion for these, other than it requires tighter tolerances everywhere than a ball screw (which has some flex if it's just fixed at the ends.)
    I've thought about building my own machine more than once. Very glad, very, that I thought better of it.

    Not sure how you figure rack and pinion drives tolerances up elsewhere. If it's done right, it works very well. The preload on mine could be higher. I have this one. I've seen a rack and pinion drive (x) on a big old machine that could hold a couple/few thou (so said operator) at the toolpoint 15 ft away. Pinion was bowling ball diameter.

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    Haas has one, Don't know anything about them. Saw one through a window in a shop once, shop was excited about potential but had just installed machine. Another local shop runs a Laguana machine, fairly robust has tool changer etc. I would guess they might run it 6 hours a day, cutting sheet goods. (Last four years maybe longer)Lots of their assemblies nest and lock together requiring tight tolerances. Although with wood you will never be as accurate as with metal due to expansion and contraction.

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    I worked in a shop that had 2 of Haas gantry mills they were either 4'x8' or 5'x10'. The machines were used mostly for aluminum with some plastic and some light steel work. They used CAT 40 tools. I ran them a little, it was just like running any other Haas mill in the shop. I believe the normal operators said they held .010" corner to corner but I wouldn't swear it.


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